Bob Gregory has experienced the Apple Cup from opposite angles.
Before he was UW’s interim head coach, the Spokane product played linebacker and defensive back at Washington State where he graduated with a degree in English in 1987. Gregory has since served on UW’s staff for the last eight seasons — as inside linebackers coach (2014-present), assistant head coach (2014-2019), special teams coordinator (2016-2020) and defensive coordinator (2021).
Ironically, Gregory’s three-game stint as the Huskies’ interim head coach will conclude with another Apple Cup against his alma mater.
So you could say the Coug-turned-Husky understands this rivalry better than most.
“I think everything’s different,” Gregory said, when asked what separates the Apple Cup from other rivalries he’s experienced. “We’re on the west side. They’re on the east side. Big school, small school. Pickup trucks versus Audis. It’s the whole thing. Beer versus Champagne.”
At that, the 58-year-old smiled and glanced at a UW spokesperson.
“Can I say that? Is that OK?” he asked with a grin. “It’s everything. Everything is different about this one, I think. And I have been involved in a couple rivalries in this league, and this one is pretty special, I think, maybe because I’ve been a part of it for a while. But it’s a good one.”
This year, at least, it’s a weird one as well. After the midseason firings of UW’s Jimmy Lake and WSU’s Nick Rolovich, a pair of defensive coordinators — Gregory and Jake Dickert — assumed interim head coaching duties for their respective sides. The two will meet Friday in an equal parts unexpected and unconventional coaching match.
Though Gregory, for one, doesn’t see it that way.
“For us, we’re just trying to win a football game. For WSU, they’re trying to win a football game. That’s what we’re trying to do,” he said. “And we’re practicing, they’re practicing. I think maybe for everybody else it’s unique. We’re just trying to win a game, just like those guys are.”
In limited auditions, Dickert has done a better job of that. While Washington (4-7) is 0-2 under Gregory, and set to miss bowl season for the first time since 2009, WSU (6-5) has won two of its last three games to qualify for postseason play. It’s possible — should the Cougs win the Apple Cup for the first time since 2012, secure an altogether unlikely Pac-12 North division title (with a win and an Oregon loss against Oregon State) or end a tumultuous season with a resounding bowl win — Dickert could earn the permanent position.
Which, considering how the Cougs have played, would not surprise the state’s other defensive coordinator-turned-interim head coach.
“I think they’ve done a great job (in the wake of Rolovich’s firing),” Gregory said. “Yeah, there’s no question. They’re playing good defense. Their quarterback’s (Jayden de Laura) doing a nice job. It looks like they’re keeping it simple on offense, but they’ve got enough stuff to keep you off balance, and it’s a different kind of offense than we’ve seen. (Under Mike Leach it was) no tight ends, no two backs, spreading you out, all that. So, yeah, they’ve done a nice job over there.”
Meanwhile, the same cannot be said on Montlake — where Washington has lost three straight while struggling with inconsistent quarterback play, an ineffective running game, untimely turnovers and underwhelming run defense.
The execution has been lacking.
But not the energy.
“Shoot, these guys are awesome,” Gregory said Monday. “We had a great practice out there (today). We had a ton of energy out there. I’ve told you guys this before, these guys have never, ever, quit. You watch college football, (and) I think you see some teams that aren’t playing as hard as they probably should. These guys are playing hard. They’re making mistakes, obviously, but they’re playing hard. I couldn’t ask these guys to play harder than what they’re doing.”
It’s worth wondering just how hard the Huskies will play on Friday, considering their season is essentially over.
Regardless, Gregory will stand on the home sideline and represent the purple and gold for one more game.
“We’re all mercenaries anyways, coaches,” Gregory said Monday, when asked if he holds any lingering goodwill toward his alma mater. “Whoever pays us and puts food on the table for our kids, that’s who we’re rooting for. So, no.
“I get a lot of texts this time of year though, from a whole bunch of Cougars. That’s for sure.”