PULLMAN — After resigning as Washington State defensive coordinator two weeks ago, Tracy Claeys cited the inability to “agree on solutions” on how to fix the defense as the primary reason for his decision to leave the Cougars at such a sudden and strange point of the 2019 football season.
But apparently a feud with cornerbacks coach and recently named co-interim defensive coordinator Darcel McBath didn’t help matters.
Connor Halliday, one of the first quarterbacks to play for Mike Leach at WSU, said on a recent podcast edition of “Cougtalk with the WSU Football Blog” that Claeys and McBath were “absolutely not getting along” in the wake of the Cougars’ 67-63 loss to UCLA, and their differences are what led Claeys to leave the program after just 18 games.
“I think whenever you fire a coach or a coach resigns, which I did hear a little bit about what happened. Claeys and Darcel McBath, they were absolutely not getting along,” Halliday, still well-connected within the Cougars football program, said on a podcast episode that was published Tuesday. “They were at each other’s throat like every day and after the UCLA game, Darcel, in the middle of practice, was just questioning everything Claeys was doing. So finally Claeys said, ‘If you don’t like the way I’m running things, I’ll (expletive) leave.’ Claeys called him on everyone’s bluff and nothing changed.”
WSU head coach Mike Leach told The Spokesman-Review he spoke with Claeys on the Tuesday following WSU’s 38-13 loss at Utah, and the school sent out a press release Friday announcing the defensive coordinator’s resignation.
The defense had struggled in two games prior to Claeys’ departure. After a 38-34 loss to Arizona State last Saturday, the defense has conceded 143 points in three games – all WSU losses.
First-year inside linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni was appointed to interim defensive coordinator and assigned to play-calling duties, while McBath was named the co-interim DC. McBath and Leach have a relationship that dates back to McBath’s playing days at Texas Tech, where he was a standout cornerback for Leach’s Red Raiders.
Leach hired McBath as a defensive quality control assistant two years ago and elevated him to cornerbacks coach last season.
“Monday rolled around and Claeys wasn’t there and there was a letter of resignation on his desk and nobody ever saw him again,” Halliday said. “So Darcel got what he wanted. He wanted Claeys gone and Leach has obviously had a relationship with Darcel going way back, and so that’s what Leach is putting his chips in moving forward.”
Halliday, who played at Spokane’s Ferris High School before signing with the Cougars, said somebody inside the program told him the discord between Claeys and McBath – along with a few other defensive assistants – “had kind of been bubbling over since last year.”
“I guess he and coach (Ken) Wilson, who’s now at Oregon – our old linebackers coach – I guess basically since the time Claeys walked onto campus, somebody was always rubbing him the wrong way or vice versa,” Halliday said, “and I think he just kind of got tired. It never seemed like he was accepted into the staff the way everybody else was and I think he just kind of got tired of it.”
In media availabilities since Claeys’ exit, Leach hasn’t offered much detail or clarity as to why his DC left midseason, telling The S-R in a phone interview “he was very vague about it.”
But Halliday’s account, if true, provides a much clearer picture.