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Q&A: Washington State coach Mike Leach ‘surprised’ by departure of defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys

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

PULLMAN – Tracy Claeys resigned as Washington State’s defensive coordinator Tuesday – an abrupt decision that leaves the Cougars in a state of flux heading into the final seven games of the 2019 season.

WSU coach Mike Leach told The Spokesman-Review by phone Saturday afternoon that Claeys’ decision “caught us all by surprise” and indicated the Cougars wouldn’t begin the search for a new DC until the season ends, leaving linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni and cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath in charge of the defense until then.

Below is a full transcript of The S-R’s conversation with Leach abut Claeys’ exit.

The Spokesman-Review: When did Tracy officially resign? Can you talk about the process that led to his decision?

Mike Leach: “It’s really not much of a process and I don’t know what led to his decision, because he was very vague about it. My speculation is he just got burned out. But no, he resigned on Tuesday.”

S-R: Were there any signs that pointed to this happening, or did it catch you by surprise?

Leach: “It caught us all by surprise.”

S-R: Do you have any reason to believe it was related to the defensive struggles from the last two weeks, and not being able to solve the defense’s issues?

Leach: “I don’t have any idea, really. It was odd and he hasn’t said a great deal. I guess there’s other things in his life he’s looking for. I wish him the best and I hope he finds it.”

S-R: Did you guys have any disagreements on philosophy, or how the defense should be approached?

Leach: “No, not really. I don’t think so. The biggest thing is, nothing we didn’t agree to when I hired him.”

S-R: Can you identify why the defense has struggled so much, especially these last two weeks?

Leach: “Well, I think we’re trying to do too much and we’re not tackling well.”

S-R: Was your decision to elevate Roc Bellantoni to the interim position based on his prior experience as a DC?

Leach: “Well, him and Darcel both. I think they both do a great job of bringing energy; I think their abilities complement one another. Roc’s got experience organizing, the organizational skills that go with coordinating, and Darcel does a great job as far as elevating the room and is knowledgeable himself.”

S-R: Did you try to convince Tracy to stay, or was his mind made up at that point?

Leach: “Any discussions we had is between us, but he had his mind made up.”

S-R: When did you guys inform the team?

Leach: “Yesterday (Friday).”

S-R: How does the move shake up recruiting, coaching, etc.? Or does anything really change?

Leach: “Not really. He didn’t coach a position group, so all the positions were covered, and recruit-wise, that was predominantly the position coaches.”

S-R: Do you plan to bring somebody in before the year ends, or keep Bellantoni and McBath as interim coaches the rest of the year?

Leach: “We’ll keep these guys interim for the rest of the year.”

S-R: How do you expect the players to react to such a major change in the middle of the season?

Leach: “They seemed to handle it quite well. We had pretty good energy the last two practices.”

S-R: So, it could be a spark for you guys going forward?

Leach: “I think so.”

S-R: Can you talk about the positive impact Tracy had on the team?

Leach: “Well, we really appreciate what he did last season. I thought he did a really good job. I thought last season was as good a job by any defensive coordinator I’ve ever had.”

S-R: Will there be anything you look for in the next defensive coordinator?

Leach: “Well, we’ll just see what we do the rest of this year. We’re not to that point or anything.”

S-R: Did this disrupt your practice schedule, or the work you guys have got done this week?

Leach: “Well, we practiced Friday. The only thing we changed is we moved Thursday’s practice to Friday.”