Washington State coach Mike Leach has never been one to understate the “student” in student-athlete.
He’d consider himself a lifelong scholar and Leach hopes that his players can be sponges, too, absorbing every bit of knowledge available to them while they’re on campus.
That’s more or less the reason Leach recently swapped two of his position coaches. He wants his inside receivers to know what outside receivers coach Dave Nichol knows and he wants the outside receivers to learn a thing or two from inside receivers coach Derek Sage.
So, in an effort to ensure that no lesson goes untaught, Leach is giving Nichol the inside receivers this fall and Sage will handle the outside receivers.
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“And heck, next year we might switch them back for the same reason,” Leach said.
Receivers are as integral to the Air Raid operation as anything position and Leach figured because both Nichol and Sage “are dynamic guys” with “a lot of good information to add,” the wideouts would benefit from extensive time with both.
Leach pondered the move throughout the spring, met with his staff before the summer, and pulled the trigger right before fall camp.
“The good thing is with both of those guys having done it, my hope is that we synchronize the inside and outside better,” Leach said. “I just feel like there’s a lot of good information and I’d like to have the combination of both of them rubbing off on all of our receivers.”
Sage spent three seasons at Toledo as the receivers coach and held the same post at Wyoming for four years. Nichol, a former offensive line assistant of Leach’s at Texas Tech, was the offensive coordinator at East Carolina for a single season in 2015.
So they not only hail from different football backgrounds, but they bring strikingly different personas to the gridiron – another reason the WSU receivers are benefiting from this whole shakeup.
“They’re unique in their own ways,” inside receiver Kyle Sweet said. “I’d say Sage is a little bit louder and interactive during practice. Nichol’s a little bit more reserved but he’ll still get on you, but he’ll kind of pull you to the side and get on you.”
Friday at Lewiston’s Sacjawea Junior High, Sage’s instruction could be heard from some distance during an individual receiver drill in which the first-year WSU assistant was coaching his players to hold their line while running routes.
“I’m not a trigonometry guy,” Sage boomed, “but get out on a straight line.”
Robert Lewis, a fifth-year senior expected to start at the “H” receiver for the Cougars, has had three different inside receivers coaches at WSU. A fourth, Eric Morris, was heavily involved in Lewis’ recruitment before leaving for the offensive coordinator job at Texas Tech in December 2012. Lewis was coached for three seasons by David Yost, who left for Oregon in 2016, and worked with Sage as a junior.
“It’s crazy,” Lewis said of the turnover. “This one was unexpected too. I was coming into fall camp I was with coach Sage and then they hit us with it. But … you learn something from everybody so it’s a good thing, bad thing, you’ve got to get used to a new coach. But as far as that, you pick up different things from every coach.”
And Lewis reiterates what Sweet said – that both can offer fresh material.
“One thing I learned from coach Sage is he’s real big about fundamentals. Eyes to the tuck, catch the ball, just look the ball in, routes,” Lewis said. “One thing about coach Nichol, is he’s (about) no wasted movements. That’s the biggest thing. He doesn’t want you coming off the ball slow. Attack the guy, make him get on his hip and then run your route.”