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Sports >  WSU football

Washington State football program announces four new assistants, chief of staff

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 3, 2022

Washington State coach Jake Dickert reacts to edge-rusher Ron Stone Jr.'s blocked field goal against Central Michigan during the second half of the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas.  (Associated Press)
Washington State coach Jake Dickert reacts to edge-rusher Ron Stone Jr.'s blocked field goal against Central Michigan during the second half of the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas. (Associated Press)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – Washington State’s football program announced previously reported additions to its sideline Monday, officially introducing four new Cougar assistants and a chief of staff.

Clay McGuire returns to Pullman and will reassume his role as offensive line coach.

Joel Filani, another former Coug staffer, is taking over the wide receivers room.

Pete Kaligis comes to WSU from Wyoming. He’ll mentor defensive tackles and adopt assistant head coach duties.

Mark Atuaia was hired out of Virginia to oversee WSU’s running backs.

Brent Vernon left Wyoming to accept the Cougars’ chief of staff position.

“They all share the same passion for teaching the game of football as they do in developing our players into the best versions of themselves that they can be,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said, quoted in a news release.

Dickert was lifted from interim to permanent coach Nov. 27, and about a week later, reports surfaced that McGuire and Kaligis had agreed to join a new staff being assembled at WSU. Filani and Atuaia reportedly hopped aboard about two weeks before the Cougars’ Sun Bowl finale, a 24-21 loss against Central Michigan. Vernon’s hiring had not been reported before Monday.

McGuire taught O-linemen under former WSU coach Mike Leach from 2012-17, recruiting and tutoring future NFLers like Joe Dahl and Cole Madison. He spent this season in the same role at Southern Cal, and worked as O-line coach at Texas State and offensive coordinator at Texas Tech after his first stint in Pullman.

“He is a proven offensive line coach and knows what it takes to find and develop some of the best talent in the Pacific Northwest,” Dickert said of McGuire, who played H-back under Leach and got his coaching start at Texas Tech.

McGuire also played his college ball alongside Filani, a star Red Raiders wideout in the early 2000s.

Filani worked with outside receivers over the past three years at his alma mater after a three-year stay at North Texas. He was a quality control assistant at WSU in 2015.

“Joel’s experience in our offensive system combined with his ability to recruit and connect with his players make him a great fit for WSU,” Dickert said. “He understands what it takes to be in Pullman and what makes this place so special and I can’t wait to see what he does with our wide receiver group.”

Kaligis and Dickert shared an employer from 2017-19 in Laramie, Wyoming.

A former offensive lineman and strength coach at Washington – and a native of Bellingham – Kaligis coached for Wyoming over the past 13 years, the last eight of which he spent in charge of a consistently formidable Cowboy D-tackle group. He has experience coaching offensive lines, running backs and tight ends. Kaligis cut his teeth at Western Washington in the mid-1990s and held down a strength and conditioning job at UW from 1999-2004 before four years as an offensive assistant at Montana.

“I am excited to add one of the best leaders and mentors of young men that I have ever been around in Pete Kaligis,” Dickert said. “His depth of knowledge and teaching will be key for the development of our interior defensive line and his longstanding relationships with the high school coaches in the state of Washington will be crucial in our recruiting of in-state players.”

Atuaia supervised the Cavaliers’ running backs from 2016-21 after following coach Bronco Mendenhall out of Brigham Young.

“Mark has a proven track record of recruiting and developing some of the toughest RB rooms in the country,” Dickert said.

Atuaia, a Hawaii native, played RB for BYU in the mid-1990s and started his coaching career as a student assistant at the Provo, Utah, school in 2005. He stayed on in that role until 2011, earning a doctorate in jurisprudence and a masters in public administration before working as an administrator at his alma mater for a couple of years.

Atuaia made a memorable first impression. He composed a nearly two-minute rap song about WSU and filmed himself rehearsing the high-quality track, which featured his family members as guest vocalists – his wife, Elizabeth, is an accomplished recording artist who sang lead vocals for the 1980s pop group, The Jets.

Atuaia posted the video to his Twitter page.

“Honored and humbled to be part of the (WSU) family with (Dickert) and this amazing group,” Atuaia tweeted. “It sucked keeping it under wraps for so long ’cause it’s been exciting to be aligned with their greatness.”

Vernon left his job as associate athletic director for football operations at Wyoming to replace Jason Cvercko – who came to Pullman with former coach Nick Rolovich – as the Cougs’ chief of staff.

Vernon had served in various positions with the Cowboys since 2009, including recruiting director and executive assistant to the head coach.

It’s uncertain how many more additions the Cougs will make to their staff. Morris’ offense employs tight ends, and that position hasn’t been used at WSU in over a decade. Some Air Raid offenses include two receivers coaches. Will this one?

Edge coach A.J. Cooper and safeties/nickels coach Mark Banker will remain on staff. Jordan Malone adopted interim responsibilities as cornerbacks coach midway through this season, but it’s unsure if he remains in that job or moves back to analyst status. reported that special teams coordinator Kyle Krantz is departing WSU, but no replacement has been announced.

Dickert’s former responsibilities as defensive coordinator/linebackers coach pass to Brian Ward, who was hired out of Nevada. Eric Morris supplants Brian Smith as offensive coordinator. Morris, who doubles as WSU’s quarterbacks coach, will install a balanced version of the Air Raid offense in 2022.

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