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Mailbag: “New Coach, Who Dis?” Edition Part I

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Answering questions about the end of the Jimmy Lake era and the beginning of the Kalen DeBoer one

NCAA Football: Fresno State at San Diego State Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve had some long mailbags before but since this one eclipsed the 4,000 word mark I’m going to divide it up into 2 parts run over the next 2 days for ease of reading. Enjoy.

It’s easy now to say that Jen Cohen made a terrible hire in Jimmy Lake, but in retrospect did you see any signs before the hire that would have indicated that he would fail so spectacularly? Of course, the first red flag was the Donovan hire but that was post hire. - GU1966

There are plenty of things to be critical of Jen Cohen for but it’s hard for me to fault her too much for the hire of Lake in the first place. At that point Lake had been rumored to be under consideration in the recent past for the DC job at Alabama and HC at Colorado. He was viewed as one of the up and coming young coaches in the sport. Oklahoma going from Stoops to Riley and Ohio State from Meyer to Day had recently had huge success with the young coach-in-waiting taking over for their mentor.

Obviously there were many more opportunities for Cohen to determine whether Lake was truly ready for the promotion than for us on the outside to see. And it turns out that clearly Lake was not in fact ready. Far from it. The question is how much of what ultimately doomed Lake was already present at the time of his hiring and how much of it was brought on by the action of acquiring the job and the power that went with it?

I don’t necessarily want to see Lake trashed in the media just for the sake of being trashed because I do appreciate what he did as a DB coach and DC for Washington. But I hope that some form of a tell all ultimately does come out to give us a better sense for exactly how in less than 2 years he managed to destroy the culture Petersen set up and left in place for him.

Was John Donovan hiring a blessing in disguise? Was Lake always going to be a “bad” head coach? Did John Donovan hiring help us realize that sooner? Do you think Lake would have been around a few more years and ultimately been disappointing with a good OC? - Rhaegu

There’s certainly an argument to be made that his was the case. The truth is that we’ll likely never know exactly how much blame to apportion between Lake and Donovan for how appallingly bad the offense looked. Lake talked about wanting an offense that he would have trouble defending and funnily enough that ended up being true. Washington this year couldn’t stop the run when opponents battered them up the middle and Lake wanted an offense that did nothing but run it up the middle.

There was certainly some degree of a feedback loop between Lake and Donovan reinforcing the bad decisions. Let’s go to the alternate universe where Tedford never steps down from Fresno State and Lake hires DeBoer away from Indiana as his OC. Does Lake stay completely hands off and let DeBoer run a more modern offense with a 60/40 passing split and a higher wide receiver usage? Or does he try to reign in DeBoer’s system and tell him a la Pete Carroll that he needs to be running the ball more on early downs?

Even if Lake had just decided to leave the offense completely alone and DeBoer came in and scored 28 points per game it probably wouldn’t have ended well in the end. It’s not that simple but let’s say UW scores 6 extra points per game and otherwise things turn out the same on the defensive end with a good OC hire. Washington squeaks by Montana, still gets crushed against Michigan, and manages narrow to middling wins over Cal, OSU, Stanford, and Arizona plus a close loss to UCLA. That means the Dawgs enter the Oregon game at 5-2 and probably at the back end of the top-25 or just outside of it. They lose that game then win 2 in a row but still get whipped in the Apple Cup. That’s an 8-4 season and 3rd place in the North. Slightly below expectations but losing the 3 most important games of the season for the fans.

I’m sure players would’ve been a lot happier playing under a Jimmy Lake who finished 8-4 as opposed to the version of Jimmy Lake coaching a team that finished 4-8. But is there any indication recruiting would’ve picked up that much more if all those close losses were close wins? Probably not. There may have been fewer transfers but the inherent personality traits that were problematic wouldn’t have completely gone away with a few extra wins. Lake still would’ve bungled trash talk even if he maybe wouldn’t have shoved a player against Oregon if he didn’t know that he was suddenly coaching for his job.

There’s no way that Cohen fires Lake in that scenario. It’s tough to say that things look better in 2022 if that’s how the season plays out. Without a boost to recruiting Washington almost certainly has a worse roster than they had this year on the face of it and with the same coaching staff they maybe drop to 6-6 playing 5 conference road games. Then if we get another year of poor recruiting perhaps the bottom falls out in 2023 and we go 4-8 then instead.

