PULLMAN – Often times Washington State coaches end radio or television appearances with a “Go Cougs.” They’re fans, too, so it seems appropriate.
But when the opposing coach punctuates an interview with a loud “Go Cougs,” it’s a bit of uncharted territory.
And illustrates the odd nature of Saturday’s WSU season opener, when the Cougars host Idaho State.
The Bengals’ first-year coach, Mike Kramer is, in no particular order, the guy who gave WSU coach Paul Wulff his first job in coaching, Wulff’s good friend and confidant, Cougars assistant coach Chris Tormey’s college roommate and a member of WSU’s support staff last season.
“I know everyone,” said Kramer, who grew up in Colton, about a half-dozen wheat fields south of Pullman, “maybe as well as anybody outside the Cougar family.”
And most important, Kramer knows nearly every Cougars football player. Asked if such knowledge will help the Bengals, whose 1-10 record last year led to Kramer’s hiring as ISU’s 25th head coach, he laughed.
“I think it would help if we were more veteran here,” Kramer said. “Not only were we bad last year, a lot of those players that made us bad are gone. That means a lot of the guys that are starting (Saturday) are putting in their first full day of being a college football player.
“I have no idea, no idea of how they are going to react.”
Still, Kramer can give you a rundown of the WSU roster, with the strengths and weaknesses of each player, along with an intimate understanding of WSU’s schemes.
For example, here are Kramer’s thoughts on sophomore safety Deone Bucannon: “He’s going to be bigger and stronger and more effective in the back end, and he was pretty good last year, especially at times. I’m sure he can bench more than 225 or 185 or whatever he benched last year. He’s only going to be better and better.”
And Kramer’s cry of poverty concerning the Bengals is a song Wulff has heard before.
“Sure he is,” answered Wulff when asked if Kramer’s telling his team a different story than the woes he’s relating elsewhere. “But it’s not how they play, they’re going to play how they play, it’s not in our control. What’s in our control is how we play.”
But not knowing a lot of what ISU is going to do does bother Wulff.
“It’s the unknown, what we don’t know about, that worries me more than anything,” he said, especially emphasizing the defense. “Not knowing how they’re going to line up and to be able to practice it a lot this week is challenging.”
The mechanics of how the Bengals are going to play is hard to figure, mainly because Kramer was last a head coach at Montana State in 2007.
That’s when he was fired following a series of off-field incidents, a firing that led to Kramer suing Montana State and earning an out-of-court monetary settlement.
But the circumstances surrounding the dismissal made it hard for Kramer, who had a 77-75 record and three Big Sky coach of the year awards in 13 years at MSU and Eastern Washington, to find a job. Until Wulff stepped in.
“When he had an opportunity, he gave me an opportunity,” said Kramer, whose daughter Gretchen is a WSU senior. “I made $26,000 a year, but I got health benefits for my family. You talk about friendship, you talk about brotherhood, you talk about something beyond the sport, that’s my relationship with Paul.”
Adding to the mystery of playing Idaho State is Kramer’s choice of Kevin Yost, a transfer from Glendale CC in Southern California, as his starting quarterback.
“We we’re able to look at some of his JC film,” Wulff said. “He’s got a good arm, he’s a good, solid athlete and he’s got a good enough arm to make a lot of different throws. He can beat us with his arm, there’s no question.”
Whatever happens between the hash marks Saturday, Kramer is adamant he will be following the Cougars closely the rest of the way.
“I want them to play well on Saturday, really, I’m a Coug,” he said. “I want them to play great. I want us to play greater.”