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Sports >  WSU football

John Blanchette: Jake Dickert did what was necessary, and now will have much to do as WSU’s acting head coach

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 19, 2021

By John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

Seventeen hours into his new gig at Washington State, and Jake Dickert seemed to know that there was one thing for which he didn’t have time.

Triage.

Degrees of urgency? Things were already so far past that.

There were players to listen to, counsel and hug. Help-wanteds to send out. Practice to coordinate. More player face time. Explaining to spouses and kids that there would be even fewer Dad hours in a day. Game plans to plan. Players again. Coaching reinforcements to vet. Media to wedge in. Recruits to call. All with a game deadline looming on Saturday, in a season that between the lines has sprouted considerable promise in the space of three weeks.

Better set the metronome to prestissimo, unless there’s something faster.

Wait, did we mention the players?

Because Jake Dickert took pains to do just that on Tuesday, over and over again. That was maybe the best sign coming out of the Sturm und Drang of the past 72 hours – the past 92 days – at Wazzu, because too little thought was given to the players by the previous guy.

“Our young people have fear, doubt and uncertainty in their minds,” said the Cougars’ acting head football coach, and still the defensive coordinator. “My job is to replace that with faith, trust and belief.

“I think those three words are the cornerstones of any program, any real culture. I firmly believe our guys love the game and love each other. They play for each other. I want them to have faith in me.”

And why shouldn’t they?

He is, after all, one of the Cougar coaches who did what was necessary to stick around, and not walk out the door.

That will not be one of the Band-Aids in Dickert’s first aid kit, nor should it be. The war of words over vaccines and mandates and the terms of Nick Rolovich’s departure as head coach of the Cougs will rage on over social media and between barstools, but it needs to get kumbaya pretty quickly in the insular community of WSU football.

Even if it’s kumbaya with an edge.

“Our young men,” Dickert said, “are hurting.”

It’s both a cumulative thing and sudden. In their time at WSU, the older Cougars have endured the trauma of two teammates dying and having another shot and hospitalized. They saw the 2020 season turned upside down by COVID-19 delays and cancellations, playing just four games with bitter results. The head coach who recruited the bulk of them moved on, and even if many of them felt less than embraced by Mike Leach’s approach, the changeover brought new schemes and coaching personnel.

Then came the No-Vax Nick business, and Monday’s “separation” that also included four position coaches, unprecedented upheaval in midseason.

Their support for their outgoing coach over social media was, predictably, overwhelming. The Kassidy Woods affair and subsequent lawsuit notwithstanding, Rolovich was a popular figure in the locker room. His unvaxxed leave-taking was never going to be processed by admiring 20-year-olds as something he could have headed off; the villains were always going to be the governor, the administration and, naturally, the media.

Good. Let it ride. Us-against-the-world has moved a lot of earth in sports over the years.

Even so, Dickert is mostly sensitive to the “us” part.

“They’ve built such a great rapport with one another,” he said. “I told them last night, ‘You don’t know what the man next to you is going through until you ask.’ That’s what great teammates do, that’s what great leaders do. We do have a core of great leadership on this team, and I’m going to tap into that. I’m going to use that. Because there is a special bond that’s been built here.”

At the end of practice Tuesday morning, the staff had the scoreboard screen in Martin Stadium booted up with a picture of the Cougar players in celebration from a previous triumph. Dickert was delivering a message.

“These are moments nobody can take away from you,” he told them. “And we have the ability to create new moments.”

He’d love to see it start Saturday against Brigham Young, and he’d love to see a full house in Martin to light the fuse.

That’s unlikely. Only last week did attendance finally top 25,000 for a game this fall, enthusiasm stifled by the virus, vaccination requirement, the poor PR from the Rolovich stand-off and the indifferent results of 2020 and September. Now the pro-Rolos have their excuse to stay away, even with the Cougs on a roll.

Well, Dickert has a message for both camps, too.

“I know sometimes people are mad,” he said. “But if you’re mad, I hope you’re so mad you’re willing to help and support our players. (And) if you think today’s a day for celebration, I hope you’re willing to show up on Saturday and celebrate our guys.

“Let’s come together. I believe they deserve this.”

Surely they’ve paid enough of a price.

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