Two days after Washington State allowed two kickoff returns for touchdowns and missed a 19-yard field goal in the final minute to lose 60-59 to Cal, coach Mike Leach announced he fired special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Eric Russell.
“We made a change at special teams, and well I think a great deal of coach Russell but we wanted to split the special teams up among the assistants and the way he's most effective is with him running the whole thing,” Leach said at his Monday press conference. “He's a great coach. Yeah, I decided to make a change on special teams.”
WSU allowed a punt return for a touchdown against Utah on Sept. 27. A fumble during a punt return in the season opener against Rutgers played a big role in WSU’s 41-38 loss.
Russell previously coached with Leach at Texas Tech, where he was a nominee for the Frank Broyles Award in 2009, given to the nation’s top assistant coach.
With Russell’s dismissal, Leach promoted quality control assistant Eric Mele. Leach said Mele will continue to do a lot of the administrative work he’d already been assigned, but will also be in charge of divvying up the specials teams responsibilities among the team’s staff.
Mele is the lone coach on staff that did not either play for Leach or serve on one of his previous staffs before arriving at WSU in 2012. The story of how Mele landed at WSU is an interesting one, but here is snippet:
When Leach was announced as Washington State’s coach in November 2011, Mele realized this was his chance to get on the staff. Without an invitation, he booked a flight to Pullman for Leach’s introductory news conference and figured he’d pull a, “Hey, I’m in Pullman too, imagine that, want to grab a beer?” Unfortunately, when Mele texted Leach the morning after the news conference, Leach informed him that he had already returned to Key West but that if Mele were going to be in Key West again, he should let Leach know.
Perhaps more than anything this shows how much WSU misses former kicker Andrew Furney, who was in training camp with the New York Jets.
WSU ranks 10th in the Pac-12 allowing 23 yards per kickoff return this year after finishing fifth last year when it allowed 20 yards per return. Furney was 16-for-20 last year on field goals and this year Quentin Breshears and Erik Powell have combined to connect on just 6 of 11 attempts.