After finally climbing the mountain and planting Ol Crimson on the summit that is the University of Washington’s logo, Washington State wasted no time making Jake Dickert their 34th head coach on November 27th. The day after WSU snapped their seven-game losing streak to the rival Washington Huskies in a historic 40-13 blowout. Dickert led the Cougs to a 3-2 record in their final five games of the season.
It’s a very safe hire for WSU. After the last two coaches being very controversial, Dickert gives the university a breath of fresh air with his humble attitude and composure that is as cool as the other side of the pillow.
While Dickert’s personality is a welcoming change of pace from the previous head coaches in Pullman, his success as a head coach only stems from his five games as the interim. So what exactly does Dickert bring to the table that made WSU so eager to hand him the keys to the program just a day after the regular season ended?
Change of Pace
As discussed above, Dickert does a complete 180 of previous head coaches. WSU knew what they were getting into with Mike Leach. Leach was an established offensive guru with his Air Raid offense that had established success at Texas Tech. But on the flip side of the coin, Leach was going to be a PR headache with his short temper and willingness to throw his team under the bus when things weren’t going too well. WSU decided the risk was worth the reward because of the condition the football program was in at the time. It desperately needed a spark to get it off the ground and prevent any further downfall that had already made them arguably one of the worst programs in the power five.
When Leach left, WSU began looking for a head coach that could bring the wacky, weird and fun nature that Leach created without the controversy. They brought in Nick Rolovich who came off as a fun and interesting guy, players coach and most importantly, stayed out of too much controversy. And yet, even though WSU thought they were finally out of any further PR headaches, a pandemic happened. Controversial opinions by their head coach created a full on PR storm so bad it made Leach’s controversies look like a mere cloudy day.
Dickert, as far as we know, shouldn’t leave Athletic Director Pat Chun, University President Kirk Schulz or any other key member of WSU working overtime to fix any media problems he creates. In his press conferences, Dickert has impressed many with his well-spoken answers, humility and love for his players and the program. Even when presented any opportunity to create headlines by choosing the answer his predecessors may have chose, he opted on the side of caution and gave the clear uncontroversial answer.
The WSU Football program has gone through a lot over the past three plus years. It’s on an unprecedented three coaches in three seasons and were looking like they may make it a Wendy’s four for four with another head coaching search this offseason.
Head coaching turnovers take a toll on a program. You are completely changing the face and identity of a program on top of overhauling most of the staff. It’s a complete change in the day-to-day operations. Everything from the plays that are called on gameday to who’s in charge of filming practices gets completely reworked.
WSU avoids their forth remodel in three years by sticking with Dickert. But they are taking a risk with a guy who has never been the head coach and hasn’t had to face the difficulties of leading a program for more than six weeks at the end of the season.
Recruiting and Transfer Portal
Since Jake Dickert became the interim head coach at WSU, he and his staff were able to still lock down two three-star commitments. WR Leyton Smithson from Texas, and S Bryce Grays from Bellingham, Washington. Though they did have three-star LB Fred Thompkins decommit. Keeping Dickert as the head coach and keeping most of the guys on his staff allows the program to have some stability in their recruiting efforts. Current commits and athletes with an offer no longer have to worry about who they may be playing for should they decide to attend WSU.
This is just regarding the current 2022 (or #WA22U if you will) recruiting class. The success of future recruiting classes and the final pushes for the 2022 class will be revealed over time as Dickert and his staff begin to ramp up recruiting efforts over the next couple of months. It is still unknown how well Dickert can recruit as the lead guy but his small-town roots and knowledge of what it takes to win and recruit at smaller programs like Wyoming should benefit him.
For the current players on the roster, knowing that the current regime will continue on for the foreseeable future should limit the amount of players from opting to leave the program. Especially on the defensive side of the ball. Often times players come to schools for the coach that recruited them more-so than the school itself. While it is very possible to see some of the upperclassmen opt for the draft like Jaylen Watson or enter the transfer portal, we shouldn’t see too much movement from the freshmen and sophomores on the defensive side of the ball. On offense, we may see an uptick in transfers out as they likely weren’t recruited by Dickert and therefore may not want to play under a defensive coach with a cloud of uncertainty around his offensive style.
The defense should remain the same schematically. Dickert’s 4-2-5 will likely stay in pact unless Dickert opts to give the keys to the defensive scheme to his new defensive coordinator, whoever that may be.
Offense is the biggest mystery. Rolovich brought over the Run-And-Shoot from Hawaii, bringing over his offensive coordinator Brian Smith and pass game coordinator Craig Stutzman. Smith and Stutzman combined efforts in play calling early in the year with Stutzman taking over after the Utah game. After Stutzman departed on October 19th, Smith regained play calling duties for the final five games. But with Rolovich out, it’s now Dicket’s choice of offensive philosophy. One thing to note, WSU did run the ball at a higher percentage in the final five games than it did in the first seven weeks of the season. All three of WSU’s games where they ran the ball more than they passed it came in the final five games of the year, when Dickert was the interim head coach. They ran the ball 45.8% of the time under Dickert and Smith.
This could be an indication of Dickert wanting an offense that is more run heavy than previous head coaches. The future offensive scheme and identity of the Cougs will be the biggest question heading into this offseason. If Brian Smith stays on staff, than it would be hard to imagine the Cougs switching from the Run-And-Shoot offense as he spent 2016-2019 with Rolovich at Hawaii as the offensive coordinator.
A New Chapter
It’s been quite the story for Cougar football over the past decade. A revival that was shrouded by controversy and adversity at seemingly every step along the way. Now the Cougs enter yet another time of uncertainty. The last time the Cougs entered this dark tunnel, the light at the end turned out to be a pair of headlights on a train carrying a large load of uncertainty.
This time, there is more hope. A sense of renewed confidence has consumed the Palouse led by a leader that has won the hearts of fans everywhere with his humble nature and sways away from the plague of controversy that has ate at this program over the past decade.
While Dickert’s five week success has been a great start, there is still much more to prove. He’s only five games into a contract that says he will be coaching at least another 60. Can he recruit well enough at one of the hardest power five recruiting locations? Can he continue to elevate the defense? Will he be able to put together an offense that can continue the WSU tradition of being towards the top of the Pac-12?
Only time will tell. But, carrying an Apple Cup sized amount of confidence and momentum into the future is a great start.