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Sports >  WSU football

Reports: Washington State to hire two assistants with run-and-shoot experience

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 21, 2021

Lamar assistant coach Dennis McKnight speaks to his team during a timeout in the second quarter of the NCAA game between the Lamar and Hawaii, Sept. 15, 2012 in Honolulu.  (Associated Press)
Lamar assistant coach Dennis McKnight speaks to his team during a timeout in the second quarter of the NCAA game between the Lamar and Hawaii, Sept. 15, 2012 in Honolulu. (Associated Press)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – By hiring a pair of assistants with extensive backgrounds teaching the run-and-shoot, Washington State will mitigate disorder within its offense.

The Cougars plan to add veterans Dan Morrison and Dennis McKnight to their short-handed coaching staff, per multiple reports. Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman broke the news Thursday morning.

Both incoming assistants are familiar with the unique offensive system employed by former WSU coach Nick Rolovich, who was fired Monday for failing to comply with a state COVID-19 vaccination mandate after his religious exemption application was denied.

Four other Cougar assistants were terminated on similar grounds. Among them were play-calling co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Craig Stutzmann and offensive line coach Mark Weber.

Second-year defensive coordinator Jake Dickert was named interim coach, and he said Tuesday he plans to preserve WSU’s offensive strategies. The new assistants will be key in that endeavor.

Morrison will presumably take over as WSU’s QB coach, while McKnight is expected to instruct Cougars linemen.

Morrison, who was Rolovich’s collegiate QB coach in the early 2000s, spent a combined 16 seasons in charge of signal-callers at Hawaii (1999-2007) and SMU (2008-14) under run-and-shoot guru June Jones.

While working with the Rainbow Warriors, Morrison also taught Heisman finalist Colt Brennan. He helped install the run-and-shoot at SMU and the Mustangs’ offense became prolific, snapping 13 program records.

Most recently, Morrison coached alongside Jones in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, then in the XFL with the Houston Roughnecks in 2020.

That Roughnecks’ staff was led by Jones and featured six other former Hawaii coaches, including McKnight and Mel de Laura – current WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura’s uncle, who was formerly a longtime strength and conditioning coach for the Rainbow Warriors.

It’s no doubt an encouraging development that WSU’s new QB coach has a history with the team’s QB.

McKnight assisted for eight teams over the past 22 years – he has 10 seasons of experience coaching offensive lines.

He was Jones’ special teams coach at UH from 1999-2000 and returned to the Rainbow Warriors in 2006 as the O-line and special teams coach before a three-year stint at SMU directing both specialists and the big men up front.

He assisted for two seasons in the CFL under Jones with Hamilton and most recently was on the Houston Roughnecks’ staff in 2020. McKnight played for three NFL teams across 10 seasons as a professional guard in the 1980s and ’90s.

WSU athletic director Pat Chun said Monday that the Cougars had been “working on contingency plans” for “a couple of weeks” in case Rolovich and other staff members were to be fired.

Before he was let go, Rolovich gave Chun and others “some input on some of those contingency plans,” the AD said.

“The challenge on the offense … is it’s a very detailed, intricate offense, this run-and-shoot,” Chun said. “To get the right coaches that can help assist, there just aren’t a lot of people on the streets right now.”

Along with Rolovich and the two offensive coaches, assistants Ricky Logo (defensive tackles) and John Richardson (cornerbacks) were also fired for cause by WSU on Monday.

Dickert said Tuesday the Cougars will look to promote a couple of staff members from within the program. FootballScoop reported Thursday that the vacant posts on defense will likely be filled by people already employed at WSU.

It’s uncertain who might be promoted, but a few candidates jump out among the Cougars’ graduate assistants and quality control staffers.

Before arriving on the Palouse, defensive analyst Jordan Malone worked as a defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach for three years at Division II Augustana University in South Dakota. He coached DBs in 2015-16 at Minnesota State.

Dickert made stops at both schools earlier in his career.

Malone was DC for Simon Fraser in 2010.

Quality control assistant Stanley Franks Jr. might also be considered for the cornerbacks job. In 2019, he was a junior college defensive coordinator at Cabrillo (California) College, south of San Jose. Before that, he spent time as a DB coach with the B.C. Lions of the CFL, Idaho State and the Spokane Shock.

He was a standout cornerback at the University of Idaho (2006-07), and led the nation in interceptions per game (0.75) as a junior before a short playing stint in the CFL with B.C.

Special teams GA Mac Alexander coached safeties in 2019 at Tarleton (Texas) State. In 2018, he served as DC/DBs coach at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. He assisted with DBs for four seasons previously at Colorado Mesa, the former college DB’s alma mater.

Max Silver and Rafael Aguilar – GAs on defense and offense, respectively – own experience coaching defensive lines.

Aguilar was a grad assistant under Rolovich at Hawaii, where he helped with the D-line. Before that, he was a defensive assistant for a year at American River College in Sacramento, California, before flipping to the offensive side.

Silver spent three seasons as a D-line and linebackers coach at Division II Eastern New Mexico.

It’s possible Dickert expands the role of edge coach A.J. Cooper, who followed the new interim coach out of Wyoming. Cooper led the Cowboys’ defensive ends and special-teams unit for six years. Before then, he spent eight years at North Dakota State – another of Dickert’s past stops.

“We’ll continue to shuffle around some responsibilities,” Dickert said. “I have the utmost respect for (safeties coach) Mark Banker. He’s seen really everything there is to see in this game. I’ve been with A.J. Cooper for a very long time. I’m going to divvy a lot of responsibilities of daily actions onto those guys.”

Dickert indicated he will remain coach of Cougars linebackers, but will lean on GA Jesse Bobbit, who played LB under Dickert at South Dakota State in 2016 before accepting a GA job with the Jackrabbits.

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