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Washington State Football: 15 Coaching Candidates to Replace Nick Rolovich

Nick Rolovich, Washington State Cougars

Washington State is the latest college football team looking for a new head coach, as Nick Rolovich was fired on Monday. Rolovich was terminated after refusing to comply with a mandate for all state employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by Monday. Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert is expected to serve as the program’s interim coach. The Cougars were 4-3 this season and finished 1-3 in the abbreviated 2020 campaign, putting his final record in Pullman at 5-6 overall. Rolovich previously went 28-27 at Hawaii from 2016-19.

Who could replace Rolovich at Washington State? Here are 15 names to watch in the coaching search:

15 Coaching Candidates to Replace Nick Rolovich at Washington State

Craig Bohl, Head Coach, Wyoming
Bohl would represent a change in style, as his programs are built more on rushing attacks and defense. However, he’s been successful as a head coach at Wyoming and North Dakota State. Bohl compiled a 104-32 record from 2004-13 with the Bison and is 42-46 with the Cowboys since ’14. Wyoming has been to three bowl games and won at least six games in each of the last four full seasons for the program. He also coached as an assistant at Nebraska from 1995-02.

Brent Brennan, Head Coach, San Jose State
Brennan inherited a rebuilding project at San Jose State and went 3-22 in his first two years on the job. However, the Spartans have showed marked improvement since a 5-7 finish in 2019. Brennan guided the program to a 7-1 record and Mountain West title in ’20 and is 3-4 through seven games in ’20. He also has previous experience in the Pac-12 with a stint as a assistant at Oregon State (2011-16).

Troy Calhoun, Head Coach, Air Force
It’s probably a longshot for Calhoun to leave Air Force for Washington State, but the program should at least inquire about his interest. The former Air Force quarterback is 107-73 at his alma mater since 2007, which includes an 11-2 mark in the ’19 season.

Kalen DeBoer, Head Coach, Fresno State
DeBoer is a rising star in the coaching ranks. The South Dakota native worked as the head coach at Sioux Falls from 2005-09, compiling a 67-3 mark with three NAIA national titles. DeBoer served as the offensive coordinator under Jeff Tedford at Fresno State from 2017-18 and returned to the program as head coach in ’19. After a 3-3 stint in the abbreviated season, the Bulldogs are one of the Mountain West’s top teams in ’21, sitting at 5-2 going into Week 8.

Jeff Choate, Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach, Texas
Choate joined Steve Sarkisian’s staff in Austin after a successful four-year run at Montana State. The Bobcats went 28-22 and earned two FCS Playoff trips from 2016-19, which included an 11-4 mark in Choate’s final year. The Ohio native also has experience working as an assistant from stops at Utah State, Boise State, Washington State, Florida and Washington.

Jeff Grimes, Offensive Coordinator, Baylor
Grimes has never been a head coach, but he’s has assembled a solid resume as an assistant over a handful of stops and has made a big-time impact as a play-caller in his last two stints as BYU and Baylor. The Bears averaged 23.3 points a game last season but have jumped to 38.3 with Grimes now at the controls. Prior to his stints at BYU and Baylor, Grimes worked as an assistant at Arizona State, Colorado, Virginia Tech and LSU.

Alex Grinch, Defensive Coordinator, Oklahoma
It’s only a matter of time before Grinch gets a chance to run his own program. He previously worked at Washington State from 2015-17 as the program’s defensive coordinator, then made a one-year stop at Ohio State, followed by an impressive run at Oklahoma over the last three seasons. The Sooners have showed marked improvement on defense during that stint, holding teams to 24.9 points a contest this fall after allowing 33.3 in the year prior to Grinch’s arrival.

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Graham Harrell, Offensive Coordinator, USC
USC’s offense has been inconsistent at times, but Harrell is considered a rising star in the coaching ranks. The Texas native previously worked as an assistant at Washington State from 2014-15 and spent time at North Texas (2016-18) before taking over as the play-caller at USC in ’19. The Trojans have averaged over 30 points a game in each of Harrell’s three seasons calling the plays.

Jay Hill, Head Coach, Weber State
Hill accumulated a wealth of on-field experience as an assistant at Utah from 2005-13 before becoming the head coach at Weber State in 2014. The Wildcats are 54-34 under Hill’s watch and have made the FCS Playoffs in four straight years. Additionally, Weber State won at least 10 games in every season from 2017-19.

Zak Hill, Offensive Coordinator, Arizona State
Hill is another assistant to watch in this search. The Oregon native joined Arizona State’s staff prior to the 2020 season and helped the Sun Devils lead the Pac-12 in scoring (40.3) in the four-game campaign. Through seven contests in ’21, Arizona State is averaging 31.6 points a contest and ranks first in the Pac-12 in yards per play (6.9). The former Central Washington quarterback has previous coaching stints as an assistant at Eastern Washington (2009-15) and Boise State (2016-19).

Brian Lindgren, Offensive Coordinator, Oregon State
Lindgren has never been a head coach but is a native of Washington and certainly understands the landscape after coaching in the Pac-12 at Colorado (2013-17) and Oregon State (since ’18). Prior to those stints, Lindgren worked as an assistant at San Jose State (2012) and Northern Arizona (2006-11). With Lindgren at the controls, Oregon State leads the Pac-12 in scoring (34.0 ppg) this year.

Jim McElwain, Head Coach, Central Michigan
McElwain has previous ties to the state of Washington, as he played his college ball at Eastern Washington and later worked there as an assistant. The Montana native also had stints at Louisville, Michigan State, Fresno State and Alabama before taking over as the head coach at Colorado State in 2012. McElwain went 22-15 from 2012-14 with the Rams, followed by a 22-12 stint at Florida (2015-17). He was dismissed in Gainesville during the ’17 season and spent a year working under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. McElwain took over at Central Michigan in ’19 and is 14-12 over three years.

Joe Moorhead, Offensive Coordinator, Oregon
Moorhead is one of college football’s top play-callers and should get another chance to run a Power 5 program. The Pennsylvania native went 38-13 as Fordham’s head coach from 2012-15 and had a successful stint as Penn State’s offensive coordinator from 2016-17. Moorhead left Happy Valley to be the head coach at Mississippi State and went 14-12 from 2018-19. He’s called the plays for the Ducks over the last two years, with this unit averaging over six yards per play since his arrival.

Jay Norvell, Head Coach, Nevada
Norvell should be near the top of Washington State’s list after a successful stint at Nevada. The Wisconsin native is 30-23 since taking over in 2017, including a 14-8 mark over the last two years. Norvell has a wealth of experience as an assistant from stops at Wisconsin, Iowa State, Nebraska, UCLA, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona State. Additionally, he worked in the NFL with the Raiders and Colts. 

Troy Taylor, Head Coach, Sacramento State
Taylor is a familiar name to many in Washington, as he worked from 2017-18 as the offensive coordinator at Utah and called the plays at Eastern Washington in ’16. He also was a successful high school coach in California before joining the EWU staff, but Taylor has garnered valuable experience as a head coach at Sacramento State since ’19. The Hornets went 9-4 in Taylor’s debut and are 4-2 through the first seven weeks of the ’21 season.

Bonus - Jake Dickert, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Washington State
Could Washington State promote from within for 2022 and beyond? Dickert is the most likely candidate after working as the program’s defensive coordinator over the last two years. The Cougars allowed 38.5 points a game last season but cut that total to 25.7 in ’21. He previously worked as the defensive signal-caller at Wyoming (2017-19) and as an assistant at South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Minnesota State-Mankato and South Dakota. Dickert has no experience as a head coach.

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