Bill Doba turned 71 in September, so every annual physical is fraught with anxiety.
But this year, his good cholesterol was up and his bad cholesterol was down, and his physician was convinced the old coach was subsisting on a diet of fruit and green vegetables.
“Basically, Doc,” Doba told him, “it’s steak, hot dogs and baloney.”
The lunch meat, not the line of bunk.
Then Doba hit him with the Final Jeopardy question, prefacing it with the qualifier that “I’ve got to have a couple of Manhattans every night.”
“Your liver function is fine,” the doctor replied.
“Can I give you a big hug?” Doba said.
We might have been a little worried about Bill Doba when he pointed his rig toward the Midwest and left our midst. He seemed a bit beat up when his five-year run as football coach at Washington State came to a strangely defined end in 2007. A year earlier, the relentless cruelty of cancer had taken his wife, Judy – not just his long-ago college sweetheart but the truest of soul mates. He had put in 46 years on somebody’s sideline and wouldn’t be the first guy not to have the transition to the non-coaching life take.
But he’s just fine – and more than that.
Ask him yourself tonight when the Cougars bring him back to Northern Quest Casino to reminisce about the 2003 Holiday Bowl win over Texas and lots of everything else to kick off a week of activities in Spokane leading up to the spring game on Saturday under new coach Mike Leach.
“This guy will make for a lot of entertainment,” Doba predicted, before turning on the drollery. “Of course, he had to take a cut in pay from what I made.”
The Leach salary – $2.2 million – is suggestion enough that the school that once turned to Bill Doba in an awkward situation will never go that route again. That’s the ante to compete in the Pac-12 now, and if some of the old Wazzu gets lost in the process, well, even Doba acknowledged, “You get what you pay for.”
In Doba, the Cougars got a solid football man, a caring steward of kids and one of its more underrated storytellers – at a school where it’s been an art form.
“We were 30-29,” he said, referring to his overall record as head coach, “but Southern Cal had to forfeit that (2004) season, so we should have been 6-5. A friend said, ‘You should call the president and ask for your bowl bonus.’ ”
And a better one:
“John Rushing called last summer,” reported Doba, referencing the rugged safety from his days coordinating the old Palouse Posse. “I hadn’t heard from him in 12-13 years and it’s out of the blue and the first thing I ask is, ‘Are you in trouble?’ But he says, ‘No,’ and tells me he’s married with a couple of kids and that he’s the assistant receivers coach for the Packers.
“And he says, ‘I just got my Super Bowl ring.’ I damned near cried.”
Doba carries a little piece of every player he coached with him still, and so he was more than dismayed when the Cougar program became a punching bag after he left – and hurt when his successor, Paul Wulff, while trying to be forthright, continually insisted he’d inherited a catastrophe. Being Bill Doba, he declines to share his reaction still – but the timing of this invitation is, uh, telling.
Life has been full without football. Doba lives on Birch Lake, 300 acres of water in southern Michigan about 35 minutes from his boyhood home outside South Bend, Ind.
“I have to read the South Bend Tribune, which is like the Notre Dame school paper,” he complained, “but it has a Sudoku puzzle to keep my brain going.”
The lake is stocked with rainbows, and he’s taken fishing excursions to the Yukon and the Amazon. His six grandchildren are all close enough to keep tabs on, including a “tough little gal” who has a full ride to play Division I soccer next year at IPFW. Michigan coach Brady Hoke, a good friend, has had him in for practices, and he’s done clinics at Notre Dame.
But the days at Wazzu remain “the greatest time of my life.”
“The opportunity they gave me to make a few bucks and be able to help my kids and grandkids with things in their lives is something I’ll always be grateful for,” he said. “And where else can you live where you can walk to work to play Southern Cal on Saturday?
“When the Realtor asked for the keys to the house, I had no idea where they were. I’d never locked it or my truck. I had a great time. I just wish we could have finished stronger.”
Hmm. Seems from here that he’s finishing just fine.