The interesting path new defensive line coach Jeff Phelps took to WSU

THE STRONGEST tie Jeff Phelps had to Washington State was an assistant coach who had just left the program. So when Mike Leach expressed interest in Phelps, he in turn asked former WSU inside receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard for his take on the WSU program.

Phelps, the Cougars’ new defensive line coach, spent the past six seasons at Minnesota before he was hired at WSU 10 days ago.  Phelps said in a conference call with reporters Monday he has known Shephard since 2000-01, when Phelps was a coach and Shephard a player at DePauw. He and Shephard have kept in touch all these years, with Phelps even following the Cougs' 8-game winning streak this season.

“He said he loved it here, his family loved it, he said it was a great place and a great place to raise a family. He thoroughly endorsed Washington State and the Pullman community as being a great place to be,” said Phelps, who is married and with a 4-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son at home. 

Phelps has been going non-stop on Cougar recruiting since Leach hired him. But Sunday night he was able to get out on the field with his position group for the first session of WSU’s winter conditioning circuit, called Midnight Maneuvers.

“I thought the young men did a great job,” Phelps said. “I am still trying to learn who’s who … but they did an outstanding job. You saw some quickness in some of the drills that were being run, you saw passion, you saw enthusiasm. That’s what encompasses a great defensive line.”

Phelps said his philosophy in coaching the defensive line is rooted in explosion.

“We want to get some destruction of the offensive line," said Phelps. "And with that, it causes disruption … if we can get one of our bodies across the line of scrimmage, and to that area that is about 2-3 yards behind the offensive line, the offensive teams don’t practice for that.

"We’re going to focus on keying the ball and getting a great takeoff and attacking the gaps in trying to get our bodies on the other side of the line of scrimmage."

Phelps said jumping feet first into recruiting for Washington State came easily, likening it to his own situation in interviewing for coaching jobs this January after Minnesota head coach Tracy Caleys was fired. WSU AD Bill Moos said last week on his radio show Phelps chose WSU over Pitt and others.

“Just like them I had some choices … and I was able to talk to them about why I chose Washington State,” said Phelps, who said getting to know Mike Leach and the WSU assistant coaches as people was critical.

He cited the work ethic of the Cougar coaches, and their ability to develop players, as among the reasons he chose WSU.

“(Pullman) I think is a hidden gem out here on the West Coast – it really kinda spoke to me. It felt like home,” said Phelps, who said he also appreciated being able to live a short distance from campus.

Phelps said his recruiting territories will be defined after Signing Day, with his recruiting focus since coming on board being the Cougs’ defensive line targets.

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