Washington Athletic Director Jennifer Cohen announced this morning that head football coach Jimmy Lake will serve a 1-game suspension for an incident that took place on the sideline during Saturday’s home game against Oregon. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory will serve as acting head coach this week in his place against Arizona State and Lake will be reinstated next Sunday, November 14th.
Statement from UW AD Jen Cohen: pic.twitter.com/42CEyk9w8A— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) November 8, 2021
As can be seen in the video below, following a special teams play Ruperake Fuavai got into a face-to-face shoving/shouting match with an Oregon player. It appeared that by the time Lake arrived that the Oregon players had mostly retreated. But in an attempt to get Fuavai away, Lake clearly strikes him in the helmet and then gives an additional shove.
Jimmy Lake pops Ruperake Fuavai in the helmet and shoves him for getting into it with Jaylon Redd on the sideline pic.twitter.com/7AdSuugGe3— Ralph Amsden (@ralphamsden) November 7, 2021
The reasons for Lake’s anger are apparent. On the previous drive Washington had been called for 2 unnecessary roughness personal foul penalties which directly led to an Oregon field goal. Seemingly begging for an unsportsmanlike conduct on the sideline in that situation was definitely not the smart football play. Obviously though the correct reaction on the part of your head coach is to not similarly lose control and instead simply stand in between them and tell the player to get back on the bench. Making that interaction physical was completely unwarranted and definitely does not live up to the standards that the University of Washington expects from its highest paid employee.
I think it’s clear that Lake did not intend to cause Fuavai physical harm. And if Washington were 8-1 and controlled their own destiny for a CFP spot at season’s end when this happened then I’m skeptical Lake’s actions result in a suspension. But none of that excuses Lake’s conduct and it only adds on to the appearance that things have continued to slide away from his control.
After a very successful period as defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator for the Huskies, Lake seemed a natural fit to serve as Chris Petersen’s successor when he unexpectedly stepped down. After a 3-1 year that was drastically impacted by COVID-19 hopes were still high for this season. Unfortunately an embarrassing 13-7 loss to FCS Montana in the season opener set the tone for a disappointing season which has seen the 4-5 Huskies fall squarely towards the bottom of the conference. The on-field issues were compounded by Lake’s botched attempt at rivalry trash talk last week and then of course the incident with Fuavai.
With the decision to suspend Lake it would appear to be the first indication that the administration is willing to part ways with Lake at some point over the next month. If they felt there was still a chance that Lake could salvage the current situation then this would certainly not appear to be the path forward from a pure self-interest standpoint. Suspending Lake only furthers the appearance from the outside that he is not long for this job and undermines his ability to recruit or hire a quality offensive coordinator for that newly vacated role.
Now we get to see those circumstances play out and are left to wonder what it means. Going the official HR route on this makes it more likely that at the time of an eventual separation that the university is able to use it as leverage in negotiations around the total buyout (would be ~$10 million over the next 3 years if Lake were fired without cause after this season). If that is the eventual endgame in 3 weeks then there’s almost no downside to moving forward with a suspension since it only makes the case for a firing after just 16 games that much stronger.
If Lake if ultimately retained this offseason then it’s hard to see at this point how he can realistically be expected to oversee a successful turnaround barring a Joe Brady to LSU type of slam dunk OC hire regardless of your perception of Lake’s coaching acumen. Even then it will take a Herculean effort to navigate the transfer portal in a way that sees Washington with more talent next year than they have on the current roster.
The Husky football program is standing at a crossroads and today’s news appears to be the first step off the current path. It may take another few weeks though for us to find out how far along it the school is willing to walk.
EDIT 4:10 PM
Jimmy Lake has published a public apology to his twitter account.