Jake Dickert briefly switched sports when asked about the career path that led to his appointment as the 34th football coach in Washington State history.
“Some coaches are born on third base,” Dickert told the Pac-12 Hotline last month. “I was born in the on-deck circle, and I’m proud of my background.”
It includes a playing career at a Division III school (Wisconsin-Stevens Point), coaching stints for FCS programs in North and South Dakota, and first-hand experience with one of the wildest, most chaotic coaching transitions in the history of college football.
Of note: Dickert also was part of the Nick Rolovich tumult at Washington State last fall.
While unprecedented, the vaccine mandate mayhem in Pullman might not qualify as the most unusual situation of Dickert’s 15-year coaching career.
“I was on staff at Minnesota State,” he said.
With the head coach who faced child porn charges?
That Minnesota State?
In 2012, Minnesota State Mankato coach Todd Hoffner was arrested for suspicion of creating and possessing child pornography, which the university discovered while repairing Hoffner’s school-issued cellphone.
During the process, a technician discovered videos of naked children. Hoffner was placed on leave and would spend a night in jail.
But there was a massive catch to the accusations: The videos were of Hoffner’s young children playing at home following a bath.
The presiding judge dismissed the case.
“The videos under consideration here contain nude images of the defendant’s minor children dancing and acting playful after a bath. That is all they contain,” Krista J. Jass, wrote in her decision, according to an ESPN report.
But it was hardly the end of the saga.
Minnesota State, a Division II program in the Northern Sun Conference, eventually fired Hoffner and named offensive coordinator Aaron Keen as the acting head coach.
In the spring of 2014, Keen hired the 30-year-old Dickert to coordinate the Mavericks’ defense.
Meanwhile, an arbitrator ruled that Minnesota State was wrong to fire Hoffner and ordered his reinstatement.
By this time, Hoffner had taken another head coaching job, with Minot State. Forced to choose, he opted to return to Minnesota State and coach with Keen.
The players weren’t happy. They wanted Keen to remain in charge and staged a protest, refusing to practice.
“It was wild,” Dickert said, the disbelief still evident in his voice. (The players eventually accepted Hoffner’s return.)
The experience served Dickert well on Oct. 18, when Washington State fired Rolovich and four assistants for refusing to comply with a COVID vaccine mandate for state employees.
At 4:30 p.m. that afternoon, Dickert received a call from athletic director Pat Chun, asking if he wanted to become the interim head coach.
Chun made the offer with mixed emotions.
“I was hesitant, because it could have hurt Jake’s career,” he explained. “If you’re named as an interim coach and it doesn’t work out – and these were extremely difficult circumstances – then it can impact your ability to get a head coaching job in the future.”
Dickert didn’t see it like that.
“Nothing negative could have come from the opportunity,” said Dickert, whose team wraps up spring practice Saturday with the Crimson and Gray Game.
“I don’t believe in failure. Just because something doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean it’s a failure. So what if I wasn’t named the permanent coach? That’s what everyone expected to happen.”
Thirty minutes after Chun’s offer – and Dickert’s acceptance – the Cougars convened a team meeting.
Half the coaching staff was gone, kickoff against Brigham Young was five days away, and the Cougars had plenty to play for: They were within range of a bowl berth and, possibly, the North Division title.
“There were a lot of emotions,” Dickert said of the meeting. “I was self-aware enough to know that half of them (the defense) knew me; the other half was used to going against us in practice.
“I could have acted like the defensive coordinator, but I wanted to set a unifying tone, create a vision and accountability.”
The Cougars practiced early the next day. Understandably, it didn’t go well. Dickert called the workout “the hardest thing I’ve been a part of.” But he knew he had the players – that their mere participation meant they were committed to moving forward, together.
“We didn’t let the situation define us,” he said. “We knew we had everything we needed to keep it going.
“Coaches talk all the time about dealing with adversity. I had a chance to show them. The players saw me go through it with them.”
The Cougars lost a close game to BYU, then blistered Arizona State and Arizona to become bowl-eligible.
Dickert’s job interview lasted a month and a half, included a handful of meetings with Chun and ended with the Cougars planting their flag in Husky Stadium following a blowout victory over Washington.
One day later, Dickert, 38, was named the permanent coach and given a five-year contract.
“I’m forever indebted to Washington State,’’ he said. “They’re going to have to pry (me) out of here.”
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