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Mailbag: “Into the Offseason” Edition

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Answering questions about the new coaching staff and where the roster stands heading into 2022

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Arkansas State at Washington Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What are your honest thoughts on the staff picks for KDB? -George R. R. Martin’s Dragon

Crap, my honest thoughts? I’ve got all these dishonest thoughts I was hoping to use but I guess I’m going to have to scrap that plan.

I’ll admit to being a little bit disappointed. With the rumors that Washington offered Matt Campbell $7 million APY and then ended up paying DeBoer a little over $3 million APY it seemed like there were funds available to put together a rock star assistant coaching staff. Grubb coming over as the offensive coordinator was expected. Ultimately we hired Kalen DeBoer to implement his offense and he clearly wasn’t going to bring in a completely new face that would run a different one. UW signed up for a Chris Petersen/Jonathan Smith dynamic by hiring DeBoer and that’s what we’re getting with him and Grubb.

The defensive side of the ball though provided plenty of opportunity to potentially go out and make a splash hire. Ultimately the rumors of Orlondo Steinauer coming over as DC turned out to be empty. The Donte Williams from USC rumors didn’t make much sense in the first place unless it was going to be as a co-DC primarily focused on recruiting. Those were the only specific names I ever heard mentioned but obviously you would think that DeBoer could’ve offered a raise to any G5 DC in the country and a large number of P5 coaches.

Instead he went with the familiarity of a coach he has worked with for 3 seasons in William Inge and a coach he has known and worked with for parts of the last 20 years in Chuck Morrell. It’s not as if Fresno State had a bad defense this past season. They were solid. They crushed the weaker teams on their schedule and struggled against the best teams. Some advanced metrics even have the defense ranked higher than the offense.

This isn’t exactly saying much but having Inge and Morrell serve as co-DCs makes more sense to me than hiring Donovan as OC did at the time. Neither has abjectly failed before at the job for which they are now being hired. I can’t exactly say though that I have complete faith that they will be able to consistently put together a top-15 defense as the Huskies had under Kwiatkowski and Lake. Then again there aren’t a lot of (or any) realistic names I can put forth where that would be the case.

I’m a fan of both of the additions from outside the Fresno ecosystem. I would’ve been perfectly comfortable if Ikaika Malloe had been retained but I think Inoke Breckterfield is about as good a replacement as we could’ve hoped for under the circumstances. Nick Sheridan is overqualified to be a tight ends coach and despite how his 2020 season went I think he is still an asset on this staff.

I’ll talk more about Huff in a moment but I’m fine with retaining Adams. There was a moment where I was excited about the prospect of bringing in Kirby Moore to replace him but given that he was offered the OC job at Fresno I don’t mind staying put for now. Adams’ presence allows you to keep Bernard committed and appears to also have kept Bynum/Odunze/McMillan from leaving. If the receivers struggle to make plays in DeBoer’s much more friendly system next year then you can go out and make a move at that spot.

Juice Brown has a good reputation as a recruiter and I don’t feel confident enough assigning credit for McDuffie/Gordon to either Harris or Brown to advocate they stay in place of him. Courtney Morgan looks like he was a home run hire as director of player personnel. Ron McKeefery has a strong reputation as the S&C coach even if coach Socha appears to have been almost universally beloved by guys in the program.

Put it all together and let’s say it’s in the B-/C+ range.

Do you agree with De Boer keeping Scott Huff? Eye test seems like O Line has not been very good for several years. -Stevie

I had Huff 3rd on my list of coaches to consider keeping so it isn’t a tremendous surprise to see him here. I felt pretty split about the decision but I can see the argument from their point of view. New OC Ryan Grubb has been an OL coach for DeBoer’s offense before. He should be able to help Huff with the technical aspects of teaching the new system and provide some potential mentoring even if he’s only 5 years older. Huff is widely regarded as one of the best OL recruiters on the west coast so if he can become a little bit better developer of the talent he brings in then UW is in a great spot.

It doesn’t seem like this was a slam dunk decision. Based on everything we’ve seen it looks like Adams found out pretty quickly that he was staying on. While we didn’t hear much in the way of potential new OL coaches it definitely seems like DeBoer looked around before deciding to stay with Huff.

How the class of 2022 recruiting cycle winds up finishing will be a big tell about how well this decision will work. If UW gets Ioane back in the fold and manages to close Conerly then Huff is doing what was ultimately deemed the most important part of his job, recruiting. If UW winds up with 0 in-state offensive linemen in potentially the most loaded such class in WA state history even with the coaching change then Huff’s stay in the DeBoer administration might be on track to only last 1 season.

