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Washington Coaching Target Big Board 1.0

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All of the names you could reasonably think will be in UW’s crosshairs with reasons why they would or wouldn’t be a fit for the Huskies

NCAA Football: Montana at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Jimmy Lake era is over after 23 months. Washington now finds itself without a head coach and in a true coaching search for the first time in 8 seasons since Jimmy Lake was announced on the day Chris Petersen resigned. Over the coming weeks we are likely to find plenty of new names floated as candidates and have some names brought up announce that they are not under consideration.

For now though we’ve put together a list of names that have been floated about to varying degrees and come up with reasons why they should and should not get the job. We’ve also put together a realism and excitement scale based on an internal poll of the UWDP writing crew. A realism score of 1 means that candidate likely isn’t returning Jen Cohen’s phone call while a score of 10 means that coach would say yes on the spot. An excitement scale of 1 means you’re done with your Husky fandom if they make the hire while a 10 would result in you spontaneously arranging a celebration parade in the streets.

We’ll make periodic updates to this list with additions and subtractions based on the most recent intelligence and/or rumor-mongering.

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QUICK NEGOTIATIONS (8-10 Realism Score)

California v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Justin Wilcox

Most Recent Role: Head Coach at California (since 2017), 24-27 record

Other Relevant Experience: Defensive Coordinator- Boise State (2006-2009), Defensive Coordinator- Tennessee (2010-2011), Defensive Coordinator- Washington (2012-2013), Defensive Coordinator- USC (2014-2015), Defensive Coordinator- Wisconsin (2016)

Why He Might Make Sense: At the end of the 2019 season Wilcox had taken a program that was 19-30 under the previous regime and gotten them to 20-18 and coming off an 8-5 season. Then no program in the country was impacted by COVID as heavily as Cal played just 4 games last year and recently became the only school to have a game cancelled this year due to the city of Berkeley. Despite that he has managed to beat Oregon in 2020 and was just a few yards away from doing it again in 2021 so he has given the Ducks trouble. Wilcox had the 3rd rated recruiting class in the Pac-12 in 2021 per 247 Sports at a school which UW views as an academic peer. He has spent time at Washington and has recruited the West Coast for the better part of the last one and a half decades.

Why He Wouldn’t: Wilcox feels like what Washington was expecting the floor to be on Jimmy Lake. In year 5 at Cal he has yet to put out a winning conference record (4-5 twice). The offense struggled under Wilcox’s first OC choice and haven’t been much better with his second. For a UW program that badly needs to nail its OC hire, it’s tough to say that Wilcox is qualified to make it. The only reason this is really viewed as a consideration is that Jon Wilner has seemed very insistent about it and that info has probably been coming from Wilcox’s camp given his dissatisfaction with the COVID situation at Cal. Which speaking of, despite those problems it still has been a drastic underachievement to go 4-10 the last 2 years with veteran QB Chase Garbers at the helm.

Realism Score (how likely is it UW could make it happen): 9 out of 10

Excitement Score (how excited the fanbase would be if it did): 5 out of 10

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Kalen DeBoer

Most Recent Role: Head Coach at Fresno State (since 2020), 11-6 record

Other Relevant Experience: Offensive Coordinator/WR Coach- Southern Illinois (2010-13), Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach- Eastern Michigan (2014-16), Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach- Fresno State (2017-18), Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach- Indiana (2019)

Why He Might Make Sense: DeBoer started off in the pandemic season just like Jimmy Lake but in year 2 has gotten his program near the top of the Mountain West with an upset win over UCLA and a near miss against Oregon. This year Fresno with former Husky QB Jake Haener at the helm has a top-10 passing attack in the country. When DeBoer was the offensive coordinator at Indiana they went from 6th to 3rd in the Big 10 in yards per game and fell to 8th in the year immediately after he left. He only has 4 years on the West coast but at this point has connections within California which is an area Washington has struggled to recruit in recent years.

Why He Wouldn’t: It wouldn’t quite be the same as hiring Jimmy Lake with 0 prior head coaching experience but for a program that needs stability, are we hiring a coach with fewer than 20 games under their belt and none at a power conference school? The offenses under DeBoer have been solid but his success at Fresno have come with maybe the greatest RB/WR combo in school history who were on the roster when he took over as head coach plus a UW quarterback who was local and happened to want to transfer. If DeBoer went out and won the Mountain West in 2022 I’d feel excited about the possibility but this would still be a risk.

