My take on Dennis Simmons' WSU departure

DID YOU HAPPEN to notice the large number of press releases in the college football world this past Thursday announcing the comings and goings of various assistant coaches? All these moves -- at Ohio State, Florida, TCU and others -- came out the day after national letters-of-intent were signed. That wasn't a coincidence.

CRIMSON COMMENTARY

It's an unwritten rule in the stretch run of recruiting that if you've been wooed to join the staff at another school you keep it quiet in order not to disrupt your current employer's final push to LOI Day.

As Cougar fans know well, given the attrition Dennis Simmons' not-so-secret move to Oklahoma exacted on WSU's recruiting class last week, that protocol didn't happen at Washington State.

I keep thinking about this -- not the way I might keep thinking about the Seahawks' last pass in the Super Bowl -- but in the way it was so unique on the national level and in the way it wreaked utter havoc on WSU's 2015 recruiting class.

Going back to CF.C's founding in 1998, there's never been any tale like this on the Cougar recruiting scene.

For those not keeping score at home last week, Simmons' not-so-secret plan to leave Pullman is believed to have cost WSU four Los Angeles-area verbal commits he was running the point on in recruiting. All flipped to other schools in the final days -- or even hours -- before LOIs were signed. One of them -- receiver Dahu Green -- went with Oklahoma despite the fact the Sooners hadn't been on his radar until, shockingly, right around the time of the Simmons leak. The other late defections were linebacker Kyahva Tezino, who opted for San Diego State, receiver Deontay Burnett, who will blue-shirt at USC, and receiver Taeon Mason, who signed with San Jose State.

With those four players changing course, the 2015 Cougar class of 24 didn't include a single player Simmons ran the recruiting point on over the past year-plus. That represents a ton of lost time and energy. And as near as we can tell in talking to recruits and prep sources, Simmons pretty much shut down all recruiting for WSU -- again, a breaking of the professional norm -- in the six or seven days leading up to Signing Day.

After pondering all this for the last couple weeks, my hypotheses is this: Simmons himself was the source of the Jan. 29 leak on the Oklahoma blog footballbrainiacs.com proclaiming he had interviewed to be Oklahoma's new receiving coach. For a blog out of Oklahoma to somehow whip up a source in Pullman willing to offer inside information was highly curious.

I also believe Simmons was the source of a follow-up footballbrainiacs entry that cited an unnamed person connected to WSU as saying “the WSU staff has already identified a new wide receivers coach in preparation for the possibility of Simmons leaving.” That second blog item was especially head turning because Mike Leach runs a notoriously tight-lipped ship when it comes to staffing.

So curious, in fact, that it leads me to one conclusion: the only person with the knowledge and the motive to share it was Dennis Simmons.

Leach, when asked last week if the rumors surrounding Simmons and Oklahoma adversely impacted Cougar recruiting, said it was difficult to gauge. Leach always wears a poker face and he did so when he uttered those words. But the guess here is that he was boiling inside -- and not just because of the talent that was lost. But because Simmons has been one of his main guys for so many years.

The 2014 season marked Simmons' 13th with Leach -- three at WSU and 10 at Texas Tech. Leach mentored Simmons in various key roles and gave him his first assistant coaching job in 2008. At Oklahoma, Simmons will reunite with another Leach disciple, Lincoln Riley, who recently became the Sooners' offensive coordinator. Riley and Simmons also worked together at East Carolina in the two seasons Leach wasn't coaching.

Simmons' departure itself isn’t the problem. That’s coaching, that’s life, coaches move on. Rather, it's the way it was handled. On top of everything else, his "I have no comment," to footballbrainiacs gave their reports tacit confirmation. Given the time-sensitive spot where all of this occurred in the recruiting cycle, that is really unconscionable.

Everyone else waited until after Signing Day. Except Simmons.

Don't get me wrong. I like Dennis. I had a terrific visit with him a few months ago in his office at the Cougar Football Complex. But it is difficult for me to fathom why he dumped on Mike Leach the way he did.

SO, WHO REPLACES SIMMONS has reportedly been decided. Graham Harrell is the Cougs’ new outside receiver coach according to footballscoop.com, though I’d wager he will have a different recruiting territory.

After the footballbrainiacs.com entry saying WSU had already identified a replacement, it followed that WSU was looking to promote from within – given how long it took for the Cougs to fill their other assistant coaching jobs this offseason. And going in-house, in my view, it meant Leach would go with one of two candidates: Graham Harrell or Jarrail Jackson.

In the wake of the Mike Breske and Paul Volero firings, both Harrell and Jackson were temporarily elevated to assistant coach status to give WSU maximum recruiting reach during the in-home visitation period that began on Dec. 1. While Jackson worked with the receivers at Dartmouth for six seasons before coming to WSU, Harrell, an All-America QB at Texas Tech under Leach before becoming a backup with the Green Bay Packers, spent the past year in Leach’s ear -- pouring over QB-WR tape, the offense as a whole, defensive tendencies in the passing game, and telling Leach what he thinks. Leach last year praised Harrell’s insights and offensive acumen.

Both were seen as excellent recruiters: prospects in on official visits to WSU regularly mentioned the pair to Cougfan.com post-trip and recruits we talked to once the in-home period began had great things to say about both. But neither has ties to the all-important Los Angeles Basin.

That’s where we project new WSU outside linebackers coach Roy Manning’s territory to be. Manning has also been reported to be an excellent recruiter and Cougfan.com recently spoke with the high-energy Manning. In an article published Wednesday, Manning said his WSU recruiting territory has yet to be determined, but he did say he has lots of coaching contacts and ties in L.A.

As for coaching the outside receivers, Harrell figures to slide into the role easily. Harrell it is assumed would have needed to fully let go of the idea of continuing his pro quarterbacking career -- something he kept alive this past season as an offensive quality control adviser. A full-fledged assistant can't have split allegiances. But Harrell and Leach have been through many on-field wars together and have spent countless hours dissecting film together. That should make for a seamless transition, one already well into the making.

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