How much do you think there is an advantage to keeping essentially a whole staff together moving from a smaller college rather than reaching out to different talent? -brycenice

Unfortunately it’s pretty much impossible to say in generic terms if it’s an advantage or not. If the staff is full of really great football coaches who just haven’t gotten the chance to prove it yet at the P5 level? Then sure, it can be great. If the staff is full of guys who can’t recruit at a P5 level and who had no shot of getting a higher level gig unless their head coach happened to bring them along? Then it’s a problem.

There are some inherent advantages. I would imagine the install of the offensive/defensive systems are going to be easier with the majority of the staff having worked together the last 2 years. If you’re trying to completely refresh the culture of the new job then it becomes easier to do so with coaches who have already bought in and know the expectations.

I don’t think it’s reasonable though to declare it a good or bad move without looking at the individual details. And I also don’t think we’ll have enough of those details to judge the moves until we give it at least a full year.

Last mailbag there was a question about who you would rather see start if Haener ended up transferring. Now that we know Penix is transferring instead of Haener, who would you rather see start out of Penix, Huard, Morris, or Brown (assuming he ends up signing with UW)? - Lockerstalker 31

I love me a question where I get to add on a condition to hedge my bets. First of all we can eliminate any potential true freshman addition. If someone added to the class of 2022 at this stage comes in and wins the job then either every recruiting analyst in the world needs to be fired or it is staff incompetence.

I think a fully healthy Penix provides the highest upside for the offense. In 2016 Jake Browning in 393 attempts threw for 3,419 yards with 43 TDs and 9 INTs on the way to Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. With Kalen DeBoer as OC at Indiana in 2019 Penix’s prorated stats to equal 393 attempts would have been 3,382 yards with 25 TDs and 10 INTs. Pro Football Focus charted that Penix had a Big Time Throw (accurate throw downfield or into tight window) on 5.6% of throws and a Turnover Worthy Play (pass that was QB’s fault and could’ve/should’ve been intercepted) on 1.6% of throws. Browning in 2016 was 5.1% and 3.6% respectively.

Once again if healthy then Penix has shown at the P5 level he can put up all-conference type of stats in DeBoer’s offense. The next year under new UW Tight End coach Nick Sheridan he almost doubled his Big Time Throw rate as well as his Turnover Worthy Play rate playing in more of a go for broke system. He still put up yards per attempt stats comparable to Morris in year 1 under Donovan.

I think if Haener had been the addition then there would’ve been no question he entered camp as the presumed starter which would’ve made it more likely Morris or Huard transferred right away. Given Penix’s injury history there’s first of all a chance that he just isn’t the same player he was in 2019 and gives Morris/Huard a better opportunity to be the starter from the get go. There’s also a good chance that even if Penix begins the year as the starter he gets hurt after 5 games and we will need the backup to play substantially. The one thing that can’t happen is Penix just gets 100% or close to it of the 1st team reps so if (when) he gets injured the backup isn’t prepared.

Post Lake analysis: Hiring DC’s for HC doesn’t work in the Pac 12. Oregon and WSU just did that.

Prove me wrong, name a former DC Head Coach that most consider great in their program history. Please don’t say Lambright, as most would say his tenor was a period of decline with many blow out losses. (Yes, the Miami game was epic but most starters were James era guys and every year after that got worse). - OregonDawg

I’m going to take this in a slightly different direction. I don’t think that going back to the 1960’s or even the 1980’s is that informative given how different college football looks. Let’s look at the last 2 decades of the Pac-12. I would argue the following coaches have been the most successful at each school in that time and here’s their most recent position coach/coordinator gig before ascending to head coach:

Oregon, Chip Kelly (46-7): Offensive Coordinator, Offensive Line Coach

USC, Pete Carroll (97-19): Defensive Coordinator, Defensive Backs Coach

Washington, Chris Petersen (55-26): Offensive Coordinator, Wide Receivers Coach

Utah, Kyle Whittingham (144-69): Defensive Coordinator, Linebackers Coach

Stanford, David Shaw (93-45): Offensive Coordinator, Running Backs Coach

UCLA, Jim Mora Jr. (46-30): Defensive Coordinator, Defensive Backs Coach

California, Jeff Tedford (82-57): Offensive Coordinator, Quarterbacks Coach

Arizona State, Todd Graham (46-32): Defensive Coordinator, Defensive Backs Coach

Arizona, Rich Rodriguez (43-35): Offensive Coordinator, Quarterbacks Coach

Washington State, Mike Leach (55-47): Offensive Coordinator, Quarterbacks Coach

Oregon State, Mike Riley (93-80): Offensive Coordinator, Quarterbacks Coach (but has also been a DC in his career and played DB in college)

Colorado, Mike MacIntryre (30-44): Defensive Coordinator, Defensive Backs Coach

The final count is 7 offensive guys and 5 defensive. The first 8 names there alternate between offense and defense. If you’re just looking at the last 5 years then 3 of the 4 who have seen success are on the offensive side with Pete, Shaw, and Leach but Whittingham has the greatest longevity and he has a defensive background.

