‘Everything lined up’: New Washington State defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding feels right at home
March 30, 2023 Updated Thu., March 30, 2023 at 5:38 p.m.
PULLMAN – Washington State was the ideal destination for Jeff Schmedding.
WSU checked all of the boxes during Schmedding’s job search earlier this year. Now, he feels right at home as the Cougars’ defensive coordinator.
“Everything lined up,” Schmedding told The Spokesman-Review recently. “If I was going to move anywhere, three things had to be in place.”
Culture, location and competitiveness were the driving factors behind his decision.
First, Schmedding wanted to join a program that had already built a tight-knit identity. He saw WSU as a closely connected team.
“For me, the biggest thing overall is the people,” he said Thursday after a spring camp practice at Rogers Field. “Coach (Jake) Dickert has done a tremendous job with the culture.
“This is a close group. That’s what I’d heard. I did my research on that end and it’s been refreshing to see it being true.”
Next, the living situation had to be right for Schmedding and his family. WSU was appealing in that regard. Schmedding is a Spokane native who takes pride in his Inland Northwest roots. He spent 15 years on staff at Eastern Washington. After making stops at Boise State (2019-20) and Auburn (2021-22), Schmedding felt it was time to return to his home region.
“For some people, the Palouse and Eastern Washington is maybe not a destination. But for me, it’s home,” he said. “There’s great things about being all over the country, but it’s pretty hard to beat being home.”
Finally, he saw an opportunity to “win and compete” at WSU, which has become a strong defensive team over the past two years.
“The foundation is there,” he said. “There are some time-tested defenses out there, and coach Dickert’s system is that.
“It’s been a fun process,” Schmedding added Thursday. “Coach Dickert is obviously a very smart defensive coach and it’s been fun to go back and forth about tweaks. It’s easier for me to learn a language than to ask 60 other guys to learn a language.”
Schmedding will be asked to add wrinkles to a scheme installed by Dickert in early 2020. The Cougars plan to retain about 80% of Dickert’s defensive game plan. Schmedding and WSU’s returning defenders say it’s been a smooth transition.
“It’s a unique situation where we’ve brought in a system that we feel extremely confident about and we feel Jeff can come in and refresh that,” Dickert said earlier this year. “I’ve had many conversations with him about, ‘Let’s keep 80% of what we do and let’s look at 20% of where we can improve. I think Jeff’s breadth of knowledge in various schemes …. can bring something to our defense.
“We’re going to build it together and I’m excited about him being the guy calling the shots.”
The two have similar defensive strategies and will use a “collaborative process” to mentor the unit, Dickert said. Both emphasize takeaways and “relentless pursuit” – every player swarming to the ball on every down.
“A great defensive team is flying around the ball with a fast, physical, aggressive mindset,” Schmedding said. “You have to stop the run, confuse the quarterback, eliminate explosive plays and get takeaways. Those are staples of successful defenses I’ve been a part of. Those things have been instilled here with coach Dickert, and we want to advance the standard.”
That style was WSU’s strength over the past two seasons. The Cougars’ defensive intensity has been a highlight of spring camp through five practices.
WSU is replacing six starters on defense, but the new-look group is playing fast and consistently disrupting plays. The Cougars aren’t getting tricky with their defense. They’re gradually installing Schmedding’s schemes and putting more of their focus on individual effort, so they can begin sorting out the depth chart. Schmedding, who doubles as WSU’s linebackers coach, is overseeing position battles at linebacker, defensive tackle and nickel.
“When you start overloading the scheme, now they’re thinking instead of reacting and playing,” Schmedding said. “Part of spring ball is evaluating them. One of the biggest things we want to find is … Who are the guys that are gonna be able to step up and play?
“There’s a process to our install. We put a little more on them today. When you do that, sometimes the wheels are spinning before the play. We want to make sure everything is fast and physical going into (Saturday’s) scrimmage.”
Schmedding talks background
Schmedding was a standout wrestler and football player at University High in the mid-1990s. He enrolled at Eastern Washington, hoping to play for the football team, but that didn’t pan out.
“Partway through college, when (my playing career) wasn’t working out, I started coaching,” he said. “(Former University High coach) Mike Ganey talked to me about coaching. I changed everything I was doing and tried to get into coaching.”
After graduating from EWU in 2002, Schmedding landed a teaching job at University High, where he served as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for two seasons. While working with the Titans, Schmedding would make trips to Pullman to learn from WSU’s coaching staff.
“When I was coaching high school football, we’d come down and meet with Bill Doba when he was the defensive coordinator and (later) the head coach,” Schmedding said.
In 2004, Schmedding became a graduate assistant at EWU under coach Paul Wulff – WSU’s head coach from 2008-11.
“I loved learning about ball and just attacked it,” Schmedding said. “Mike Ganey would have us go to all the clinics, and that fit me. I always wanted to know more, so I started working camps, then got the opportunity to be a GA. I quit my teaching job and (EWU staffers) told me, if I didn’t need to get paid, I could be a GA. I was 26 and didn’t have kids or a wife then, so I just kind of started to move my way up. When people give you a shot, you gotta maximize your opportunity.”
A mainstay on former EWU coach Beau Baldwin’s staffs, Schmedding worked over 15 years in Cheney.
He earned his first full-time position in 2007 as Eagles safeties coach, then tutored linebackers (2008-09) and coordinated special teams (2010-14) before being promoted to defensive coordinator, a role he held from 2015-18. Schmedding helped EWU to 10 FCS playoff appearances. The Eagles won the national championship in 2010. EWU boasted one of the top defenses in the country in 2018 and finished the season as the FCS runner-up.
“I probably had every job you can have,” Schmedding said. “From a GA to all the different hats you can wear at that level. Eastern Washington shaped me quite a bit.
“The guys I know who moved their way up from the ‘lower levels,’ they were diligent and worked hard. I think I did that. I took every job I could take. It’s not easy, this coaching deal. Early on, it doesn’t pay very well, but you do plenty of work. It’s not for everybody, but it was for me. If you show you can provide value, then people don’t want to get rid of you.”
During his long tenure at EWU, Schmedding formed relationships with prep coaches across the state. His recruiting experience in Washington will be a valuable asset to WSU, which is “doubling down on the Pacific Northwest in recruiting,” Dickert said.
Boise State was Schmedding’s next stop. His former EWU co-worker, Zak Hill, had become Broncos offensive coordinator in 2016. Hill helped set up the interview and Schmedding impressed Boise State coach Bryan Harsin. Schmedding coordinated the Broncos’ defense and coached linebackers for two seasons (2019-20).
“We won the Mountain West the first year, then went to the title the second year. It was a good two years,” Schmedding said. “I didn’t know coach Harsin was going to take the Auburn job. It was fortunate that he gave me the opportunity to go down there with him.”
In 2021, Schmedding tutored Auburn’s linebackers. The following year, he became the Tigers’ DC.
“The SEC is what everybody says it is,” Schmedding said. “The South was amazing, but the familiarity is different. A big part of your career is building relationships in your home state.”
Harsin was fired midway through the 2022 season, but Schmedding was the lone assistant to be retained for the remainder of the season. After the season, Auburn brought in coach Hugh Freeze and a new staff, leaving Schmedding out of a job. It wasn’t long before WSU came into the picture.
The Cougars were searching for a new DC after losing Brian Ward to Arizona State in early December.
“I saw that this job came open and I knew a couple of people on the staff, so I reached out,” Schmedding said. “The opportunity to come back to the Northwest after being away – I definitely wanted to be in some conversations with coach Dickert. I was thoroughly impressed with his vision and the program he’s put together. I knew it’d be a good fit.”
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