Almost 200 years ago, Hegel wrote about the advantages of a family-line monarchy over a democratically elected government. In simple terms, Hegel acknowledged that the monarch might not be the most qualified or in touch with the true will of the people. Conversely, he believed that the absence of a need for self-promotion would minimize the risk of corruption, which is the true death-knell of a functioning government.
This analogy does not extend neatly to college football coaching staffs. While nepotism might help a coach’s kid get a foot in the door, I’m not aware of a modern program passing from parent to child upon death or retirement. Additionally, the voting bloc that a candidate must impress is not a full electorate, but only an athletic department, some key boosters, and possibly a board of regents. The spirit of Hegel’s precept is still instructive. When a program sets out to fill a vacancy, the Athletic Director can cast the wide net of a national search or pass the program on to the most logical in-house candidate. The nationwide search might encourage candidates to tell the AD what they want to hear or portray themselves in the light most likely to land them the job; the unfulfilled campaign promises of the college football world. The in-house option is likely a better-known commodity, less susceptible to sectarian allegiances that could compromise the AD’s vision of the best interest of the program.
That brings us to Jake Dickert, the new(ish) head coach of the Washington State Cougars. When Nick Rolovich was fired/quit over the state’s vaccine mandate, Dickert took over on an interim basis. He performed reasonably well in tumultuous circumstances. The Cougs won three of their last four Pac-12 games after Rolovich led the squad to a 4-3 record to open the season. In his short tenure, Dickert had notable highs- a rare Apple Cup drubbing at Husky Stadium- and lows- an embarrassing loss to a depleted Central Michigan team in the Sun Bowl. Dickert built a reputation as a steady hand who avoided total disintegration in the wake of the Rolovich media storm. He was consistent, safe, and steady without the inherent risks that dynamism can create. He was the archetypal Hegelian monarch.
For a safe option, we know relatively little about Dickert. His interim debut for the Cougs was his first game as a head coach at any level. He came up through the Upper Midwest, much like Kalen Deboer, most of the new Husky staff, and your humble scrivener. The thread through Dickert’s coaching experience is Craig Bohl, who built North Dakota State into an FCS powerhouse before raising the floor of the moribund Wyoming program. Dickert started under Bohl as a GA in 2008, spent three years in Fargo, and rejoined Bohl for another three years as a position coach and DC at Wyoming. Bohl’s own lineage runs through the ‘90s Nebraska programs and his teams often use the blueprint of a physical defense led by an imposing defensive front. In his limited time at WSU, Dickert displayed his aggressive style and piled up turnovers, but also gave up a fair share of yards on the ground.
Offensively, Dickert will try to recapture the success of the Mike Leach era in Pullman. After Rolovich’s Run and Shoot proved to be an acceptable but inferior version to the offenses that Leach put together, Dickert hired head coach Eric Morris away from FCS Incarnate Word as his OC. Ward is a leach disciple and worked under his coaching tree at Texas Tech. Dickert and Morris also secured UIW’s transfer QB Cameron Ward to ease the transition back into the Air Raid.
One macro question about Dickert is whether he is different enough to succeed at WSU. With myriad financial and geographic limitations on the program, coaches have failed when trying beat the likes of Washington, Oregon, Stanford, and USC by doing what those programs do better. Leach succeeded because he recruited different sorts of players, ran a different sort of offense, and created different sorts of problems for his opponents. Even if he didn’t win the conference or contend for the CFP, he has the best winning percentage of any WSU coach since World War Two who lasted more than two seasons. It’s a very difficult job and there are more Paul Wulffs and Jim Sweeneys than there are Leaches. Even Mike Price, by far the longest-tenured coach since WWII, had a losing career record before going 10-3 in his last season.
Over the long-term, I’m skeptical about Dickert’s ability to win more than about half of his games at WSU. What little we know about Dickert’s lineage portrays him as a reasonably traditional football coach. Traditional coaches have not fared well for the Cougs. Price excelled at developing QBs in a pass-heavy offense that was ahead of its time. Leach is an offensive innovator who has carved out a niche with his ability to elevate small programs. Dickert will not only have to do all the heavy lifting of rebuilding a program in his image, he has to define his vision for that program as something that differentiates it from the better-resourced rivals in his immediate surroundings. On top of everything, he lacks one important advantage of Hegel’s family-line monarch; Dickert does not have his entire lifetime to figure out the job.