Jake Dickert has comported himself quite well during his 35 days on the job as Washington State’s acting head coach.
The players have responded to his leadership, won twice, earned a bowl berth and remain in contention for the Pac-12 North title.
Dickert has done everything that reasonably could have been expected under the circumstances, to the point that his candidacy for the permanent job must be taken as seriously as a state mandate.
If he takes the next step — the final step — will Washington State end its search early and promote the 38-year-old to the post?
What if Dickert wins the Apple Cup?
At that point, the Cougars would be 7-5 overall and 6-3 in conference play and an Oregon loss to Oregon State away from winning the most improbable division title in memory.
They would have their first conquest of the hated Huskies since 2012 and, perhaps, an easy solution to a difficult problem sitting in their lap.
Granted, Washington is in disarray. But so, too, were the Cougars. And Dickert led the program through the turmoil with a steady hand.
The problems in Seattle should not sway the decision in Pullman one way or another. A win is a win is a win, especially over your archrival.
In fact, there are more important factors at play as the Cougars plot their course through the search:
— Atop the list of considerations for president Kirk Schulz and athletic director Pat Chun is the small sample size.
Dickert has only coached the Cougars for four games. That’s not enough to know beyond a reasonable doubt that he has the chops to handle all the challenges, both internal and external, that a permanent coach faces on a daily basis.
And because so much of Washington State’s essence (playbook, roster, staff, culture) was put in place by his predecessor, Nick Rolovich, the degree of uncertainty and level of risk are enhanced.
Is Dickert, a defensive coordinator, ready to execute on all the facets that fall under a head coach’s purview?
Washington State can take its best guess, but the answer is unknowable.
— Then again, the decision cannot be made in a vacuum. Schulz and Chun won’t judge Dickert against himself. They will evaluate Dickert against the pool of candidates WSU could sensibly pursue and potentially hire.
This is not a great year to be searching for a head coach, with demand outstripping supply.
Already, there are two Pac-12 openings viewed more favorably within the marketplace, USC and Washington, and others could follow (Arizona State and UCLA, to name two).
The Cougars hired Rolovich out of the Mountain West. Who’s available during the current hiring cycle?
Fresno State’s Kalen DeBoer is an option, but he has been a major college head coach for all of 17 games.
Then there’s Nevada’s Jay Norvell, who’s well respected but has a 22-17 record within the Mountain West.
What about San Jose State’s Brent Brennan? He has one winning record in five years.
All three are good coaches. Do any of them carry substantially less risk than the guy who already knows the place and the players and understands what it takes to win on the Palouse?
— In fact, Dickert’s area of expertise (defense) has outperformed the WSU offense over the sweep of the season.
Promote Dickert, and the Cougars would ensure the continuation of schemes that suit their personnel on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Jayden de Laura.
Promote Dickert, and you keep Dickert. Hire from the outside, and the program plunges into a total overhaul for the second time in two years. (Mike Leach left WSU in early 2020, which only seems like a decade ago.)
A roster rebuild is the last thing the Cougars need after so much tumult.
— The financial component cannot be overlooked.
Rolovich was paid approximately $3 million annually, while Dickert earns about $600,000 in his coordinator role.
The Cougars could bump him to $2 million — that’s the low end within the Power Five but not an insulting amount for a rookie — and reinvest the savings in the program, either for the recruiting budget or staff salaries.
(Or they could gift wrap a check and have it delivered to the next Faculty Senate meeting via PajamaGram.)
In addition, WSU could structure the buyout piece of Dickert’s contract in a manner favorable to the university, so any eventual separation costs would be minimal.
— We began our assessment with the No. 1 reason to hire from the outside (limited sample size), so let’s end with the No. 1 reason to promote him.
Coaching searches usually result from a performance-related dismissal and are rooted in the need for a culture change.
That wasn’t the case in Pullman. The team’s performance was fine. The locker room culture was strong. The past month is proof of the sturdy core.
WSU doesn’t need to hit refresh. It needs to maintain the current pace and course, through the Apple Cup and beyond.
If the Cougars slay Washington for the first time in nine years, their coaching search could end quickly.