Difference maker: Jake Dickert stabilized the Washington state football team and won the award

Jake Dickert provided stability when Washington state’s football program needed it, so WSU returned the favor.

Dickert’s rewarding journey to his career goal ended with Pullman. The 38-year-old landed his first head coaching job, finally finding a permanent home after more than a decade as a traveling assistant.

“I had to move my family eight times in nine years to get to this,” Dickert said in his introductory press conference on Dec. 2. “These weren’t easy moves. We were packing our own boxes, loading the U-Haul and driving across the country.

Two months ago, his opportunity presented itself in an unconventional way.

Dickert was selected to lead the interim Cougars at the end of a long and divisive saga involving former coach Nick Rolovich and four WSU assistants, all of whom lost their jobs due to a state mandate on the COVID-19 vaccine that they did not comply with. with.

For Dickert, the possible outcomes were limited. It was decisive.

If he somehow manages to keep a fractured team united and restore the image of the program – and record a few wins – he may not need to move anytime soon.

But if the Cougars slipped too much, the school administration would likely search for coaches and review staff for 2022. Dickert would have to move again with his wife and three children.

“I had to put personal difficulties aside… and really focus on the task at hand,” he said recently. “It was a juggling act. It wasn’t always easy. You could see it all come to one point and you (knew) that a decision had to be made.

Fortunately for Dickert and WSU, this turned out to be an easy decision.

Dickert rose to the challenge by stabilizing the Cougar vessel. And the team rallied, writing one of the best scripts in college football this year.

They’ve taken three wins in their last five games and beat Washington, handing the Huskies their most unbalanced loss in the Apple Cup. Dickert accepted a five-year contract a day later, and the Cougars had completely changed the narrative surrounding this season.

Sporting director Pat Chun had assessed Dickert while considering a handful of other candidates. But the Cougs’ resilience over a momentous year left him with no choice but to stay home.

“As the interim head coach, we have seen leadership emerge,” Chun said on Dec. 2. “This group played football with a renewed sense of purpose, a willingness to play for each other and displayed characteristics of courage, tenacity and pride.”

Dickert will make his head coach debut when the WSU (7-5) meets Central Michigan at the Sun Bowl on Friday in El Paso.

He spent the month leading up to the game recruiting talent and assembling an impressive group of assistants, who will take over after the Cougars final.

Ahead of the New Year, Dickert will be staying with his current staff, a somewhat improvised group who have worked overtime to keep their players consistent after the coaching reshuffle on October 18.

“All I did when I got there was just give direction, spirit, energy, and it took off,” Dickert said. “It was a mindset that we (the staff) provided, but it was player driven. It came from within, from captains to seniors to the rest of the team.

“There was a lot of emotion, a lot of energy, a lot of things in the minds of our young people. … I just think there was a belief in what we could do together. It was the right time, the right time, the right message, the right energy and doing it all together.

Dickert promised at the start of his tenure as interim coach that he would do everything to provide the players with a positive experience. The players, in turn, have never shown any signs of quitting throughout the second half of the season. The Cougars did not behave like a team that had suffered a major training crisis. In fact, some of their most uplifting moments came late in their campaign.

“By the time we entered the Apple Cup, we had an inspired team,” said Chun.

In his second season as the WSU defensive coordinator, Dickert spearheaded a resurgence, based on spin-off efforts, timely take-out, and inventive pass rush plans. The Cougs’ defensive turnaround made Dickert the obvious choice to take over as interim coach.

“It’s been a great year for us, and it’s thanks to our coaches,” said Edge Quinn Roff when asked to name the Cougars’ Defensive MVP of the Year.

Dickert must have familiarized himself with the Cougars’ offensive plans and personnel. He quickly won the hearts of his new students with his fluid attacking mantra: “The players on the pieces.” “

With more homework on his shoulders, Dickert hasn’t changed his style. He’s confident in his approach to coaching, which has been cultivated over a 13-year career made up of stops at eight schools.

When it comes to ploys, some players have called him a perfectionist. He is known to preach the value of cooperation, trust and discipline.

“It was one of those times in your life where you realize, ‘I’m just going to be myself,'” Dickert said, reflecting on a choice he made when he took the reins. of the WSU for the first time. “I felt like my way of motivating and challenging, as well as my energy and what I can bring to the team now, was just going to work.

“As I went through the whole process (of hiring), I felt very comfortable in my heart knowing that I had given this place, our players and our university everything I had.”

Coming from “humble beginnings” in a small town in Wisconsin, Dickert worked for smaller programs in isolated locations from 2007 to 2016, then made the leap to college football’s top ranking, the Football Bowl Subdivision, as as a defensive assistant under mentor Craig Bohl in Wyoming, where he worked for three years – a long stint compared to his past stops.

Asked about the stability award he received from a WSU leader-seeking program, Dickert thought back to “the era of wrestling and movement and the U-Hauls – what I had to do. do to get there, ”he said.

He calls it a “dream come true” to have locked a future in Pullman, “a place that I love, that suits me so well, that I believe in.

“I believe in what we can do to rebuild this place and do it right.”

About the author