Dave Nichol has spent his career honing his knowledge of Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense.
Sometimes you see it coming, other times the firing comes as a blind side.
East Carolina’s firing of football coach Ruffin McNeill in December 2015 was one of the latter.
“This one was a real surprise,” said Dave Nichol, Washington State’s new outside receivers coach who was formerly the offensive coordinator on McNeill’s ECU staff. “Ruff had won eight games, 10 games and eight games, and this (past season) we went 5-7, but we lost the starting quarterback right before the season when he tore his ACL.”
Still, the Pirates’ administration decided to go in a different direction. So even before the College Football Playoff selection committee announced their final rankings of the season the first weekend of December, Nichol found himself without a job.
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“I’ve been on staffs that have been let go twice now. The first time, I sat around and reflected,” Nichol said. “This time, it’s a shock, you’re kind of mad, then you go, ‘All right, let’s move on and try to find something.’ ”
It’s much easier to move around when you don’t have a spouse and kids to worry about, and with his wealth of experience coaching the Air Raid offense, it didn’t take long for Nichol, 39, to land on his feet.
After he heard that Graham Harrell was leaving WSU to become the new offensive coordinator at North Texas, Nichol reached out to WSU head coach Mike Leach and expressed interest in the outside receivers position.
Even though Nichol is now the third outside receivers coach the Cougars have had in as many years, his background indicates that, as was the case with Harrell before him, this should be a fairly seamless transition.
Nichol has spent his career honing his knowledge of Leach’s Air Raid offense. Leach gave him his first job as a student coach at Texas Tech in 1999, right after he exhausted his eligibility as a receiver and started working on his masters.
Since then, Nichol has also coached under Art Briles at Baylor, Mike Stoops and Sonny Dykes at Arizona and McNeill at ECU, where he was promoted from outside receivers coach to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2015.
“The passing game here is very similar to what we did at ECU. Lincoln Riley, who was the offensive coordinator before me, still called it the same as what coach Leach does, as far as terminology,” Nichol said. “We added a little more run game stuff, and when you add run game, play action becomes more of a weapon.
“But how we call formations and how we practice is very similar to what coach Leach does, if not identical.”
Nichol believes having a season of experience as coordinator will help him in his new role at WSU, where he’ll function as Leach’s eyes from the press box on game days.
“In the press box, it’s like you’re watching a movie, there’s no emotions and you keep the play caller on task, knowing where the ball’s at and keeping all the calls,” Nichol said.
Nichol made the trip to El Paso, Texas, to watch WSU’s practices in the lead-up to the Sun Bowl game against Miami. He met some of the players — including his group of receivers — reconnected with the staff members he knew from his time at Texas Tech and got to know some of the newer coaches.
College football is currently in a dead period for recruiting, but after Jan. 13, Nichol will be able to start talking to recruits for the Cougars. Nichol said he’ll recruit parts of Arizona and California for WSU.
Nichol said he plans to move to Pullman permanently right after national letter of intent signing day Feb. 3.
For now, he’s still at his old apartment in North Carolina and has stayed with Leach’s chief of staff Dave Emerick whenever he’s had to take short trips to Pullman.