Minutes after Washington State’s upset win at Arizona State three weeks ago, a reporter congratulated interim football coach Jake Dickert on his first head coaching victory and asked what the accomplishment meant to him personally.

Dickert smiled, accepted the congrats and basically said yes, the moment was meaningful to him.

“But at the end of the day, the team won this game,” he said. “I told these guys, they’ve given me more in their love and their support and their effort and their energy than I can ever give them.”

Several days later, when asked what it felt like preparing for a high-profile November game against an Oregon team projected to compete for a national championship, Dickert did the same thing. He turned the question around to focus on the players.

That said, he doesn’t consider himself a faceless placeholder. He makes it clear he’s interested in the Cougars’ permanent head coaching position, and asserts, with an unassuming self-assurance that lends credibility to his words, that his application has been years in the making.

“They have ‘acting head coach’ in front of my name,” Dickert told Dennis Dodd of CBSSports last week. “I like to say I’m the ‘interviewing head coach.’ We like to talk with our players all the time about, ‘You’re being evaluated in everything you do, from practice to meetings to academics to off the field.’ Well, now it’s time for coach to practice what I preach.”

Fair or not, he faces a critical test in that evaluation when the Cougars (5-5, 4-3) play Arizona (1-9, 1-6) at 6 p.m. Friday (Pac-12 Network) in a conference game at Gesa Field in Pullman.

A Wazzu loss, while surely possible, wouldn’t look good on Dickert’s short resume. This is the first time since early September the Cougars have been favored, and the spread is a hefty 14½ points. At the same time, Arizona has been more competitive than its record indicates.

Conversely, a win would make the Cougars bowl eligible heading into the regular-season finale Nov. 26 at Washington, and therefore would be a feather in Dickert’s cap.

When Washington State fired second-year coach Nick Rolovich and four of his assistants Oct. 18 for failing to comply with a state vaccination mandate, the school immediately named Dickert as interim coach, despite his being one of the youngest members of Rolovich’s staff. Since that moment, it’s been assumed he would apply for the permanent position that probably will be filled at season’s end.

He has since confirmed a keen interest in the job, and his most compelling credentials have been the spirit and resolve his team has shown through three games, beginning with a competitive 21-19 loss against BYU. That came with a shuffled coaching staff that included two outside hires, just five days after Rolovich was released.

The Cougars stunned 16-point favorite Arizona State 38-21 the next Saturday, and they could have taken command of the Pac-12 North by winning at Oregon last week. They lost 38-24.

“It’s been a whirlwind to say the least,” Dickert said in the interview with Dodd. “To lose one coach is something. To lose half of the staff is something that’s a little bit different. I just give a lot of credit to our players. I think in adverse times you get to choose what direction you’re going to go, and it bonded them even closer. They’re working hard and they’re staying together. Most importantly, they’re believing.”

Without this interim gig, Dickert would have been hard-pressed to land a top Pac-12 job this early in his career. He’s only 38 and he’s never been a head coach until now. He has spent only four seasons at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, and his first Power Five opportunity came in 2020 when Rolovich hired him as WSU’s defensive coordinator.

But he’s ambitious, reportedly saying recently that his goal had been to become a coordinator by age 30 and a head coach by 40. He achieved the former in 2019 when his primary coaching mentor, Craig Bohl, anointed him defensive coordinator in Dickert’s second season at Wyoming.

This year, Dickert’s tenacious defense has been the Cougars’ most consistent strength, and meanwhile his articulateness and diplomacy reinforce the notion that he’s on the fast track for an explicit head coaching role.

If not here and now, then somewhere and sometime.

He credits that sense of purpose to his father, Jeffrey, a high school educator who filled multiple roles, including coaching, while Dickert was growing up in small towns in Wisconsin.

“One of his famous things he always said in his speeches that he always gave is, ‘Always be ready for your opportunity, because you never know when it’s going to knock,’” Dickert said. “Every day, I’ve been preparing for this moment.”

Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.

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