Tracy Claeys, whose success during a 1½-year run as Washington State defensive coordinator was sullied by the Cougars’ disappointing performances the past two weeks, abruptly resigned Friday with seven games left in the season.
Linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni was named interim defensive coordinator, the school said in a statement announcing Claeys’ departure. Cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath evidently will be Bellantoni’s top assistant, with a job title of co-interim DC.
Although there’s speculation Claeys was forced out by head coach Mike Leach, there also are indications he is leaving voluntarily. A source said WSU won’t be responsible for his salary moving forward.
“We appreciate Tracy’s efforts the past year and a half and wish him the best going forward,” Leach said in a statement.
The Cougars, who have a bye this week, opened the season with three nonleague wins but are 0-2 in Pac-12 play, having lost 67-63 at home to UCLA and 38-13 at Utah.
Leach was highly critical of several phases of his team after the Utah game. That included the defense, which missed numerous tackles and appeared to blow several assignments.
“We weren’t even close,” Leach said of his pass coverage. “I think we’re soft. I think we go out there and play street ball and do our own thing, and I don’t think we listen to the call necessarily. Then I think guys just run and do whatever they want to to. And I think we have to examine how we’re getting the calls in, because I think a certain number, we got them in slow.”
Claeys was communicating his calls to assistants from the press box.
The UCLA game was especially embarrassing to the Cougars, who blew a 32-point lead and allowed 50 points in a span of 17 minutes, 41 seconds in the second half. Despite a relatively easy nonconference schedule, Washington State is tied for 107th in the country in total defense, allowing 444 yards per game.
Those numbers stand in contrast to Claeys’ first season at WSU last year, when the Cougars ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in defense and first in sacks in posting an 11-2 record.
The Cougs are off until next Saturday, when they play at Arizona State in a game to be featured on the HBO documentary series, “24/7 College Football.” The next week, the Cougars will be the primary focus of an episode of the same series.
Claeys, 50, agreed to a contract extension in January that would have kept him at the school through 2022. He earned $625,000 in 2018.
The Cougars had expected to face defensive questions this season, especially after losing standout safety Jalen Thompson to an NCAA violation during the summer. They already were losing longtime defensive leader Peyton Pelluer, a strong pass-rusher, two starting cornerbacks and their top nickelback.
In their absence, three junior-college transfers have played prominent roles this year in the secondary, and their adjustment to NCAA football has been made more difficult by lukewarm pass-rush.
Claeys was hired in January 2018 to replace Alex Grinch, who had directed a revival of the WSU defense the previous three seasons.
It was Claeys’ first job since being fired as Minnesota head coach a year earlier, not long after his team defeated Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. Minnesota players had staged a short-lived boycott of the game to protest an administrative suspension of 10 teammates accused of sexual assault. Claeys had taken heat for initially expressing support of the boycott.
Dale Grummert may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2290.