The Apple Cup could be a job saver for coach Bill Doba. Or it could be his last game. The fate of the Cougars coach will be decided by Washington...

Share story

The Apple Cup could be a job saver for coach Bill Doba.

Or it could be his last game.

The fate of the Cougars coach will be decided by Washington State athletic director Jim Sterk and president Elson S. Floyd in the days after Saturday’s game. Although there is no guarantee that a win will save his job, it would seem to enhance his chances to return.

Doba, 67, is completing his fifth season as WSU coach. He is 29-29 overall but hasn’t had a winning season since his first, the 10-win season of 2003 that was capped by a Holiday Bowl victory over Texas.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

It would cost the school $2.8 million if Doba and his staff were fired because of the time remaining on their contracts. Doba’s contract expires after the 2009 season.

For an athletic department hardly awash in money, that’s a huge expenditure and will factor in the decision.

On Sunday, Cougars senior tight end Jed Collins replied “absolutely” when asked if players thought they could be playing for Doba’s job.

A win over rival Washington — the opponent Cougars fans most love to beat — would be the third in four years for Doba. It also would mark just the third time in the 100-game history of the rivalry that WSU would have won three of four.

Collins said Doba already has been deflecting attention away from himself and his job status.

“He tries to not let us focus on that and have us focus on the seniors going out on top with a win,” Collins said.

Collins, who has caught 52 passes this season, said the main focus Saturday will be on beating the Huskies, not saving anyone’s job.

“This has a lot riding on it,” he said. “We know that. Are we going to focus on that? I don’t think so. Will it give us a little more emotion at kickoff? Probably.”

Collins, a sometimes-outspoken team leader and one of the team’s most productive players, called Doba “a great guy, a great coach.”

“I can’t dream of playing for a better person,” he said.

The tight end said one test of a coach is whether he has the respect of the team and the assistant coaches. He said the assistants “can’t stop raving about how much they respect Coach Doba.”

The Cougars are coming off a shockingly poor performance against Oregon State, a 52-17 loss that knocked them out of the bowl picture. Collins played only one series against OSU because of a sprained ankle suffered one week earlier against Stanford. He said he is receiving five treatments a day and will play Saturday.

The Cougars had won two of three games before Saturday’s humiliating defeat in front of just 22,616 at rainy Martin Stadium.

“Next week’s game is our bowl game,” said quarterback Alex Brink on Saturday after tying a school record for interceptions thrown in a game with six. “I don’t know how else to put it. This game means a lot to a lot of people, including the two teams.

“… We want to prepare as hard as we ever have and get ready and go out and win that one, because I certainly want to go out on a good note and the rest of the seniors do, too.”

A victory will keep either the Cougars (4-7 overall, 2-6 Pac-10) or the Huskies (4-7, 2-6) out of the conference basement, where the likely co-resident will be Stanford (3-7, 2-6).

A win would also help set a positive tone for offseason workouts and spring practice.

Washington doesn’t appear to have as much on the line Saturday as the Cougars.

While there have been rumblings of discontent among Huskies faithful about the progress of the program under coach Tyrone Willingham, Saturday’s 37-23 win over California surely helped take some of the heat off. An Apple Cup win would cool things that much more.

The Huskies have won two of their past three games, rushing for more than 300 yards in each victory. They could point to an Apple Cup triumph as further proof that the team finally may be breaking through.

“It really shows what we can do as a team,” said receiver Anthony Russo of the win over Cal.

For Washington natives on both teams, the game holds special significance.

“When I go back home,” said Huskies defensive tackle Jordan Reffett, a native of Moses Lake, “all through the offseason I’ve got bragging rights, just like I did last year.”

Cougars linebacker Andy Mattingly, from Mead, noted the rivalry even extends to grade schools, where children are urged to wear purple or crimson on a designated day before the game.

“My little brother didn’t want to go to school last year because we lost,” he said. “He didn’t want to show his face.”

Mattingly’s brother, Danny, was a sixth-grader at Brentwood Elementary School.

In-state passions indeed run deep.

Mattingly made an informal visit to Washington as a high-school junior before committing to the Cougars. He said Sunday, “I’d hoped I never would put on a purple jersey.”

He won’t be wearing one, but he will see a lot of them Saturday.

Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or; Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.