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Washington State negotiates contract extensions with coach Mike Leach, DC Tracy Claeys

Washington State defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys sizes up Wyoming before the start of the Cougars’  Sept. 1, 2018, game at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Wyo. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – On the heels of a banner season, Washington State’s offensive and defensive play-callers received votes of confidence from the school administration Wednesday afternoon through contract extensions.

WSU and seventh-year coach Mike Leach took the first step in negotiations, agreeing in principle to a contract provision that adds another year to his original four-year deal and keeps Leach in Pullman through the 2023 season.

The Cougars also struck a deal with Leach’s first-year defensive coordinator, Tracy Claeys, who signed a three-year extension that keeps him on staff through the 2021 season.

Leach and WSU agreed to a five-year, $20 million extension after the Cougars won nine games during the 2017 season. The recent provision essentially renews the coach’s five-year contract, which compensated Leach $3.5 million in 2018 and will pay him $3.75 million in 2019, then $4 million each of the four following years. There’s also incentive for Leach to stay through the 2020 season. If he does that, the coach is guaranteed a one-time retention bonus of $750,000.

Details of Claeys’ contract were not released.

“Coach Mike Leach has built a nationally prominent football program at Washington State and our student-athletes continue to excel athletically and academically under his leadership,” WSU Director of Athletics Pat Chun said in a press release. “His ability to create and steward a winning culture, combined with his vision and expertise, make him one of the elite coaches in the entire sport of football.

“Few coaches could have accomplished what Coach Leach did in 2018. There is no greater head football coach for WSU than Mike Leach and we are happy to have him leading our program for many years to come.”

Leach’s offense and Claeys’ defense improved categorically in 2018, helping the Cougars notch the first 11-win season in program history. WSU capped the season with a 28-26 win over Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl – the program’s fourth consecutive postseason appearance – and the Cougars finished No. 10 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, higher than any team in the Pac-12.

The WSU offense made notable improvements in 2018 with graduate transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew, leading the Pac-12 in points per game (37.5) and yards per game (451). The Cougars scored just more than 30 ppg and gained 434 ypg in 2017.

“It has been a great run here at Washington State over the last seven years, but I still believe that our best days are ahead of us,” Leach said in the release. “I am just as excited to be the head coach at WSU as I was the day that I was hired here and I look forward to leading this program to big things in the future.”

Claeys and the defense made strides, too. In the final year of Alex Grinch’s tenure as WSU’s DC, the Cougars allowed 25.8 ppg. Claeys, formerly the head coach at Minnesota, improved that number to 23.3 ppg in his first season. Thanks to a late-season turnover surge, the Cougars turned their opponents over 23 times throughout the course of the year, tying for second in the Pac-12 in that category.

Leach was named the AFCA National Coach of the Year in 2018 and was in the running for various other coaching awards. Claeys was one of 15 semifinalists for the Broyles Award, handed out annually to the nation’s top assistant.