WHILE THE autonomy Mike Leach will give his new defensive coordinator is a huge lure to prospective candidates for the job, the search to fill the post is coming up on six weeks. Given that this is no run-of-the-mill position -- a coordinator in a premier conference with a salary around $400,000 or more -- the time lapse begs the question: What’s the hold up? I have two answers.
The first is the Air Raid.
From a defensive standpoint, there are three concerns in being paired with it:
Mike Leach thinks offense first and foremost. In other words, he doesn’t make a lot of in-game decisions with the defense in mind (i.e. trying for the coffin corner punt rather than going for it on fourth down; running the ball three plays in a row to eat some time rather than passing every down). Being the old DB that I am, Leach's willingness to go for it on fourth-down -- seemingly from about anywhere beyond his own 25 -- sends shivers down my spine. This past season, the Cougs went for it on fourth down a conference-leading 40 times -- 12 more than the next-highest team (Cal). But unlike the Bears, who converted a league-leading 69 percent of their 28 attempts, the Cougs only converted 45 percent -- 10th worst in the Pac-12. Those kinds of numbers scream out to a defensive coach.
When the head coach is also the offensive coordinator, he’s going to be whetted to the coaches on his side of the ball and, almost by definition, bring a far more critical eye to the guys coaching defense and special teams.
This is a big one -- the Air Raid at WSU has been better at producing yards than points. This past season the Cougs were second in the Pac-12 at 519.5 yards per game but a ho-hum seventh in scoring offense at 31.8 (to go along with a 31.0 average in 2013). For a defensive coordinator, being paired with an offense that works like gangbusters between the 20s but not in the red zone is a recipe for massive pressure on the defense because – especially in a conference like the Pac-12 – the offense simply doesn’t score enough.
Combine those three factors and you at least have the makings of a red flag waving in the face of potential DC candidates.
THE SECOND REASON I BELIEVE the DC search is taking so long is that the Cougs went 3-9 this past season and 2015 will be Mike Leach’s fourth year at the school. Whether true or not, perception is reality and the reality in the coaching ranks is that Mike Leach’s seat is getting a tad bit warm. And if you layer another three-win season on top of 2014’s, while it may not be probable in my view, it's at least possible the new DC could find himself out on the street after one season. Make no mistake, coaches think long and hard about that kind of stuff when determining career moves. It’s why established guys may be content where they are or are waiting for a different opportunity to come along.
When Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman-Review tweeted today that he’s hearing the Cougars are looking for a “young and hungry” guy to be the next DC, it tells me all or parts of what I’ve outlined above has scared away the more established possibilities. That’s not to say the next defensive coordinator of the Cougs won’t be a world beater, but it does mean the “splash” hire fans were hoping for may have left the train station a long time ago.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-American honors as a senior. He then spent two seasons in the NFL on the Bengals' and 49ers' practice squads and later played in the USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football and later became the color analyst for Eastern Washington University broadcasts. He also was a long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League. Paul has been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999. His columns here are labeled SLAP! The acronym stands for Sorensen Looks At the Program. The word also aptly describes the way Paul played safety and the way he does color commentary: in-your-face, nothing held back.