Realism Score (how likely is it UW could make it happen): 9 out of 10

Excitement Score (how excited the fanbase would be if it did): 4 out of 10

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Jay Norvell

Most Recent Role: Head Coach- Nevada (since 2017), 32-25 record

Other Relevant Experience: Co-Offensive Coordinator/WR Coach (2011-14), WR Coach- Texas (2015), Passing Game Coordinator/WR Coach- Arizona State (2016)

Why He Might Make Sense: Since an initial rebuilding year in his first season with Nevada, Norvell has led the Wolfpack to at least 7 wins every season including during the pandemic-shortened season in 2020. Nevada’s current QB had no other offers coming out of high school and is now in discussions to be one of the first QBs selected in next spring’s draft which is the kind of development UW could use. They have led a passing attack that is 4th in the nation in passing yards per game running an offense similar to the one Sam Huard used in high school. Hmm... Norvell has been out West for the past 6 seasons and so knows the recruiting landscape in the region.

Why He Wouldn’t: Maybe Norvell would change systems when coming to UW but he has been running a traditional air raid offense at Nevada which would be a significant change for the Husky roster and likely require a temporary rebuild. Although given UW’s offense this year it’s hard to see how that could go much worse in the short-term. While Nevada hasn’t been bad since Norvell got things up and running it’s not as if they have been winning the league every season. His best year as a head coach was the pandemic-shortened one which culminated with a win in the Famous Potato Bowl. Woohoo.

Realism Score (how likely is it UW could make it happen): 8 out of 10

Excitement Score (how excited the fanbase would be if it did): 4 out of 10

I COULD SEE IT HAPPENING (Realism Score 5-7)

VIrginia v Brigham Young Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Bronco Mendenhall

Most Recent Role: Head Coach at Virginia (since 2016), 36-36 record

Other Relevant Experience: Defensive Coordinator/DB Coach- Oregon State (1996), Defensive Coordinator/DB Coach- New Mexico (1998-2002), Head Coach- BYU (2005-15)

Why He Might Make Sense: Mendenhall has been a head coach for 16 years but is still just 55 years old so he’s not over the hill by any stretch. Virginia is not exactly known as a traditional football power but starting with year 3 of the rebuild he has gotten them to 28-18 over the past 4 seasons including a divisional win in 2019 and a chance at another one this year. Despite Mendenhall’s offensive pedigree, the Cavs have the 5th ranked offense in the country in yards per game right now with a dynamic passing attack at a school that definitely also makes academics a priority. And while that has all happened on the East coast, before that Mendenhall spent almost all of the previous 30 years working in the West region. At the very least UW would be hiring a coach who has had 1 losing regular season in his career and it was in his first year of a rebuild so there’s a high floor.

Why He Wouldn’t: Washington just fired a head coach who had a background as a defensive coordinator/DB coach and now they’re hiring another one? Uh uh. The 135-79 overall record looks nice but there aren’t a lot of true achievements there. The last time his team finished ranked in the AP Poll at season’s end was in 2009 after a win in the Las Vegas Bowl. Is this a coach who can get UW back to regularly competing for conference championships when he couldn’t secure the #2 spot in the ACC behind Clemson?

Realism Score (how likely is it UW could make it happen): 6 out of 10

Excitement Score (how excited the fanbase would be if it did): 7 out of 10

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Jonathan Smith

Most Recent Role: Head Coach- Oregon State (since 2018), 15-26 record

Other Relevant Experience: QB Coach- Boise State (2013), Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach- Washington (2014-17)

Why He Might Make Sense: #FireSmith was a popular saying at Washington for a few years but in hindsight I think most UW fans realize now how good they really had things back then. When Smith took over at Oregon State it was the ultimate rebuilding job and if it weren’t for a few slipups in recent weeks it looked like the Beavers were a serious contender for the division title this year. He’s shown an ability to rebuild through the transfer portal and that could help stabilize the situation at UW quickly. Also he clearly has experience at Washington and knows the region and will be able to recruit the PNW well from the jump.

Why He Wouldn’t: Sure, Oregon State was a rebuild but is Washington really getting rid of Jimmy Lake after essentially 1.5 years to hire a coach with a winning percentage below .400? Smith would be likely to get UW’s offense back on track but he had to fire his defensive coordinator partway through this season and would require a major hire on that end to likely be able to have success. And sadly, would he leave his alma mater to come to UW when he’s already gotten OSU to a better record this season including a win over the Huskies even if the resources are much better at Washington?

