New defensive boss at WSU looking for controlled chaos
Crimson partisans just take it on faith that new defensive coordinator Mike Breske will be fine, because coach Mike Leach says so.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Mike Breske fileDefensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, WSU
Playing career: All-conference cornerback and team captain at South Dakota State, 1976-80.
Coaching career: More than 30 years, most recently with Montana.
Family: Wife Tami, three children and four grandchildren
PULLMAN — Like most things involving Mike Leach, the call over the holidays from the new Washington State football coach to Mike Breske didn't begin with a lot of talk about football.
Matter of fact, they chatted about a field they both knew in Sioux City, Iowa. They shared stories about the rodeo in Cody, Wyo.
We assume somewhere in there, Leach slipped in the notion that he was interested in hiring Breske, 54, from Montana to be his defensive coordinator. Because Breske is on board, having jumped at the chance to work under Leach.
"My goodness, why not?" Breske said the other day between WSU spring football practices. "How do you say no to that?"
If this were a different time — say, four years ago — we'd be cueing the skepticism among the WSU fan base. One of the continuing knocks on the staff Paul Wulff assembled was that it was too short on like experience, too skimpy of résumé when it came to years spent in BCS leagues.
Well, you don't find a lot of Texas or Alabama or USC in Breske's background. There's a lot of Division II at Northern Colorado (but two national championships), a half-dozen years under Joe Glenn at Wyoming, sandwiched by two stints at Montana.
Crimson partisans just take it on faith that Breske will be fine, because Leach says so. That's the gravitas that comes with 10 bowl appearances in 10 years at Texas Tech.
I asked Leach about whether an absence of BCS-league experience could be a drawback with Breske. He looked at me like I'd suggested he call three straight draw plays.
"I would have been out of business if that counted for anything," he scoffed. "Keep in mind, I went from Cal Poly to College of the Desert to Iowa Wesleyan to Valdosta to Kentucky.
"Folks will say, 'You can't do this at that level. The receivers at this level do this.' What, he's (on defense) playing with D-2 corners?"
In fact, as a guy who's worked at his share of backwater programs, Leach may have been better equipped to recognize the talents of Breske.
"About the time I was leaving Valdosta State, he was at Northern Colorado with Joe Glenn," said Leach. "Northern Colorado hadn't really done a great deal, and all of a sudden, they're in the national picture every year."
Leach didn't know Breske, but saw from afar that Breske was succeeding with limited resources at Wyoming and helping to win big at Montana. So he made that phone call.
Breske says he expects "overall speed, not just the perimeter players" to be the biggest change in moving to a BCS league. He's counting on much of that being on WSU's side of the ball.
"We're going to be aggressive," he said last week in a conversation in his office. "We're going to win the takeaway battle. We'll be a big, fire-zone, movement defense."
Translated, that means controlled chaos at the snap of the ball out of a 3-4 scheme that can morph into a 4-3 like WSU ran under Wulff. Or, as Leach explained it awhile back, "As often as we blitz, it's like a raffle out there, to see whose number is called and who gets to fire away."
Says Breske, "I love to blitz. A lot of good things can happen out of that — a sack, a hurry, a tackle for loss, a pass breakup, an interception, a fumble."
That sounds fine with two linebackers I talked with, Chester Sua and Eric Oertel.
"To be completely honest, this is the happiest I've been playing ball in the past, probably three years," said Oertel, a rising junior from Racine, Wis., who has bounced between running back and linebacker. "It's going to be fun to play, and fun to watch on Saturday."
The personable Breske was one of Leach's last hires. Video, and half of WSU's spring workouts, have given him a read on personnel.
"I was pleasantly surprised with our linebackers; we've got athletes back there," Breske says. "And I was pleasantly surprised with our back end. We've got some guys that have shown great production so far this spring, in the (Deone) Bucannon kid, and the (Damante) Horton kid.
"On the defensive line, we've got some work to do there. Our numbers are not good there, and we've got to become more athletic."
One reason the defensive line is thinned is because the Cougars' best defender, Travis Long, is now playing mostly outside linebacker in the 3-4.
Meanwhile, it only makes sense the new staff will lean heavily on its first recruiting class signed in February.
"What we've told the kids is, this incoming freshman class isn't going to be that much behind you guys," said Breske. "You're only going to be 15 practices ahead of them."
The new guys will discover an assistant coach handpicked by Leach, who knows that coaching acumen is found not only around the bright lights but off the beaten path.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
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