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Mailbag: “Nothing Bruin” Edition

The questions about firings will continue until morale improves (literally)

UCLA v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

How bad do things have to get before Jen Cohen is replaced? Dwindling attendance, fan apathy, and historic ineptness from the men’s basketball and football programs. I think big changes are needed, and that goes beyond a new OC and new basketball assistant coaches. – Purple Kaya

Pretty darn bad. Without some type of off-field scandal you don’t see a lot of ADs fired without truly gross incompetence (and the off-field scandals we have seen haven’t been enough already) . There are certainly arguments to be made that Cohen is at the gross incompetence point but it’s not quite as clear cut as a portion of the fanbase thinks. As much as the phrase “historic ineptness from the men’s basketball and football programs” sounds like a winner, I think you’re forgetting about 2008 to use that term with the football team right now. Lose as a 17-point favorite to an Arizona team on an 18 game losing streak with their 3rd string QB this week and we can start that talk.

Through 2.5 years on the job Mike Hopkins was 59-26 with 2 Pac-12 coach of the year awards on the mantle and had gotten the program back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 7 seasons. The last 1.5 years has been about as bad as it can get (9-34 record) but she’s going to get more of the benefit of the doubt on that hire than if he had just started out 9-34 from the jump. Giving Hopkins an extension after his NCAA tournament season was a bigger mistake than the hiring itself although I believe almost any AD in the country would have done the same.

It’s difficult to go back and look at exactly what public opinion was on Lake’s hire because given the timing the focus was almost entirely about Petersen stepping down. That said, it was a very non-vocal minority that were highly critical of Lake’s hiring at the time. Oklahoma and Ohio State had just gone through this with Lincoln Reilly and Ryan Day with great results and promoting the guy who was a candidate at other HC jobs in the conference (granted at a lower level) while holding together perhaps the best recruiting class in program history wasn’t exactly terrible process.

The biggest mistake that Cohen has made in my opinion is in the structuring of the contracts. Granted this is the MOU and there could be another document that states differently but it certainly seems like the rest of Lake’s contract is fully guaranteed just like the rest of Hop’s contract is fully guaranteed if it isn’t for cause. There was no protection for the school if either program suddenly collapsed in their on-field performance and then it did for both pretty close to immediately after handing out the contract/extension.

You know what is in there though? This clause:

A provision requiring the extension of the contract term through 1/31/26, in the event that Jennifer Cohen is no longer serving as the University’s Director of Athletics and the contract term has not previously been extended beyond that date.”

The real reason why Cohen isn’t getting fired before Lake is that if they do then Lake gets an extra year added to the end of his contract. That’s good for Cohen and Lake and bad for UW.

I may have missed it but did Petersen give a glowing endorsement of Lake? Did he say he had full confidence in him? What is CP’s opinion now, anyone ask him? I feel like he wanted to retire and didn’t really work to set the program up for the future. He just walked away which doesn’t seem like him. Maybe that’s how it works. He knew Lake well, did he miscalculate how this would turn out? - UWRosebowl

Here were the quotes from Petersen in the press release naming Jimmy Lake as the head coach.

“I can’t think of someone better than Jimmy to take over this program,” said Petersen. “His energy and ability to relate to our players is unmatched. Jimmy is a great teacher of the game and his track record of developing young men both on and off the field speaks for itself. He is ready to take this step and I have full confidence that he will continue to build on the foundation that has been set here and he will elevate the program to new heights.”

So yeah, I would say that Petersen had confidence in him. And there is a 0% chance that Chris Petersen if asked would state publicly that he completely misfired on Lake and that actually the guy is a bum. Come on. Petersen is actively invested in Lake’s success and if anything Petersen has a history of being too loyal to his assistant coaches.

I genuinely believe that Chris Petersen thought that Jimmy Lake was ready for the job and believed with all his heart that at the very least he was capable of keeping up a winning record in conference play even in the worst of times. There’s no reason for me to doubt that he earnestly believed he was leaving UW in great hands with Lake and that he thought Lake given his relative passion levels for coaching would be doing a better job than him if he stayed another year.

Both college and the NFL have shown that promoting guys from coordinators directly to head coach is a scattershot approach. So is hiring a head coach from a lower level. The number of coaching hires viewed as a definitively good move in hindsight are startlingly few. That said there also aren’t a lot of hires that have turned as far south in as short a time as the Huskies have over the last 2 months.

If you want some confirmation of that go ahead and check out this twitter thread by Andrew Percival using his Coach Evaluation score (a reminder that Ty Who Shall Not Be Named was in his 4th season in 2008 so that below number got much worse):

Chip has a rather bad overall record at UCLA. Do you see UW being as patient with Lake as the Bruins have been with Chip? Will Lake have to clean house sooner than later in order to save his own job? - Otis

No, UW is not going to be as patient with Lake as UCLA was with Chip Kelly. When Kelly took over the job one of the primary reasons for doing so was to completely change the culture in the locker room after years of underperforming with highly rated recruits. There was an expectation that things might get worse before they get better. And while things immediately got worse when he took over, UCLA has had their win percentage increase every year he has been there ,albeit marginally before 2021 (0.250 to 0.333 to 0.429 to 0.714 so far this year).

