PULLMAN – For one game, Jake Dickert will return to his old role.
Washington State’s head coach is taking over at defensive coordinator for the Cougars’ season finale on Dec. 17 in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl against Fresno State.
“I’m excited a little bit about how I get a chance to call plays again for the bowl game,” Dickert told reporters Friday. “I’m gonna be calling plays for the defense.”
He is replacing Brian Ward, who left the program recently to join Arizona State after spending one season as WSU’s defensive coordinator/linebackers coach. Dickert is also adding linebacker duties to his plate this postseason.
“I got my first practice back (on Friday) as linebackers coach under my belt,” Dickert said. “You see me smiling from ear to ear, because I love coaching. I love being back with the guys. I love being back in the grind. … I had a bounce in my step.”
Dickert served as the Cougars’ DC/LBs coach during the 2020 and ‘21 seasons and guided a defensive resurgence at WSU. He led the Cougars as interim coach and doubled as DC for the second half of the 2021 season, after coach Nick Rolovich was fired for failing to comply with a state COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Dickert earned the permanent head coaching job in November 2021, then hired a new coordinator with a similar defensive mindset, plucking Ward out of Nevada.
Ward introduced some wrinkles to WSU’s defensive system and brought along a couple of standout Nevada players, but didn’t make fundamental changes to a proven scheme – a swarming 4-2-5 defense Dickert installed in early 2020.
The Cougars (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) were among the conference’s best defensive teams this season. WSU performed admirably on defense in every game except two – losses to Oregon and Washington.
WSU finished the regular season third in the Pac-12 in scoring defense at 22.42 points per game.
The Cougars led the conference in that category for five consecutive weeks before giving up 51 points Nov. 26 in a loss to the Huskies.
Making good use of creative blitzes, WSU led the conference in tackles for loss (74). The Cougars came in at fifth in the conference in total defense (394 yards per game).
WSU won’t overhaul its defensive system next year, and Dickert is planning to take a more hands-on approach with the unit in 2023.
“The bottom line is: We’re going to run our defense. We’re going to run this defense. It’s a defense I believe in and we’re going to stay true to the core of what it is,” Dickert said. “So, not necessarily finding someone who runs it, but wants to come in here and learn, and do it. I feel, going forward, I’ll be even more of an integral part of that room.”
Asked about his timeline for selecting his next defensive coordinator, Dickert said he’s heard from several interested parties and expects to make a decision in the weeks following the bowl game. He hasn’t decided on whether he wants the next DC to coach linebackers, too.
“I’m looking for the best fit at coordinator, first and foremost,” he said. “We have a bunch of guys that have already reached out. It’s amazing, the response of people that want to be here. That will be first and foremost – I want people that want to be here.”
Senior linebacker Daiyan Henley and senior strong safety Jordan Lee followed Ward to Pullman. Henley, an All-Pac-12 first-teamer , opted out of the LA Bowl after an impressive season.
He will join Dickert on the sideline at SoFi Stadium and serve as an assistant linebackers coach. In Henley’s stead, Lee is shifting to the outside linebacker position.
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