The Palouse Posse is Still Unbelievable
Editor's Note: The following story was originally published in December 2014 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Alamo Bowl.
Ask Mike Price what he remembers about the 1994 Cougar football season and his answer is simply two words:
"As a football coach you can't look at the games from that year and not get excited," Price said. "They were so much fun. Those guys were wild.
"Talent, personality, cockiness, attitude," Price continued in his description of the renowned Cougar defense. "They walk into a room and just dominated you."
And when they walked into the Alamodome on New Year's Eve for the 1994 Alamo Bowl, the Palouse Posse dominated the home-state Baylor Bears.
"We were focused on what we were going to do," said Torey Hunter, a senior cornerback on the '94 team. "There was a chip on our shoulder."
The Posse stifled a high-power Baylor offense, which came into the game averaging nearly 33 points and 382.4 yards per contest, to 151 total yards, eight first downs, and three points
As Hunter said of the Palouse Posse, "We were loaded."
The 10-3 win in San Antonio served as a culmination of a season that ended with how it began, domination by the defense.
The Cougars lost defensive coordinator (and current Minnesota Vikings Head Coach) Mike Zimmer during the offseason and Bill Doba took over those duties in 1994.
And the defense, which ranked seventh in the nation in 1993, didn't miss a beat.
"We were blessed with so many great coaches," said Hunter, who earned a FCS national championship ring as an assistant coach for the Eastern Washington University football team in 2010. Hunter joined cornerback Greg Burns, who was an assistant at USC when the Trojans won national titles in 2003 and 2004, and John Rushing, a member of the Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers' staff in 2010, as members of the Palouse Posse who earned championship rings as a coach.
It was Zimmer and Doba who were the architects of the Posse.
"Everybody looked at the Washington State football program as offense first and defense second," said Price. "We changed that. Mike Zimmer and Bill Doba were responsible for those changes."
Price could tell right away how dominant his defense was, at his offense expense.
"During two-a-days our offense could not get a first down," Price remembered of August practice. "It was so frustrating."
"I didn't think we were going to have that good of year going into the season because we weren't getting anything done against our defense," Price said.
Not known for having a conservative offensive philosophy, Price, knowing he had such a powerful force on the defensive side of the ball, believed he needed to establish a conservative offense to compliment it.
"I'm not a ball-control guy," Price said, "but I switched to ball-control.
"We're not going to be throwing the ball all over the field, we're not going no-huddle. We're going to run the clock, we're going to let their offense make mistakes, and our defense will take care of it."
The defense did take care of matters, surrendering just 10 points or fewer in each of its first six games. For the season, the Palouse Posse set a school standard allowing just four rushing touchdowns, one fewer than the 1937 team. The Posse entered the Alamo Bowl as the second-ranked defense in the nation.
"It was a really tight group with great talent," said James Darling, who played behind NFL first round selection Mark Fields at linebacker on the depth chart.
In the 1995 NFL Draft, four players from the Palouse Posse were selected:
Fields (New Orleans, Rd 1), Don Sasa (San Diego, Rd 3), Hunter (Houston, Rd 3), Chad Eaton (Arizona, Rd 7).
"I was a young guy on that team looking up to some of those guys," said Darling, who himself would be a second round selection by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1997 NFL Draft. "It was a great season to be part of something like that. It was something special."
The Cougars had hopes for a special season that culminated with a trip to the Rose Bowl, but back-to-back losses to USC and at Oregon State dashed any hopes of Pasadena and to any other New Year's bowl game.
The team rebounded from the consecutive losses with a 23-6 win against Washington in the Apple Cup.
A 7-4 regular season was good enough to earn the Cougars a trip to San Antonio, but Price was concerned that the team would be disappointed.
So he tracked down pictures of the previous year's Alamo Bowl champion, California, celebrating on the podium inside the Alamodome.
Price was determined his team would have fun in San Antonio.
"I said to the players, 'Do these guys look like they're having fun?' This is going to be us when we get to the Alamo Bowl," he said. "We're going to have a great time."
And they did.
The Cougar offense scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the game and a field goal on the last play of the second quarter to take a 10-0 halftime lead.
Baylor managed a field goal in the third quarter and threatened to drive for the tying touchdown late in the game.
But the Palouse Posse stepped up on final time.
Todd Jensen, a senior who backed up John Rushing all year, picked off a pass to deny Baylor's last gasp.
And just like the California picture Price showed his team, it was the Cougars who were celebrating on the Alamodome field with the confetti falling from the ceiling.
But the celebration inside the dome was just the beginning.
With it being New Year's Eve, Price remembered the coaches and players were excited to get back to the hotel and celebrate the new year.
But Price, along with game MVPs Ron Childs and quarterback Chad Davis, had to fulfill media obligations at the dome.
"We had the trophies with us," Price remembered. "We went back to the locker room after all the interviews and no one was in the locker room. We went outside and there was nobody in the parking lot."
Hailing a cab to get back to the hotel, Price and the players arrived back to the celebration at the hotel.
"It was like, 'Where have you guys been?'" Price remembered of the reaction when he returned to the hotel.
Two decades later, the Palouse Posse still resonate through the annals of Cougar football history.
"We came from being the worst defense in the country to the No. 1 defense in the country," said Hunter. "It was authentic. It was real. We took the defense to new heights."
And as Price reflects back after the Alamo Bowl victory, he can summarize the Palouse Posse in one word.