The biggest point in Jimmy Lake’s favor was that because he was an internal hire he (this was the plan, anyways) would be able to sustain the success UW had under Chris Petersen and only make tweaks where things had already started to get stale under Pete. That didn’t happen which means none of this is going as scripted which means far less leeway. Barring an impossibly drastic turnaround the rest of the way we can be sure that Lake is going to have to make significant changes to the assistant coach lineup to keep his job.

Who is around longer Lake or Hopkins? Lake likely has a longer leash but higher expectations. - BenC

I would install Lake as a slight betting favorite but it’s really close to a toss up. I have gone on the record here and elsewhere that I’m very skeptical Lake is let go after this season. It would take a 0-6 or 1-5 finish and/or off field issues to arise to get to that point (in my opinion). Therefore Hopkins gets the first bite at the rotten apple. I’d put his odds of lasting past this upcoming season at something like 35-40%. Factor in the maybe 5% chance Lake actually gets let go 6 weeks from now and we’re talking somewhere in the 60/40 range that Lake outlasts Hopkins.

What would Jimmy have to do to win the fanbase back? I don’t mean keep his job. I’m thinking, to truly move past this disaster of a season and win the fanbase back.

Context: thinking of September’s article in the Athletic RE: Clay Helton. It was obvious that no matter how well CLay did, the fanbase wasn’t going to believe in him. It seems that UW’s fan base is possibly irreparably split on what Jimmy’s ceiling can be in the future, is it possible for him to win the fans back? If so, what will it take? - jacobcda

A reminder to the readers that the following is essentially fan fiction and I do not think this is remotely likely to happen in its entirely. Just trying to lay out a scenario where Lake truly has close to as high of an approval rating as he did at the beginning of last season.

Step number one it would take Washington upsetting Oregon in a few weeks, defeating the Cougars (plus Pac-12 bottom feeders Arizona and Colorado) and then winning a bowl game to get to at least 7-6. We’d have to see Lake come out publicly and say that the experience of this season humbled him and that he has learned some serious lessons. Lake makes immediate changes to the coaching staff starting with the offensive coordinator position and hires a true shining star at that spot who runs an exceedingly modern offense. That move pays off and Washington manages to land Josh Conerly to close out the 2022 recruiting class while not suffering heavy losses in the transfer portal.

With a new offense installed in spring ball it becomes clear that Sam Huard has taken a leap and wins the starting job at QB. The Huskies come out firing with a decisive win over Boise State scoring 38 points against former Duck DC Andy Avalos. Washington ends up with 10 wins including the bowl game with Huard finishing at least 2nd team all-conference and the future looks bright with him eligible for another 3 seasons. Meanwhile, the 2023 recruiting class looks much closer to the ones at the end of the Petersen era than the 2002 one.

Certain elements of that could be substituted for other good things happening but the key points still stand. A rebound to finish the year, noticeable change in the offseason, immediate results next season.

This is minor compared to all the other things I could ask, but at the game I got fixated on one thing emblematic of the bizarre coaching this year. If Peyton Henry is capable of booming kickoffs into the end zone every time, why in tarnation was Horn doing kickoffs before he left? He struggled to get them inside the 5. – HMB_DAD

The key thing to note is that Henry’s kicks that get into the end zone have significantly less hangtime than what Horn was doing. The trajectory was clearly lower and the ball was getting to the end zone faster. With a touchback getting out to the 25 rather than the 20 you generally want the opponent to run the ball back unless they have a truly elite return guy or you are truly awful on kick coverage (which to be fair, UW was last year). From an expected value standpoint the average team will be better off kicking it with a little bit better hang time to land right at the goal line than if they boot it through the back of the end zone every time. That said, the fact that Horn transferred mid-season suggests the coaching staff might’ve also thought that he and Henry were roughly equal on kickoffs as well and they were trying to avoid Horn transferring by splitting duties and it wasn’t ultimately enough.

Why not switch out the interior line from 6’ 6” guys to 6’3” or 4 so the shorter quarterbacks can see over them, we don’t have tall QB’s starting? – c taylor

I haven’t exactly felt that Morris not being able to see over the top of his linemen has been the problem so far this season, do you? Washington has already decreased the height of their starting LG by subbing in 6’8 Julius Buelow for 6’6 Ulumoo Ale. The backup at right guard Nate Kalepo is listed as 6’6 which is the same height as starter Henry Bainivalue. Cory Luciano, the backup at center, is only one inch shorter than starter Luke Wattenberg and had serious trouble pulling off shotgun snaps in the spring. I appreciate the attempt at finding a different angle for improving the offense besides firing the OC or replacing the starting QB but I don’t think this is in the top-10 problems the UW offense is having.

I would much rather have the coaching staff put out the best 5 guys and give Morris time to work with than have him under even greater pressure but more easily be able to see over the top of his linemen. Then again, you don’t have to worry about seeing over your linemen if they’re instantly beaten at the snap and you’re sacked or forced to flee the pocket. Galaxy brain.