Who will be WSU's next defensive coordinator?

IF MIKE LEACH wants to make a splash when he hires his new defensive coordinator, there would be two guys sure to attract big headlines, and their names are not Pelini or Muschamp. Nope, Leach's old war of words nemesis at Oregon, Nick Aliotti, would turn more heads. And so might former USC and Mississippi State head man Ed Orgeron. But a Pac-12 vet who could make for a very intriguing choice is …

Chris Ball.

I’ve been told when Leach came on at WSU, he was highly intrigued by the prospect of retaining Ball from Paul Wulff’s staff.

I've also been told Ball used that interest back in December 2011 to help him land a job in Tempe with first-year ASU coach Todd Graham. Mike Breske was then hired at WSU a month later. On the way out the door, Ball mentioned how WSU’s facilities had hurt Cougar recruiting. Ball has long been known as an excellent recruiter, but it would seem clear he felt the facilities disadvantage back in 2011 was just too much to overcome on too many of the targets he was pursuing during his last WSU stint.

So why would it make sense for Ball to return for a fourth tour of duty with the Cougs now?

Ball was the secondary coach his first year and then became co-defensive coordinator at ASU in 2013, with Paul Randolph forced to cede the full job title after just one year. But in 2014, Ball was passed over for the full DC job when Graham went outside to hire Keith Patterson for the gig.

Ball, 49, kept his co-defensive coordinator title this season but it’s really in name only. On top of that, head man Graham pretty much jumps in and coaches the defense in a lot of ways anyway, and regularly takes all the credit for its success.

So Ball might not be as enamored with the ASU job as he once was. And those WSU facilities? Well, there’s a brand new gem of a Cougar Football Complex that wasn’t around when Ball left -- one that's getting rave reviews from recruits.

If Leach decides to pick up the phone, he might find Ball highly interested in that fourth tour of duty with the Cougs.

Who are some of the other early candidate possibilities?

Leach’s prior history doesn’t indicate he’d bring one of his old d-coordinators back. A quick check shows Leach had three defensive coordinators at Texas Tech: Ruffin McNeil, who is the head coach at East Carolina; and two others who are retired in Lyle Setencich (whom Leach actually fired) and Greg McMackin.

Ideally, the new defensive coordinator at Washington State would have coaching and recruiting experience within the Pac-12 footprint, though it’s unlikely to be a strict requirement. But with that in mind, here are a few who would seem to make sense:

Ken Wilson, 48
Current WSU linebackers coach. He has three years of defensive coordinator experience at Nevada, having spent 23 seasons there before coming to WSU. Wilson is highly organized, energetic and has coached linebackers, safeties and defensive ends over his career.

Ed Orgeron (pictured above), 53
After being passed over at USC for the permanent job (and after affecting a stirring 2013 midseason turnaround), Orgeron held out for a head coaching job this offseason he didn't get. Having now been out of the coaching game for a full year, he might be ready to grab a defensive coordinator job. And what better place than to do it than in the Pac-12, where he could stick it to USC's Pat Haden every week. Orgeron, formerly also a head coach at Ole Miss, is known as one of the best recruiters in the game. He has served as d-line coach in most of his assistant jobs and was assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator at previous USC and Tennessee stops.

Nick Aliotti, 60
The longtime Duck defensive coach was ticked off he didn’t get the opportunity to even interview for the head job at Oregon that went to Mark Helfrich. And so he retired last year. He has a new grandchild and seems to be enjoying his time off so it might not be in the cards for him in Pullman. But if Leach were to call and say, 'Whaddaya think, Nick?', I doubt he’d say this again. Indeed, he might just think about all the ways he’d enjoy going to work every day, focused on trying to topple the top program in the Pac-12. After all, in his eyes, Oregon treated him shabbily at the end of a 24-year career in Eugene. One thing is certain, it would be a hire that would have tongues wagging around the Pac-12 for months and months to come.

Joe Salave’a
Current WSU d-line coach (and as of Sunday night, the Associate Head Coach.) Salave’a has never been a coordinator and he just got a new title on Sunday night, so from this chair it might not be in the cards for him to become the new d-coordinator. Put another way, if the Cougs hire from within, Wilson would seem to be the more likely candidate.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • If you were to take all the defensive coordinators and add them up, you’d find most also serve as linebacker coaches in addition to holding those d-coordinator duties. But WSU might want to look at Nigel Burton here – not as a defensive coordinator, but as a corners coach. The recently fired Portland State head coach has Pac-12 experience at Oregon State, played at Washington and most importantly, is widely considered an excellent cornerbacks coach. He was the defensive coordinator at Nevada (2008-09) before landing the PSU head coaching job (2010-14).

  • Something that could factor into the d-coordinator hire: the hire could be a 4-3 guy, rather than having a background in the 3-4 that has been the Cougs' base defense. Paul Volero, who coached the BUCKs was also let go, something that could allow the Cougs to fill that post, in concert with the new d-coordinator, in a variety of ways. A transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base wouldn't be an overly challenging one in terms of personnel -- it's not like moving to a new offensive style that can require a large adjustment in recruiting classes. It's also worth noting the recent trend in football to try and employ a defense that can effectively switch between a 3-4 and 4-3 from down to down, with the idea being you don't have to sub out as much in trying to combat the more prolific offenses of today.

  • Bo Pelini and Ellis Johnson, fired Sunday as Nebraska’s head coach and Auburn’s defensive coordinator, respectively, wouldn’t seem to be the most natural fit geographically or otherwise for the WSU d-coordinator’s post.

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