Ronnie Lee is returning to the Palouse where he played football for and graduated from Washington State University before spending 1992 coaching the secondary at the University of Idaho. His coaching career since he left the Palouse has taken him across the country – and now back.
“He’s had all kinds of experience,” said head coach Paul Petrino, who roomed with Lee when both were assistants at Idaho in 1992. “He’s definitely a great teacher. He’s a motivator. He’s a disciplinarian. Any time you can get disciplinarians at your coordinator positions, that’s good because they’re speaking the same language I am.”
It didn’t take long for Petrino to make the call to Lee.
“Ronnie was the first guy I called; the first guy I asked to be defensive coordinator,” said Petrino of Lee, who was co-defensive coordinator at Minnesota in 2009-10. “For me, I hit the jackpot and got the guy I wanted. It’s great.”
Most recently, Lee was at Indiana State University as the Running Backs Coach and Special Teams Coordinator in 2012. The Sycamore finished the season 7-4 behind a ground game led by running back Shakir Bell, who averaged 134.1 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry.
At Idaho, though, he will return to the defensive side of the ball – where he played as a Cougar and spent the majority of his coaching career, as the Vandals’ defensive coordinator and secondary coach.
Prior to Indiana State, Lee was at Minnesota from 2007-10 as the Golden Golphers' co-defensive coordinator in 2009-10 after being promoted following the 2008 season. While at Minnesota he coached cornerback Traye Simmons to Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors in 2009, which marked back-to-back conference honors for Simmons. Under Lee's tutelage, Simmons finished No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 5 in the nation in passes defended (1.38 per game) in 2008. Cornerback Marcus Sherels was No. 3 in the Big Ten and No. 25 in the nation (1.08 per game) as well. Simmons earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2008, while safety Kyle Theret was an honorable mention selection.
Minnesota finished No. 11 in the nation with 31 turnovers gained in 2008. Gopher defensive backs accounted for 15 of those 31 turnovers either by interception or fumble recovery. Under Lee's coaching, Minnesota safety Dom Barber earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and the media in 2007. Barber ranked ninth in the Big Ten in total tackles (100) that season and was a sixth-round choice of the Houston Texans in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Prior to his time at Minnesota, Lee coached at Michigan, where he spent the 2006 campaign as the secondary coach and also worked with the Wolverines' punt return team. Lee's unit played a major role in Michigan finishing the season ranked 10th nationally in overall defense and 15th in scoring defense. The Wolverines also ranked third in the Big Ten in punt return average and 35th nationally. Under the tutelage of Lee, Wolverine cornerback Leon Hall was selected first-team All-Big Ten by both the coaches and the media in 2006. Hall was one of only two players chosen unanimously by both the coaches and media.
Prior to working with the Wolverines, Lee was the defensive backs coach at Wisconsin from 2003-05. As defensive backs coach for the Badgers, Lee coached safety Jim Leonhard to first-team All-Big Ten and All-America honors in 2003 and 2004. Leonhard tied Jamar Fletcher for the most career interceptions at Wisconsin with 21. Lee helped the Badgers to three consecutive bowl games, the 2003 Music City Bowl, 2005 Outback Bowl and 2006 Capital One Bowl.
Prior to his appointment with the Badgers, Lee was the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at San Jose State from 2001-02. In 2002, the Spartans ranked third nationally in interceptions (23) and fourth in turnovers gained (38). Lee was also the only coach who had three players ranked among the top 100 nationally in interceptions in 2002.
Before joining the San Jose State staff, Lee spent eight seasons at Colorado State (1993-2000) working with the defensive backs. Lee helped coach the Rams to five conference titles during that stretch and aided in the Rams leading the nation in turnover margin during the 1997 season. He also coached Greg Myers, the winner of the 1995 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back.
Lee spent a year each at Idaho (1992) as defensive backs coach and Portland State (1991) as defensive backs/special teams coach, helping both schools to conference championships. He was a graduate assistant coach at Miami (Fla.) from 1989-90 and was a member of the Hurricanes' 1989 national championship staff.
Twelve of Lee's players have played in the NFL, including Wisconsin's Scott Starks, who was a third-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005. Lee has been involved in 12 bowl games during his career, one as a player at Washington State (1988 Aloha Bowl) and 11 as an assistant coach.
A native of Tulare, Calif., Lee earned his bachelor's degree from Washington State in 1989. He was a four-year letterman at defensive back (1985-88) for the Cougars and led the Pac-10 Conference in fumbles forced in 1986.
Lee and his wife, Eileen, have five children: Aubree, Jamison, Kayla, Christopher and Madison.