The Huskies Hired Kalen DeBoer To Be Their Next Head Football Coach

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I wasn’t thrilled to have Jimmy Lake be our successor to Chris Petersen. I’ll even admit there were times when he was still here when I had hoped Coach Pete would step aside to allow Lake to take over, rather than risk losing him to another program. So, yeah, I was pretty stoked when it was announced he’d take over after Petersen’s retirement! I figured: what better way to continue the roll of success we’ve seen at Washington, dating back to 2014? Really, dating back to 2013, after Coach Sark helped turn things around after 2008’s winless nadir.

Things, clearly, didn’t go according to plan with Jimmy Lake. Really, it’s hard to see how things could’ve gone any worse. A global pandemic decimated our 2020 season; an outbreak from said pandemic resulted in our missing out on an opportunity to play for the Pac-12 championship, or even a bowl game that season; a number of players transferred out of the program (possibly as a result of the pandemic reducing Lake’s effectiveness as a recruiter); and then the 2021 season happened, where the Huskies were 4-5 under Lake before plummeting to 4-8 after his dismissal. As we all know, the offense severely underperformed – to the point that the offensive coordinator lost his job days before Lake lost his – and Lake himself became embroiled in controversy over getting too physical with one of his own players (a trend that may or may not date back to 2019, when he was still the defensive coordinator).

It’s fair to question where things might’ve gone differently had COVID-19 never happened. We figured we knew two things about Lake prior to his ascension to the head coach job: he’s a helluva defensive backs coach and a helluva recruiter. It’s probably fair to also say he’s a helluva defensive coordinator, but I think a lot of that is predicated on how well our secondary has played since he got here. There were instances of this defense being frustratingly inconsistent in crunch time and against the run when we needed them to step up the most. But, that’s neither here nor there.

What transpired is the simple fact that Lake might not be a good head coach. He’s certainly not a good judge of who should be an offensive coordinator, that much is clear with the hire of John Donovan, and the constant support he gave him. I don’t think Lake is a good judge of what offense should be at the college level. The Huskies were wildly conservative, and clearly didn’t have the personnel to support a run-first, pro-style offense. Bubble screens and Wildcat formations can die a quick and painful death, as far as I’m concerned. It’s also not clear that Lake is a good motivator of men; I get the sense that his schtick can wear thin with some people.

Regardless, his firing boiled down to the Huskies not playing well on the football field. Chris Petersen was able to mold lesser recruits into stars and eventual NFL players; Lake’s players regressed and underperformed, even though by the time he was promoted we were regularly bringing in higher-level recruits in Coach Pete’s final years.

I mean, how do you have the kind of consistency along the offensive line that we were able to bring back for the 2021 season, and not be able to do ANYTHING on offense, neither rushing nor protecting our quarterbacks?

This brings us to Kalen DeBoer, the erstwhile Fresno State head coach.

It’s fair to look at this hire – compared to what USC was able to do in bringing in Lincoln Riley, compared to what LSU was able to do in wooing away Brian Kelly from Notre Dame of all places – and come away underwhelmed. After all, there are reports we tried to hire Matt Campbell away from Iowa State (offering him upwards of $7 million per year) and were rebuffed (which is unfortunate, because what he’s done for the Cyclones is truly remarkable). You never want to hear that. You never want to hear that your school is unable to bring in a big name. If it’s because we didn’t offer him enough money, then that sucks because you don’t want your school to be perceived as tightwads. But, if it’s because he just didn’t want to come to Washington because he didn’t believe in the program and our ability to win it all, then that’s far worse. I tend to believe it’s the latter; I don’t have any faith in Washington winning it all because I don’t believe the Pac-12 as a conference is set up for success in the major college sports of football and men’s basketball (for any number of reasons I won’t bore you with here).

As a Washington fan, you kinda have to look at the situation for what it is. Washington is one of the top three or four programs in the Pac-12. But, what does that mean in the grand scheme of things? Being top three or four in the Pac-12 probably equates to being in the top 30 or 40 in all of college football; you can’t like those odds when the programs who are truly in the Top 10 are so far and away more advantaged than everyone below them combined. Matt Campbell isn’t the difference between where we are now and a national championship; nothing short of Dabo Swinney or Nick Saban would be able to turn Washington into a national powerhouse.

That means we have to settle for lowered expectations. Being one of the top three or four programs in the Pac-12 means we need to be competing for a conference championship every single year, period. Washington is worthy of that much. And there’s reason for optimism that Kalen DeBoer could be the guy to take us back to those heights.

I’m going to spend a lot of brainpower comparing DeBoer to our previous two offensive coordinators, because he’s an offensive-minded coach. Unlike Bush Hamdan and John Donovan – who were both miserable retreads who’ve never succeeded at the college level – Kalen DeBoer has improved the offenses he’s taken over at every stop on his coaching journey. He was tremendously successful at the lower levels of college football, with Sioux Falls, leading them to multiple national championships. He then became a coordinator with Fresno State and saw immediate improvement there; he did the same thing for Indiana in 2019, in the same capacity; and when he returned to Fresno State as their head coach, he continued their turnaround, leading them to a 9-3 record this past season (with, I might add, Jake Haener at quarterback, who transferred out of Washington after the 2018 season). This all speaks to a head coach on the rise.

It’s also not lost on me that he actually HAS head coaching experience, which is more than we could say for Jimmy Lake when he was hired. We’ll have to wait and see, but my hunch is that DeBoer will have these Huskies playing much better through sheer coaching ability. What’s uncertain is: how many of these Huskies will want to stick around? And, what will future Husky recruiting classes look like?

I don’t know what DeBoer’s reputation is as a recruiter. Considering everything I’ve read about him so far hasn’t featured that as any great asset, I’m assuming he’s just okay. Of course, he’s never had the kind of resources that he’ll have with Washington, so a lot of that is unknown as well. My guess on this point is that he’ll be worse than Jimmy Lake, at least at first. And, he’s going to have to coach his ass off the first few years to lead Washington to the kind of success where he’ll be able to start bringing in the higher-rated recruits.

Which leads me to the age-old question: what’s more important, recruiting or actual coaching? Obviously, you need both; Lake was perceived to be an excellent recruiter, but it turns out he wasn’t much of a coach, and the Huskies cratered accordingly. DeBoer is perceived to be an excellent coach, but if all he can bring in are nobodies, then it won’t matter how good of a coach he is if he doesn’t have the talent to even hang with the teams of the lowly Pac-12. If we’re doomed to repeat another endless string of losses to the Oregon Ducks, his time here won’t be long.

As with anything new, it’s impossible to judge this move without seeing any results. We can speculate all we want, but we can’t say anything with any certainty until we see how the Huskies play on the field next year. Even that might be too soon; a more fair assessment probably couldn’t be rendered for 3-5 years, to give him enough time to build the culture, bring in a few recruiting classes, and see how he does with “his guys”.

All I can really talk about his how I feel, given the knowledge I have at my disposal. I’m cautiously excited. I’m probably less excited than I was a couple years ago, when Lake was tabbed to take over, but that was coming off of a run of success we haven’t seen around these parts in decades. Coming off of a down year, with all the question marks surrounding our current roster and our incoming freshmen next year, I think it’s fair to be underwhelmed with this move. That doesn’t mean I don’t expect immediate improvement. I think the 2022 Huskies should be, at minimum, a bowl-eligible squad. A record of 6-6 isn’t too much to ask. Where we go from there is up to DeBoer, and who he ultimately decides to bring on as his assistant coaches. I’ve read people talking about how he needs to bring in excellent recruiters; I think that’s a great (if obvious) idea. We’ll see how it goes!