Vandals are off to 4-1 start, giving Akey bragging rights in testy relationship with Cougars and their coach, Paul Wulff.

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For a moment there, Robb Akey, the talkative Idaho football coach, went taciturn. Which is kind of like Oprah shrinking from the public eye.

Monday, I asked Akey what kind of relationship he had with Paul Wulff, the Washington State coach, and what he thought of Wulff not always having been complimentary of the previous staff’s handiwork at WSU.

Said Akey, “It’s interesting to hear some of those comments, put it that way. Everybody’s got their own way of doing things, and they’re working hard to do it their way.”

Over and out. For Akey, that amounts to a no-comment.

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In today’s world, a lot of our daily buzz springs from the Internet. What dominates our day in 2009 might have struggled to make it into our conversation 15 years ago.

But this epistle isn’t about cyberspace. This is about small-town, locals-in-the-coffee-shop gossip in the Palouse.

Let’s back up. Not far from us, a good little story is developing. Idaho, with a roster dotted with Puget Sound-area kids, is 4-1, probably two victories away from a bowl game. The only bowl in the Vandals’ short history of highest-level football came in 1998 (in Idaho’s old iteration, it went to many a Division I-AA playoff).

Idaho can play. It won on the road at Northern Illinois, a team that beat Purdue and extended Wisconsin, and the Vandals just won a 31-29 thriller at home over Colorado State, which won a bowl game last season.

Akey says the CSU win stoked passion in and around the program.

“I think we’ve awakened the place a little bit,” he said.

The Vandals’ two leading receivers are Max Komar and Eric Greenwood, from Auburn Riverside and Edmonds-Woodway. The leading tackler, and WAC player of the week, is Shiloh Keo, a safety from Archbishop Murphy.

There’s all sorts of cross-pollination between Idaho, Washington and the west side and Washington State. It starts with Akey himself, who was an assistant both to Mike Price and Bill Doba at WSU. Akey’s offensive coordinator is Steve Axman, former UW assistant.

Nick Holt, Steve Sarkisian’s defensive coordinator at Washington, was Idaho head coach from 2004-05. Akey’s leading rusher, DeMaundray Woolridge, is a Pac-10-caliber running back who became an academic casualty at WSU.

Ah yes, the Cougars. You may have heard of their travails. They’re slogging through a second forgettable season under Wulff (albeit one whose progress is being stunted by multiple injuries).

In previous explanations of how far the program has to come, Wulff has been fairly open in dispensing thoughts on what he says was the plummeting state of the WSU program when he arrived, criticizing everything from a decline in the weight room to lousy eating habits.

“I don’t talk to him very much,” Akey said Monday, referring to Wulff. He added that the people he knows best from the WSU staff are Mike Levenseller and Chris Ball, two ex-colleagues.

This, though, is about degrees. Everybody but the saintliest coach criticizes his predecessor, either expressly or by innuendo.

As it happens, when the NCAA validated some of Wulff’s complaints 17 months ago by rapping WSU’s knuckles and taking away eight of its total scholarships for an academic shortfall under Doba, it did exactly the same thing to Idaho [only Akron was penalized more stiffly].

By way of explaining the loss of about 15 players then, Akey told me about severe disciplinary problems he’d had with holdovers at Idaho, saying he’d offed one for selling drugs and three others “who elected to pull a little scam over at the bookstore.”

Between the lines, that was mostly an indictment of Holt, and in some measure, Dennis Erickson, who was there only 10 months (a speedy getaway even by Erickson’s standards) and didn’t even have a recruiting class.

Honor among thieves, or football coaches? Not always. As for Akey, if he’d gone off to coach at Middle Tennessee or Bowling Green, he wouldn’t hear much about Wulff and the Cougars.

But they’re only eight miles away, a couple of bends in the highway. In those restaurants and coffee shops in Pullman and Moscow, what they’re saying is: Robb Akey might not have the last laugh, but it looks like he’ll have the first one.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

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