Heaps: 5 coaches who could take over the WSU Cougars program

Nov 20, 2021, 9:08 AM
WSU Jay Norvell...
HC Jay Norvell of the Nevada Wolfpack looks on during second half action against the Boise State Broncos. (Loren Orr/Getty Images)
(Loren Orr/Getty Images)

There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding the head coaching vacancy at the University of Washington after Jimmy Lake was fired, but the Huskies aren’t the only program in the state that will have a new head coach in 2021 as WSU fired Nick Rolovich earlier this season after he didn’t comply with Washington’s vaccine mandate for state employees.

UW coaching candidates: Jake Heaps’ picks | Brock Huard’s picks

The Cougars are 6-5 this year after beating Arizona on Friday, with the Apple Cup at UW and a bowl game left on the docket.

Interim head coach Jake Dickert, who has led WSU to a 2-2 record, appears to be in consideration for the full-time gig. But if Washington State goes out of house for the program’s next leader, who could be hired?

Former NFL quarterback Jake Heaps thinks there are five names to watch out for, and he shared those coaches during Thursday’s edition of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy.

USC OC Graham Harrell

The first name Heaps brought up is Graham Harrell, the current offensive coordinator at USC.

Harrell has no prior head coaching experience and is just 36 years old, but he played for former WSU head coach Mike Leach at Texas Tech and coached under him at WSU, so he has familiarity with the Air Raid offensive system the Cougars had under Leach.

“I think Graham Harrell makes a ton of sense,” Heaps said.

Heaps thinks that many of the concerns about Harrell’s qualifications, namely lack of success at USC, aren’t really any fault of his.

“There was so much dysfunction at USC, I don’t think you can pin it all on Graham Harrell in the fact that the offense still put up points,” Heaps said. “They still did good things. But there was a lot of dysfunction that was there at USC just to begin with with (former head coach) Clay Helton.”

Heaps pointed to Harrell’s Air Raid background and familiarity with the program as plusses, and dropped a bit of knowledge on why you should keep an eye on Harrell.

“From what I do know, it’s that he wants that job really, really badly,” Heaps said. ” … So you have somebody that is excited, motivated, ready to embrace that part of it and and brings an Air Raid system. And I think that they would recruit the state extremely well, as well as having ties in southern Cal and Texas.”

Oklahoma DC Alex Grinch

Harrell isn’t the only former WSU assistant Heaps thinks could return to Pullman. Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who held that same post for the Cougars from 2015-17, may also be in the running after spending 2018 at Ohio State and the last three years at Oklahoma.

“Then you throw in another guy who has that has ties to WSU and fond memories everybody has of him in Alex Grinch, defensive coordinator from Oklahoma,” Heaps said.

While it would appear that Grinch makes sense for WSU because of his history with the program, Heaps does have some reservations about the possibility of Grinch getting the job.

“This one is one that makes me a little leery, I’ll be honest with you, just because at Oklahoma he didn’t necessarily light the world on fire defensively,” he said. “But I do believe that having that experience and being able to be with a big time program at Oklahoma, as well as his connections at WSU and having success knowing what it’s like to recruit at WSU and and having success as defense coordinator, that to me makes a lot of sense from that front.”

San Jose State HC Brent Brennan

While Grinch and Harrell have no head coaching experience, the next three on Heaps’ list do. The first of those three is San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan.

“I just think that he is a guy that really took a down and out San Jose State program and really turned them into a winner and a very respectable program,” Heaps said.

Brennan, 48, has led the Spartans to a 20-36 record since 2017. That may not seem like much, but San Jose State went 3-22 in Brennan’s first two seasons and the program has gone 17-14 with a Mountain West Conference title since 2019.

“He’s a young guy, he is very clear in his principles and identity, he’s an offensive-focused guy,” Heaps said. “I do think that he could take that next step and I do believe that his personality and everything would make a ton of sense for Washington State.”

Fresno State HC Kalen DeBoer

Heaps brought up Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer when talking about the vacancy at UW, but he thinks DeBoer would make since for WSU, as well.

“I’m going to go with one guy who’s a little bit more experienced and that is in terms of really cutting his teeth as a head coach who intrigues me is Kalen DeBoer from Fresno State,” he said.

DeBoer, 47, has an overall head coaching record of 78-9 between his time at NAIA Sioux Falls and now at Fresno State, where he’s led the Bulldogs to an 11-6 record in his two seasons.

“I think that he is a rising star in the coaching ranks. He’s a rising star in terms of his approach. So he that makes a ton of sense to me, and I really like that possibility (for WSU).”

Nevada HC Jay Norvell

The last name on Heaps’ list is Jay Norvell, who has at least seven wins in each of his last four seasons at Nevada and has the Wolf Pack at 7-3 with two games to go this season.

“The last one I would say is Jay Norvell from Nevada. He is an Air Raid guy, he is proven (in the) NFL and college (ranks),” Heaps said.

Norvell, 58, has been an assistant and offensive coordinator at major programs like Nebraska, UCLA and Oklahoma, and he coached receivers and tight ends in the NFL for six seasons in the late-90s and early-2000s.

Now in his fifth year at Nevada, which is his first head coaching job, Norvell has a 32-25 record.

“He’s really done a great job at Nevada developing that program,” Heaps said.


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Heaps: 5 coaches who could take over the WSU Cougars program