Realism Score (how likely is it UW could make it happen): 6 out of 10

Excitement Score (how excited the fanbase would be if it did): 6 out of 10

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Tom Herman

Most Recent Role: Offensive Analyst- Chicago Bears (2021)

Other Relevant Experience: Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach- Iowa State (2009-11), Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach- Ohio State (2012-14), Head Coach- Houston (2015-16), Head Coach- Texas (2017-20)

Why He Might Make Sense: Herman might not have been able to live up to expectations at Texas but he is 54-22 for his career as a head coach including 5-0 in bowl games. In Herman’s final 3 years at Texas they finished 3rd, 3rd, and 8th in the national recruiting rankings. A big part of Herman’s firing was his inability to satisfy the big boosters that control the Texas program including not completely backing the school’s fight song which has racist origins. That’s not exactly going to be a big conflict at UW.

Why He Wouldn’t: Maybe not but the inability to win over both the donors and the players is a problem everywhere even if Washington’s situation isn’t quite so convoluted. In 4 seasons at Texas he was unable to win a Big 12 title and failed to coach up elite talent. 32-18 on its face sounds like a solid record but for a team with top-ten talent they never approached a top-ten product on the field except for one short stretch in 2018. How would Herman look coaching in the Pac-12 with raw talent that’s clearly a step below? On top of everything else Herman has spent 0 time coaching on the West coast.

Realism Score (how likely is it UW could make it happen): 6 out of 10

Excitement Score (how excited the fanbase would be if it did): 4 out of 10

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Dave Clawson

Most Recent Role: Head Coach- Wake Forest (since 2014), 49-46 record

Other Relevant Experience: Head coach- Fordham (1999-2003), Head Coach- Richmond (2004-07), Offensive Coordinator- Tennessee (2008), Head Coach- Bowling Green (2009-13)

Why He Might Make Sense: The claw-fense has taken college football by storm this year as Wake Forest is 2nd nationally in points per game this season. Wake is having their best season since they went 11-2 all the way back in 2006 as they’re currently the favorites to win the ACC with Clemson finally looking mortal. His offenses have a distinctive style and a clear identity and fully take advantage of the RPO. He’s managed to pull off this season despite possessing almost no 4-star talent on the roster so he’s able to coach up talent well.

Why He Wouldn’t: The reason he has had to coach up that talent is an inability to recruit (even if Wake Forest isn’t the easiest spot to draw talent to). That wouldn’t be helped by moving to the West coast where he has absolutely 0 prior experience. This particular incarnation of Wake Forest is definitely good but in 22 prior seasons as a head coach he had just 3 seasons with 10+ wins and none of them have been in a power conference. This will be the first season Clawson has a winning ACC record and it’ll come in year 8.

Realism Score (how likely is it UW could make it happen): 5 out of 10

Excitement Score (how excited the fanbase would be if it did): 7 out of 10

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Kalani Sitake

Most Recent Role: Head Coach at BYU (since 2016), 46-28 record

Other Relevant Experience: Defensive Coordinator/LB Coach- Utah (2009-14), Defensive Coordinator- Oregon State (2015)

Why He Might Make Sense: The Cougars have rounded into form under Sitake the past 2 seasons with a combined 19-3 record and have gone undefeated against Pac-12 teams in that time (4-0). Now that BYU is “back” he has been able to reel in talented transfers from the Utah area and would strengthen UW’s recruiting base in that state and among LDS recruits. If he could manage to bring former OC Jeff Grimes back with him from Baylor it would only add to the appeal.

Why He Wouldn’t: Last season BYU almost went undefeated but they played an extremely light schedule because of the pandemic affecting scheduling. Zach Wilson broke out to have a tremendous season and become the #2 overall pick but how much of that was due to OC Jeff Grimes who is now at Baylor and will more than likely be happy to stay there. Sitake has done a great job recently getting top end LDS talent to BYU but would he be able to do the same at UW without the strength of the BYU brand behind him in Provo? If the answer is no then I’m not sure how he checks enough boxes as a head coach to have major appeal to UW.

Realism Score (how likely is it UW could make it happen): 5 out of 10

Excitement Score (how excited the fanbase would be if it did): 6 out of 10

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Joe Moorhead

Most Recent Role: Offensive Coordinator- Oregon/QB Coach (since 2020)

Other Relevant Experience: Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach- Penn State (2016-17), Head Coach Mississippi State (2018-19), 14-12 record

Why He Might Make Sense: One of the great what ifs for Husky football is what if Jimmy Lake had hired Moorhead instead of John Donovan rather than letting him go to Oregon? We could see Washington rectify that mistake by now bringing in Moorhead in a higher capacity. This move would serve to weaken Oregon while giving Washington an offensive-oriented head coach. Moorhead wasn’t able to integrate into the SEC culture at Mississippi State but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t find success in the PNW which is closer to his Northeast roots in every way but geography.

