PULLMAN – With the majority of the football team still elsewhere on winter break, and the streets of Pullman relatively quiet, Pat Chun stood at a podium inside the Cougar Football Complex on Thursday and set out the parameters for a coaching search.
To some degree, the Washington State athletic director was ready to embark on this search long before Mike Leach told him early Thursday he had accepted the head football coaching position at Mississippi State University.
“The hope was this day wasn’t going to come, but we always needed to prepare that if it was coming,” Chun said. “So we’re ready and we’ll go and we’ll get the right person here.”
Though he begins this search later than usual, with only one other FBS job available – at Baylor – Chun said he was confident all the ingredients to perennially contend for a Pac-12 championship are present in Pullman today.
Minus, that is, a head coach.
“We believe the 2020 team is as talented as a team that we’ve had at Washington State. This combined with our leadership in President (Kirk) Schulz, the commitment we made with our facilities, the passion of Cougs all around the world,” Chun said. “That will allow us to recruit the best head coach possible for Washington State. We owe it to our 2020 team and our recruiting class to find the best head coach possible. We’ll work until we find the right person.”
Washington State football is in a different place than it was eight years ago, when Bill Moos hired Leach to revive a struggling program. In the four years before Leach was hired, Washington State went 9-40 under coach Paul Wulff.
During Leach’s tenure, the Cougars won 55 games and lost 47. Only Mike Price (83-78 from 1989 to 2002) and Babe Hollingbery (93-53-14 from 1926-42) won more games as Cougars football coach.
But the timing of Leach’s move tints this hiring process with a unique hue. There are only two college football teams still playing: LSU and Clemson, which play Monday in New Orleans in the national championship game. Recruiting classes – most signed on Dec. 18 – are almost entirely complete.
The Cougars were already looking for a permanent defensive coordinator, a role Tracy Claeys resigned from on Oct. 4 and was filled on an interim basis by Roc Bellantoni and Marcel McBath.
Leach also did not have an offensive coordinator, leaving no obvious, hierarchical choice to fill the head coaching void in the interim, especially because Chun said he expects some assistants will join Leach in Starkville, Mississippi.
“We have to see how the dust settles, but we’re going to move and get going,” Chun said. “We’re already moving, basically.”
Chun said he reached out to current players in a group message and plans to contact each of the team’s 18 recruits who signed letters of intent last month.
The previous two times WSU hired a football coach, those processes began more than a month earlier than this one. Bill Doba and then-athletic director Jim Sterk reached a “mutual agreement” on Nov. 26, 2007, that Doba would no longer be the team’s head football coach. Paul Wulff was hired to replace him about two weeks later, on Dec. 10.
Four years later, Moos fired Wulff on Nov. 29, 2011; he hired Leach the next day.
Chun did not indicate whether he had any specific candidates in mind. He also didn’t lay out a timetable for a hire.
“Not to be vague or flippant, but it’ll take however long it needs to take,” Chun said. “We’ll work fast. However long it takes to get the right person at Washington State is how long it’ll take.”
Chun also did not indicate whether he would look for a defensive-minded coach or an Air Raid specialist, or neither, although he admitted something of a connection between WSU and Air Raid football.
“We have run a highly specialized offense here the last couple years. But that’s why this is a huge opportunity for some coach out there,” Chun said. “So it’s trying to find the right coach that can take all the ingredients in place and put us in position to contend for the Pac-12 championship like we’ve been the last couple years. So … it’s just another element in place that adds to the overall portfolio.”
Once this search concludes, Chun will have hired new head coaches in football, baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, as well as swimming and diving, since he was named athletic director on Jan. 22, 2018. The next football coach will be the program’s 33rd in its history.
“I think all the personnel we’ve added over the last couple years fits Washington State great,” Chun said. “I think that’s why we’ve been able to do some really great things as an athletic department. And obviously, there’s no more important hire for an institution than the head football coach, and we’re going to make sure we get this right.”
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