PULLMAN – Tracy Claeys resigned as Washington State’s defensive coordinator this week – an abrupt decision that leaves the Cougars in a state of flux heading into the final seven games of the 2019 season.
WSU coach Mike Leach told The Spokesman-Review by phone Saturday afternoon Claeys’ decision “caught us all by surprise” and indicated the Cougars wouldn’t begin the search for a new defensive coordinator until the season ends, leaving linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni and cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath in charge of the defense until then.
Below is a full transcript of the our conversation with Leach about Claeys’ exit.
Question: When did Claeys officially resign? Can you talk about the process that led to his decision?
Answer: It’s really not much of a process and I don’t know what led to his decision, because he was very vague about it. My speculation is he just got burned out. But no, he resigned on Tuesday.
Q: Were there any signs that pointed to this happening, or did it catch you by surprise?
A: It caught us all by surprise.
Q: Do you have any reason to believe it was related to the defensive struggles from the past two weeks, and not being able to solve the defense’s issues?
A: I don’t have any idea, really. It was odd and he hasn’t said a great deal. I guess there’s other things in his life he’s looking for. I wish him the best and I hope he finds it.
Q: Did you guys have any disagreements on philosophy, or how the defense should be approached?
A: No, not really. I don’t think so. The biggest thing is, nothing we didn’t agree to when I hired him.
Q: Can you identify why the defense has struggled so much, especially these past two weeks?
A: Well, I think we’re trying to do too much and we’re not tackling well.
Q: Was your decision to elevate Roc Bellantoni to the interim position based on his prior experience as a defensive coordinator?
A: Well, him and Darcel both. I think they both do a great job of bringing energy, I think their abilities complement one another. Roc’s got experience organizing, the organizational skills that go with coordinating, and Darcel does a great job as far as elevating the room and is knowledgeable himself.
Q: Did you try to convince Claeys to stay, or was his mind made up at that point?
A: Any discussions we had is between us, but he had his mind made up.
Q: When did you guys inform the team?
Q: How does the move shake up recruiting, coaching, etc? Or does anything really change?
A: Not really. He didn’t coach a position group, so all the positions were covered and recruit wise, that was predominantly the position coaches.
Q: Do you plan to bring somebody in before the year ends, or keep Bellantoni and McBath as interim coaches the rest of the year?
A: We’ll keep these guys interim for the rest of the year.
Q: How do you expect the players to react to such a major change in the middle of the season?
A: They seemed to handle it quite well. We had pretty good energy the last two practices.
Q: So, it could be a spark for you guys going forward?
A: I think so.
Q: Can you talk about the positive impact Claeys had on the team?
A: Well, we really appreciate what he did last season. I thought he did a really good job. I thought last season was as good a job by any defensive coordinator I’ve ever had.
Q: Will there be anything you look for in the next defensive coordinator?
A: Well, we’ll just see what we do the rest of this year. We’re not to that point or anything.
Q: Did this disrupt your practice schedule, or the work you guys have got done this week?
A: Well, we practiced Friday. The only thing we changed is we moved Thursday’s practice to Friday.