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Under new defensive coordinator tandem, Washington State looking to simplify things

PULLMAN – No, Mike Leach was not prepared to divulge the contents of his final conversation with Tracy Claeys six days after Washington State’s defensive coordinator informed the coach he’d called his last plays for the Cougars.

Yes, Leach reiterated Monday afternoon in his first media availability since a 38-13 loss to Utah, Claeys’ decision to split midway through the season took him and just about everyone else by surprise.

No, the two haven’t spoken since.

“Well, I’m definitely not sharing any elements of any conversation with anybody because it’s none of your business,” Leach told reporters Monday. “But the other thing is, to be honest, a lot of you guys probably know as much about it as I do, from the standpoint, he chose to resign for his own reasons which he wasn’t very specific about.

“But I think as people go through things and everybody’s dealing with something, then all the sudden you may select a different course and he did, and it was sudden and it was in the middle of things but we wish him the best.”

A tweet from Claeys Friday night stated, “we couldn’t agree on solutions (to fix the defense),” which would suggest there was at least some amount of discord between the head coach and his DC – perhaps one factor that nudged WSU’s defensive play-caller out of his seat after consecutive losses to UCLA and Utah saw the Cougars give up more than 1,000 yards and 100 points.

Leach didn’t want a change at DC, necessarily, but he expressed the need to see something different, claiming the Cougars will simplify their scheme under interim defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni, and his co-interim DC, Darcel McBath, and will look into personnel changes during practice this week as WSU prepares to visit No. 18 Arizona State Saturday.

“We have some really good coaches on defense,” Leach said. “Together, they’ll put together the game plan and filter it out. I think we’ve got to make it a little simpler, we’re well on our way to doing that. So, that’s about it.”

Rather than a strategic overhaul, Leach believes the Cougars need to make things less complicated.

“We didn’t have any shortage of strategy. We had too much strategy,” he said. “I mean all the strategy in the world, everybody thinks there’s some secret recipe or if somebody would’ve just said that, or just run this. It’s never like that and it never has been.”

Bellantoni, who also coaches WSU’s inside linebackers, will inherit Claeys’ spot in the press box as the primary play-caller, and McBath, the team’s cornerbacks coach, will monitor things on the sideline and offer a motivational presence to defensive players.

“I think we were missing that, too,” Leach said.

It may not be the tact Leach uses when he hires a new defensive coordinator in the offseason, or promotes from within, but dividing DC duties allows WSU to utilize both coaches’ strengths. McBath isn’t as experienced, but he was a standout player for Leach at Texas Tech and in the NFL, has spent more time within Leach’s program and, at just 33 years old, is more relatable to the college athletes he’s coaching. Bellantoni, meanwhile, is the only member of Leach’s staff who’s served time as a DC at the FBS level, spending three seasons at Florida Atlantic University, while Pat Chun was the Owls’ athletic director.

“I think one of the most difficult things as a coordinator is the organizational process, as far as what you do when,” Leach said. “So I do think the pair of them are pretty good, because Darcel’s been here longer and also played at a high level, although he’s a young guy. Then I think that’s what you’re really trying to do, to marry up, is leadership that provides inspiration and organization and execution. I think between the two of them, it’s potentially a good combination.”