Washington Offensive Coordinator John Donovan was relieved of his duties this afternoon on the heels of the Huskies’ 26-16 loss to the Oregon Ducks. Junior Adams will take over play calling duties while analyst Payton McCollum will be promoted to become the new QB coach. The news was first reported nearly simultaneously by Mike Vorel and Christian Caple. Per Mike Vorel, there was a team meeting at 3:30p in which the players were informed of the decision
Washington has fired offensive coordinator John Donovan. Junior Adams will call plays, analyst Payton McCollum will coach QBs.— Christian Caple (@ChristianCaple) November 7, 2021
Donovan was hired by new Husky head coach Jimmy Lake in January 2020 after he had most recently served as the running backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The move at the time was seen as puzzling after Donovan’s most recent college coaching experience was a disastrous 2-year stint as the OC for Penn State which saw the Nittany Lions put out some truly horrendous offenses.
The Husky offense generally underachieved in the abbreviated 4-game season last year but didn’t reach disaster territory. Washington scored at least 24 points in all 4 games and their biggest issue was an inability to score touchdowns in the red zone while going through the occasional extended scoring drought. Ultimately though Washington averaged 30.3 points per game without the benefit of a non-conference season which would likely have been taken as good enough in 2021.
Unfortunately, things immediately took a turn for the worse when the Dawgs were held scoreless after their first drive in an embarrassing 13-7 loss to FCS Montana. A no-show on the road against a very good Michigan defense was more understandable and things looked like they might be turning around after a 52 point outburst against Arkansas State. But we now know the Red Wolves might have the worst defense in the country and the Dawgs have scored no more than 24 points in regulation in any of their 6 games since and averaged just 20.3 per game.
Given that it has been obvious this move was needed for months at this point, the timing of this move is somewhat curious. Given the flow of the game and the opponent there’s no doubt that the Oregon game was a justified last straw. Washington’s defense and special teams played close to the perfect game in the first half and gave the offense tremendous field position time after time. Yet the offense was barely able to get a first down when a mere 20 yards per drive would’ve given them probably 3 extra field goal opportunities. Just one early breakthrough for a 50-yard TD drive would’ve opened up a multiple score lead in a game where Oregon could not throw the ball.
However, there are those who will reasonably be skeptical that Donovan was finally let go only when it could be said that head coach Jimmy Lake’s job legitimately was placed in imminent doubt for the first time. The terrible performance of the offense can be blamed on Donovan and that has now been addressed. More troubling this week were the combination of off-field mishaps (the Oregon academic trolling fiasco), behavioral issues (making contact with a players’ helmet on the sideline in anger), and plain coaching blunders (time management with the punt at the end of the game).
We will see what additional moves happen over the rest of this week. It does not appear that the AD is ready to announce any potential consequences from Lake’s inappropriate contact with Ruperaki Fuavai on Saturday night. Regardless of how that ultimately plays out it seems clear that dramatic circumstances would have to play out in order to have Lake claw back to even a 50% approval rating from the fanbase. And even that would take a great deal more contrition and honesty than Lake has shown at any point in his dealings with the media since becoming head coach at Washington (in addition to an immediate turn around on the field).
At the very least, Washington enters their game against Arizona State next Saturday with a new play caller. Could there be a new starting QB as well with Donovan’s removal? Could there be a new acting head coach due to a suspension?
Stay tuned throughout the week for additional breaking news and discussion of who the Dawgs might go with for their next long-term offensive coordinator.