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ROSE BOWL * WASHINGTON STATE vs. OKLAHOMA | Diane Pucin

Doublespeak Seems to Be Price's Forte

January 01, 2003|Diane Pucin

Mike Price, is coaching Washington State today in the Rose Bowl. He's also the coach at Alabama. Whether he's being paid by both schools is unclear.

Price is good at deflecting questions.

"Newspapermen would know about double-dipping," Price said. "Good question though."

Bad answer. But typical of too many college coaches these days.

Besides double-dipping, Price knows a little about doublespeak.

"The decision to go to Alabama was easy," Price said. "The decision to leave Washington State and all of the players was tough."

Easy? Tough? Sounds like a man who wants it both ways, catering to the high opinion Alabamans have of their program, making nice with the players and coaches he was abandoning.

Having it both ways, Price is good at that too.

Because he wants to, Price is coaching in the Rose Bowl. He shouldn't be.

While Ohio State couldn't find a way to cut through all the NCAA red tape quickly enough to pay for freshman running back Maurice Clarett's trip from the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., back to Ohio for the funeral of one of Clarett's best friends who had been killed in a shooting, college coaches can play the lying game. Then they can keep benefits from two schools at once.

Let's recap how things were as Price took his shiny, new, high-paying Alabama job.

After UCLA officials had called Washington State, asking permission to speak to Price, Price told his Cougar team that he would never consider leaving for the Bruins. Why?

"Because I can't bring all of you with me," Price said.

While Price spoke those words, a private plane, reportedly dispatched by the University of Alabama, was waiting for him less than 10 miles from campus.

Four days later that plane was taking Price to Tuscaloosa so he could accept the Alabama job. Price wouldn't be bringing any of those young men with him.

Those young men noticed.

"Coach said he wasn't going to UCLA, then the next day he was going to Alabama," receiver Jerome Riley said. "When we first heard the news, it really hurt because we felt he wasn't being honest. But who wouldn't take [the Alabama job]? He bettered his position. When the puzzle came together, we understood. So, yeah, we wanted him here for the bowl game."

Riley's understanding is admirable.

Price's unwillingness to give up any of the Rose Bowl glory isn't.

Because it would be awfully frustrating to watch his ex-team play in the Granddaddy, Price found ways to make himself sound indispensable, to the team and to new coach Bill Doba, Price's former assistant.

"It's been so hectic for both of us and that's why I thought it was so important for me to stay and help," Price said.

Help, of course, means being the head coach. It doesn't mean doing whatever Doba needed.

"There were days when the phones at our football offices never stopped ringing," Price said.

Whose phones? Whose offices? It's all so confusing.

Of course the job Price accepted had been abandoned a week earlier by Dennis Franchione. Franchione left for Texas A&M shortly after calling reports he was thinking about doing just that "idiotic."

"This is very distressing and a very, very destructive practice," said Michael Josephson, founder and president of Josephson Institute of Ethics in Marina del Rey.

"This is a horrible, horrible lesson. There are probably large handfuls of kids on both teams who feel genuinely betrayed. Except the ones who are already so cynical, they never believed what their coaches told them anyway. It's to the point where someone is going to say, 'Kid, if you believe the coach, you're a stupid kid.' "

At least Price told his players in person that he was leaving. Franchione didn't. Some Cougar players cried. So did Price.

Junior cornerback Jason David told a Spokane newspaper that Price's crying didn't make much sense.

"You're going to sit there and cry and at the same time you're leaving? That doesn't really add up," David said. "As soon as he finished talking, he was back to normal. I'm not saying it was fake tears or he's a fake person because I do feel Coach Price is a great guy and a great person. But I feel like he was putting on a role. When I think back, it seems like he was putting on a role for three years."

How refreshing it would have been if Price had told his players he was thinking about the new job. Most big-time college athletes understand about money and prestige. They might not like it, but if Price had said, "Look, guys, I'm 56. This is a chance to make more money than I ever dreamed about and a chance to coach where Bear Bryant coached," that's information players can process.

But a coach doesn't want to take that chance if he wants to keep a secret. He doesn't want to take that chance if he doesn't get the new job. How much respect will players have for a man who has just made them second choice? And who cares if they respect him if he gets the glittery new job?

Franchione has his own Web site and on the first page are the words "Accountability. Loyalty. Trust."

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