MOSCOW, Idaho – In 2013, a struggling 2-3 Augustana team drove over from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Mankato, Minnesota, and put a scare into Minnesota State, ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division II with a 5-0 record. The Mavericks had to rally late to win 20-10.
Afterward, the Minnesota State offensive coordinator sought out Augustana’s defensive coordinator.
“I had never met him before,” Jake Dickert said. “He found me by our bus. He said, ‘Hey, man. That was a really good game,’ ”
“I thought he did a good job against us,” Jason Eck said.
A year later, Minnesota State was looking for a defensive coordinator. After its top three candidates turned down the job, Eck asked interim coach Aaron Keen, “How about if we try to get that guy at Augustana? I thought he was really good.”
Dickert took the Mavericks’ offer, and he and Eck became not only co-workers and competitors on the practice field but friends over the next year. The Mavericks rode an undefeated season to the Division II national championship game before losing 13-0 to Colorado State University-Pueblo.
Eck left Minnesota State in 2015 to put in a year as run game coordinator and offensive line coach at Montana State. He and Dickert were reunited at South Dakota State University in 2016 when Jackrabbits coach John Stiegelmeier for the first time went outside his circle of former players and close associates to fill out his staff. He hired Dickert as special teams coordinator and safeties coach and Eck as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
“We were his first two hires outside the SDSU tree,” Dickert said. “Me and Jason were brought in from outside to have an impact on driving the program up.”
They helped coach the Jackrabbits to a 9-4 record and reached the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals before falling to North Dakota State 36-10. To that point, it was the best season in SDSU’s history, Eck said.
This time, it was Dickert who moved on after a year to become defensive coordinator at Wyoming. Eck remained with SDSU through 2021, when the Jackrabbits reached the FCS semifinals, where they were beaten by Montana State 31-17.
The next time Dickert and Eck meet on a football field will be Saturday on Gesa Field at Martin Stadium, when Dickert’s Washington State Cougars take on Eck’s Idaho Vandals. Dickert is going into his second season with the Cougars after going 3-3 as interim coach last year. Eck will be leading Idaho in his first game as a head coach.
“We know each other inside and out. He’s gone against this defense many times,” Dickert said of Eck.
“I hold Jason in high regard. … Jason is one of the best offensive minds in the country. He will take the players they have and formulate a system that matches their talents.”
“We’re different, but we have great respect for each other,” Eck said of Dickert.
Eck thinks back to the Division II championship game.
“(Dickert’s defense) he held them to 13,” Eck said. “I got nothing for us. Maybe that’s why he’s coaching in the Pac-12 and I’m in FCS.”
Both coaches agree they come at things from a different perspective.
“With Jason, energy is pouring out of his veins,” Dickert said. “I’m very serious. There’s a process.”
“He’s more process,” Eck said. “I’m more creative.”
Eck recalls a practice at SDSU. The offense was showing run-pass options and throwing on every down. This frustrated Dickert, who was trying to tighten up his run defense.
“He’s an intense dude,” Eck said. “He yelled across the line of scrimmage, ‘Can we ever get the ball handed off?’
“With some coaches, you know right away if they’ve got it. You could tell with him.”
Vandals coaches worked WSU’s camp this past summer.
“There’s nothing weird about that,” Dickert said.
Saturday’s game is a speed bump in a collaborative relationship and friendship that goes back to an era when a couple of young coaches took the measure of each other’s talent and their respective dreams for making careers coaching college football.
“Eight years ago, we were coaching Division II,” Eck said
Dickert would like to take the Battle of the Palouse to the golf course with the coaches next summer.
“Definitely,” Eck said.
The two are talking about renewing the WSU-Idaho rivalry as an every-other-year opening game. The Cougars and Vandals have met 91 times, with WSU holding a 72-16-3 series advantage. But they have not played since 2016, when the Cougars poured it on the Vandals 56-6.
Should WSU get the advantage Saturday, don’t look for it to run up a similar score.
“It’s going to be bittersweet for one of us Saturday,” Dickert said. “I hope he wins every game but one.”
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