SEATTLE – When Jake Dickert stepped into the role of interim head coach at Washington State, it was the beginning of a six-week interview in the midst of chaos.
When Bob Gregory stepped into the same role for Washington, it was serving as a stopgap for the final couple of weeks of the season and an expected bridge between one regime and the next.
While what happens on the field in Friday’s Apple Cup showdown between the Huskies and Cougars is most important, the current situation on the sideline with each program has created a strange and unprecedented dynamic for the rivalry matchup.
It’s still the Apple Cup, but with an asterisk, as both teams have interim coaches leading the way.
“The guys understanding what’s in front of us and the passion of this game and how we want to finish the season more than anything,” Dickert said. “And it’s not just with the Apple Cup. We want to finish the season on a high note and prepare ourselves for what potentially could be next.”
Dickert took over after Nick Rolovich was fired for not meeting the requirements of his job as a state employee by declining to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Dickert stepped into a storm of controversy around the decision to let go of Rolovich and four assistant coaches, amid a locker room where many firmly supported the head coach.
At first, Dickert’s priority was stabilizing the program. But it quickly morphed into what he could make out of the opportunity and why it’s become as much about the future as the present.
Dickert and the Cougars are 2-2 since Rolovich’s dismissal, losing a two-point game at home to No. 13 BYU during the tumultuous first week after the changes, and a 38-24 loss at No. 11 Oregon. But they won convincingly at Arizona State and hammered Arizona in their home finale last Friday, and they go into the Apple Cup still with a chance of being the North Division representative in the Pac-12 championship game next week in Las Vegas.
There is a growing feeling among fans and alumni that a win over the Huskies — which would snap a seven-game losing streak to Washington — might be enough to ensure Dickert gets the job permanently.
“I’m truly honored and truly humbled to get an opportunity to lead this team,” Dickert said. “I just look through what the players have given me and I’ve said millions of times I don’t know if I can give them enough. It’s been hectic. It’s been a little bit crazy, but we’ve stayed together.”
Gregory’s job was to step into the messy situation left after Jimmy Lake was first suspended for one game and later fired after less than two years on the job. Gregory served as an interim coach for one game back in 2013 while at Boise State after Chris Petersen left to take the Washington job. Gregory then joined Petersen on the defensive staff with the Huskies, but he said being a head coach was never a major career priority.
“To be honest with you I never really thought about it,” Gregory said. “I just enjoyed the role where I’m at and I feel good about this role and what we’re doing.”
Gregory also has the added layer of being a former Washington State player back in the mid-1980s. He joked that coaches become beholden to whoever is willing to pay them once their playing careers end.
“I get a lot of texts this time of year, though, from a whole bunch of Cougars,” he said.
Since Gregory stepped in, the Huskies have notably played hard in losses to Arizona State and Colorado, but numerous mistakes — turnovers namely — have derailed Washington in both games.
The two setbacks have ensured that Washington will have a losing record and miss a bowl game for the first time since 2009. And in the case of Gregory, all indications are he’s serving as a placeholder and once the Apple Cup concludes the entire focus will turn to who becomes the next coach in charge on Montlake.
“Everything is different about this one, I think,” Gregory said. “I’ve been involved in a couple of rivalries in this league and this one is pretty special.”
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