I don’t think it’s quite as simple as you have to have an offensive guy as your head coach or you have no chance. In the NFL you pretty much have to have a very bright mind leading your offense in order to succeed. If he’s your offensive coordinator then he’s probably getting poached to become a head coach by another team. That trend hasn’t quite filtered down to college but it’s close.

To me the biggest risk in hiring a defensive coach is the revolving door potential. Let’s say Oregon nails their OC hire and Dillingham is a wunderkind with the Ducks. It’s unlikely he’s lasting more than 2 years before an ACC/SEC program throws a whole boatload of money at him to become a head coach. Now you’ve got to go out and nail your OC hire again. Having your assistants poached for bigger gigs means things are going right but at some point the odds say you’re going to make a misstep and wind up with the wrong guy.

Can you tell everyone to cheer up? It’s a new day. -LiveinHoth

Hey everyone, cheer up. At least you don’t live on Hoth. Although this week looks like it might turn into a close approximation given the forecast.

Given all of the turnover on both the roster -with the comings and goings of the transfer portal, incoming freshmen, and upperclassmen leaving for the NFL- and the coaching staff this offseason, what position group are you most excited about and most worried about going into offseason/spring training? -Locker Stalker 29

I’m the most excited about the wide receiver position. Bynum, Odunze, McMillan, and Davis were 10th, 16th, 18th, and 22nd in the conference in yards per route run among WRs last season per PFF. And that was with some terribly inconsistent quarterback play and a disaster of an offensive coordinator. Ja’Lynn Polk slots in at 8th in that metric if you drop the targets minimum low enough given that he missed almost the entire year due to injury. Then you also have Germie Bernard incoming who looks like he might be able to contribute immediately. The potential is there for this to be a best in the Pac-12 type of group.

Based strictly on numbers it’s tempting to say inside linebacker but between Ulofoshio, Sirmon, and Bruener (plus Heimuli) I feel pretty confident that when healthy there will be 2 at least average players at that spot on the field for most of the game. And hopefully Gregory to Inge will be an upgrade in terms of development.

I’ll go with perhaps the obvious answer which is cornerback. Washington is potentially losing all 3 starters. In Inge’s defense at Fresno State the nickel back was more of a linebacker/safety than a slot corner so let’s say there’s only 2 starters at that position. Mishael Powell got a lot of snaps as the next outside corner off the bench and acquitted himself nicely. His 71.4 PFF grade is almost identical to Kyler Gordon’s 71.6 in his first year (although obviously he doesn’t have the same athleticism ceiling). Jordan Perryman should come in and at least be a reliable rotation player after being 1st team all-Big Sky. Jacobe Covington has plenty of talent but hasn’t gotten to prove it yet. I feel reasonably okay about 2 of the 3 being solid but I also worry about the additional drop-off just from losing the coaching infrastructure that provided nearly a decade of fantastic CB play.

We keep hearing there are 15 scholarship spots for this year, that was the Lake story and it seems to be the DeBoer story. With the transfer portal figuring in, and us losing a few players (and more to come? ... but also picking some up), how do those openings factor into the addition numbers? -Dawg4Ever

As of right now I have UW with 69 scholarships spoken for given names already in the transfer portal and expected draft declarations. That does not include Mishael Powell who I would expect to be put on scholarship given that he’s likely a starting outside corner next year. That’s your 15 scholarships right there.

DeBoer signed 5 players in the early signing period which knocks it down to 10 spots. Then you have Penix and Perryman who have publicly announced their commitments but haven’t been announced by the team. That puts us at 8 remaining openings. I’m expecting Washington to lose at least another 3 players via the transfer portal whether that happens in the next 2 weeks before the start of winter quarter or after spring practices once players get to see how they fit in the new system and where they might project on the depth chart. Let’s just assume though that all of those openings get filled by the portal.

That gives Washington up to 8 spots to fill from the class of 2022 with any gaps needing to get filled by the portal. The Huskies are hoping to land local O-linemen Vega Ioane and Josh Conerly. They are clearly hoping to flip Kevonte Henry from Michigan with Courtney Morgan’s help. I think they’ll end up signing a quarterback whether it’s recently offered Max Brown or maybe Graham-Kapowsin’s Josh Wood. They’ll likely add another inside linebacker potentially Darren Lewis who they brought in on a visit. There’s space for all of them plus another couple if such targets emerge on their radar.