The chess game of WSU's open coaching slots

MIKE LEACH HAS three assistant coaching positions to fill. But will it be an apples-to-apples replacement process? Will the Cougs hire a special teams coach and an outside linebackers coach along with the new defensive coordinator? The guess here is no.

Heading into this season, I have been told, Leach was going to take some of the special teams pieces and spread them among various assistant coaches -- before assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Eric Russell talked him out of it. Cougar special teams proceeded to fall off a cliff and Russell was fired after the Cal debacle.

So Leach may revisit the concept of spreading around special teams responsibilities, which is what he did the second half of this past season following Russell's dismissal. And the presumption is that while he's thinking it through right now, the three openings on his staff are not stand-alone positions. They are all interconnected.

How so? His decision on special teams, for instance, could very much influence who all he considers for DC. That's because if he spreads out the special teams duties among various assistants he can hire a new DC who doesn't, like Mike Breske did, also coach a position group. That would then allow Leach, for example, to hire a new coach who focuses solely on the secondary (or perhaps just the corners.)

The repercussions also could be felt on offense. If Leach kept the committee approach to special teams and hired a DC who also coaches DBs, he could use the "extra" spot to promote Graham Harrell to quarterbacks coach, which would allow him to work more closely with the QBs in ways he is not allowed right now per NCAA rule.

The point is, the combinations are numerous. And the filling of his three open positions is not going to be made in isolation.

Harrell, by the way, would also be a dynamite recruiter in my view -- something he's not allowed to do in his current role as an offensive advisor.

Here's another thing to consider: Ken Wilson, the WSU linebackers coach, might be in the mix for the d-coordinator job. After three years of nurturing the LB unit, he might not be in a hurry to shed those duties so would likely remain in charge of LBs even if made DC. That would again allow the Cougs to hire an assistant focused just on DBs.

And what about scheme?

Leach gives his DCs wide freedom, so what if the new man wants to switch from a base 3-4 to 4-3? Does that frees up the BUCK assistant coaching job for a different role?

Again, the scenarios are seemingly limitless given all the facts. But once the DC domino falls, expect the broader picture to become clear very quickly.

But the big impediment to a swift DC hire is two-fold - the rash of head coaching jobs opening up, and/or the candidates on teams that are bowl-bound.

By the way, another name that might be an intriguing one to look at for the DC job: Tim Kish.

Kish, 60, (pictured above) is a former defensive coordinator at Arizona. He has 36 years of FBS experience, including eight in the Pac-10/12 and nine as a DC. He was at Arizona at the same time as Leach's chief of staff, Dave Emerick.

Kish is currently the linebackers coach at Oklahoma, with the obligatory “co-defensive coordinator” title next to his name. Kish's old boss at Arizona, Mike Stoops, is listed as d-coordinator at Oklahoma.

Leach gives virtually complete autonomy to his defensive coordinator. You’d better make it work or you’ll be gone, but Leach is one of the few head coaches who lets his d-coordinator pretty much do whatever he wants. Footballscoop.com estimated there are 20 FBS head coaches who allow such freedom to their coordinators. People I’ve talked to say it’s probably more like 15.

That is something that will very much appeal to just about any candidate, but especially to someone like Kish who 1) has been in the game so long and 2) would be coming from an environment at Oklahoma that is the polar opposite.


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