When Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake took over for a retiring(ish) Chris Petersen after the 2019 season, all parties involved signaled that the transition was built on the idea of maintaining the consistency Petersen had built at UW while expanding on Lake’s energy to take the program to a new level.
Just under two seasons later, Washington is a funhouse mirror of its former self. The offense is inarguably terrible, the recruiting advantage Lake promised hasn’t materialized, and the Pac-12 power that once prided itself on how sleepy it was in the press has become a focal point for everything from legitimate scandal to just laughable PR blunders.
In 2021 alone Lake has overseen a season-opening loss to an FCS program, badly gaffed in the media when talking about recruiting, and is currently suspended after shoving and (depending on your interpretation of the video) allegedly swinging at a UW player on the field in last week’s loss to Oregon.
As of this writing, defensive coordinator Bob Gregory is the interim head coach for the Huskies through this weekend’s game against Arizona State, but speculation in coaching circles is that Lake’s suspension will inevitably end in termination. The odds are slim enough that the second-year head coach would survive this particular controversy by itself, but the compounding matters of terrible play and a general air of mismanagement from the head coach has painted Lake as ill-equipped for the head job.
What’s worse is that Washington wasn’t a tear-down job or even close: Petersen left the program after an 8-5 season, but the previous three years all ended with 10 or more wins. Lake’s short tenure in Seattle can best be described as failing to deliver on the areas he promised while also trying to change the parts of UW that didn’t need fixing.
The job seems likely to open and will draw a significant amount of interest. Lake is either owed $10 million on a deal that runs through 2024 or nothing at all if he’s terminated for cause, but it seems like a middle ground will be met in negotiations for Lake to avoid the designation and for UW to save some cash.
What’s next? Expect a long line of big-name coaches to be in the mix if/once Lake is gone:
- Other Pac-12 head coaches: Cal’s Justin Wilcox and Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith (a former OC at UW under Petersen) will be mentioned.
- Rival assistants: Huskies could look to strike a blow against rival Oregon. Ducks assistant head coach Joe Salave’a is a recruiting machine and a west coast lifer, and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was a winning head coach at Mississippi State for two seasons.
- Mountain West head coaches: There’s also a host of successful G5 coaches west of the Rockies worth a look: Nevada’s Jay Norvell, Fresno State’s Kalen DeBoer, and San Jose State’s Brent Brennan are hot names.
- Out-of-town surprises: There’s no mandate UW has to hire from the Pacific time zone – the league’s best coach is Mario Cristobal, a Miami native and former FIU head coach, who came to Oregon as an assistant from Alabama – so we can look across the country for UW: If the Huskies want to return to consistency and culture from a steady hand, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell would be a huge get. Louisiana’s Billy Napier is a Southerner through and through, but he’s a former Bama assistant who could apply the SEC blueprint as Cristobal did, and he coached at Arizona State.
While it doesn’t have the gloss of Oregon or the pageantry of USC, Washington is considered a top-three job (behind or among those two programs) out west. Petersen took the Huskies to the College Football Playoff, and the expectation is to win the league. With the Trojans looking for a new head coach and an entirely new era for their program, it’s easy to see how an opening in Seattle could be ignored by college football fans as significant. Don’t. It’s a major job that can produce national results.
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– Steven Godfrey is a senior writer for Vox Media's Secret Base, and co-host of The Split Zone Duo podcast. Follow him on Twitter @38Godfrey