Why He Wouldn’t: Oregon’s offense had a tremendous showing against Ohio State to pull that upset but otherwise it’s not exactly like they’ve been dominant with Moorhead there. Their biggest strength has been the offensive line and with a head coach that’s a former OL coach it’s reasonable to give Cristobal more of the credit. Tyler Shough and Anthony Brown haven’t quite lit it up with Moorhead as the QB coach and Mississippi State never got their offense on track when Moorhead was there (fewer than 30 ppg both years). He lost his job in Starksville in part due to players getting into a fight during practice for a bowl game which isn’t great given how the Lake era ended.

Realism Score (how likely is it UW could make it happen): 5 out of 10

Excitement Score (how excited the fanbase would be if it did): 4 out of 10

When You Wish Upon A Star (Realism Score 1-4)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 06 Lendingtree Bowl - Louisiana v Miami OH Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Billy Napier

Most Recent Role: Head Coach at Louisiana (since 2018), 37-12 record

Other Relevant Experience: Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach- Clemson (2009-10), QB Coach- Colorado State (2012), WR Coach- Alabama (2013-16), Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach- Arizona State (2017)

Why He Might Make Sense: Napier has been one of the hottest names in the coaching carousel the last few years when since a 7-7 opening year he has gotten the Ragin’ Cajuns to 30-5 (20-2) and dominated the Sun Belt. He has spent time at both Clemson and Alabama over the last decade plus and has gotten the chance to see how they do it at some of the premier programs in the country. He’s an offensive minded coach that has had teams average better than 30 PPG each of the last 3 seasons. While he might not have a ton of West Coast experience he does have 2 seasons coaching in the region and his one year at ASU they scored 32 PPG.

Why He Wouldn’t: Napier has seemingly had his pick of SEC jobs the last few years and if he doesn’t take one of them this cycle it seems unlikely he’d come to the other corner of the country. Technically he has been out West but it would be a leap of faith that Napier could leave the Southeast and immediately become a recruiting power.

Realism Score (how likely is it UW could make it happen): 4 out of 10

Excitement Score (how excited the fanbase would be if it did): 8 out of 10

Bob Stoops

Most Recent Role: FOX Sports Television Analyst

Other Relevant Experience: Defensive Coordinator- Florida (1996-98), Head Coach- Oklahoma (1999-2016), 190-48 record

Why He Might Make Sense: Stoops is a national championship winning coach who won double digit games in 14 of his 18 years as a head coach. Yes, Oklahoma is one of the top-5 programs in college football so the resources were all there but he kept the Sooners among the elite for almost 2 decades. He has made his interest of returning to coaching widely known and has worked alongside Chris Petersen as a television analyst this year so has surely heard good things about the Washington job from that end. If he wants to get back with a job that has a chance to compete for a CFP spot but doesn’t quite have the intense media scrutiny of Oklahoma then Seattle and UW seems like a great fit.

Why He Wouldn’t: Washington is in the situation they’re in because an all-time great lost their passion and decided to retire almost out of nowhere so I’m not sure bringing in a coach that has a history of doing the same thing is the best option to right the ship. Stoops retired in 2016 before the transfer portal and NIL were a thing. Are we sure that he is going to pick up right where he left off given UW’s position in a very different college football landscape? If Stoops wants to come with his pedigree I don’t think you can say no but it’s not a complete slam dunk.

Realism Score (how likely is it UW could make it happen): 4 out of 10

Excitement Score (how excited the fanbase would be if it did): 8 out of 10

Matt Campbell

Most Recent Role: Head Coach- Iowa State (since 2016), 41-32 record

Other Relevant Experience: Offensive Coordinator/OL Coach- Toledo (2010-11), Head Coach- Toledo (2012-15)

Why He Might Make Sense: Campbell feels the most like a Chris Petersen hire of any of the candidates. Iowa State is one of the worst power conference jobs in the country and after year 1 he has had a winning record in the Big 12 every season since. The Cyclones very much don’t want to lose him and he already makes more than Jimmy Lake did but his buyout is down to $4 million. If UW could convince Campbell that he has the shot to be the next Petersen and was willing to pay to support him then it’s hard to argue that Washington could possibly do any better.

Why He Wouldn’t: It’s certainly impressive what Campbell has done in Ames but at the same time he has never had a season with fewer than 3 losses there and only one such season at Toledo. There are absolutely higher profile jobs open this year that would take Campbell if he truly is interested in leaving and it’s tough to think that UW will be willing to pay what it would take to bring him to the table.

Realism Score (how likely is it UW could make it happen): 3 out of 10

Excitement Score (how excited the fanbase would be if it did): 9 out of 10

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