It’s all conjecture but if we truly believe that Lake’s problems were indeed features with him as the head coach and not fixable bugs then Washington would’ve ended up where they are now regardless of a competent offensive coordinator. So...thank you John Donovan? Blech. I’m going to throw up now.

Which current assistant coach(es) should DeBoer retain? - Gary from MI

I talked about this a little bit on one of the prior mailbags after Jimmy was fired. The one name that stands above the rest is Ikaika Malloe. I would personally move him back to defensive line coach if he is okay with it since he did his best recruiting from that spot and you’re more likely to have Polynesian players at that spot. The Huskies struck out with defensive linemen who defected to Oregon in this class and I think having Malloe still as the DL coach would’ve at least given UW a better shot of keeping them committed although the way the season played out seemingly validated their decisions.

I’m not 100% sold on bringing back Junior Adams but I expect him to be retained. Fresno State’s WR coach Kirby Moore seems to be highly respected and an up and coming young coaching star but there’s a chance DeBoer finds a way to get him on staff while still holding on to Adams. Maybe we’ll find out that the current receivers actually got sick of Adams and want him gone but more likely I think is that Bynum and McMillan publicly stated they were coming back next year because they were told that Adams would be here as well.

You could make an argument for Huff with his recruiting but the offensive line play was so unexpectedly bad this year that I would much rather take a flier on a technically sound coach for that position and see what they could do with the talent Huff brought in. Gregory is 100% out since he managed the triple crown of being a bad position coach, coordinator, and interim head coach.

It’s been tough to attribute credit for the cornerback positions with Will Harris and Terrence Brown splitting the position and a former DB assistant as the head coach. If one of the two has clearly been most responsible for the success of Gordon/McDuffie etc. then I’m okay if they’re retained but recruiting at that spot needs a boost especially without Lake on staff. And if Cato, Rowan, or Bhonapha are brought back I’d give a shoulder shrug but it seems likely DeBoer can find someone at least as good in each case.

So this isn’t a home run like Campbell would be but a solid double. Any names yet for OC and DC? -Dawgfan12

Well that’s like, your opinion man. And also close to mine.

I would be pretty shocked if the OC isn’t Fresno’s OC Ryan Grubb. He has been with DeBoer since Sioux Falls and they’ve been an effective team at 3 of DeBoer’s 5 stops. I like to imagine that they have the same working relationship as Ted Lasso and Coach Beard and I won’t let anyone tell me differently. Grubb has coached both OL and QB in the past and so I would expect he will serve as the assistant for one of those 2 positions in addition to calling plays. Grubb’s offense seemed to be not quite as effective as DeBoer’s but DeBoer has said he’s not going to try to call plays and be the head coach and Grubb is the guy he trusts next most to execute his vision.

There have really only been 3 names that I’ve seen floated out there in the rumor mill for the DC job. Orlondo Steinauer was the DC at Fresno State in 2017 when DeBoer first got there. The Bulldogs that year unsurprisingly got smoked playing at both Alabama and Washington. Outside of that though they never gave up more than 27 points playing other G5 teams and allowed 17 or fewer points 7 times. He’s a Seattle native who has spent most of the rest of the last decade coaching in the CFL and is 19-5 as a head coach there. Coach DeBoer said he wants staff full of recruiters and it’s hard to say Steinauer is that since he has exactly one season’s experience in college at a G5 despite clearly being a great football mind.

Rumors have been flying that Donte Williams could wind up at Washington. He is currently serving as USC’s interim head coach and for a while it sounded like he had assurances he would be kept on staff post-transition to Lincoln Riley. But Riley has brought over both his DC and his DB coach so where does that leave Donte? Williams is known for being one of the best recruiters on the West Coast but there are questions about whether he’s more Tosh Lupoi than Jimmy Lake (as a DB coach/recruiter). He has experience at both Oregon and USC in the last half decade and knows what it takes to reel in 5-star talent. Is that something Washington’s administrators really wants to know? And how much of USC’s collapse this year is attributable to his performance as the interim guy?

The final name is William Inge who I will talk more about down below but would at the very least be the fallback plan for DeBoer as someone who already moved with him from Indiana to Fresno. He could also just be the primary target if DeBoer has faith in his performance. Against non-Pac-12 opponents Fresno gave up 0, 10, 30, 27, 0, 32, 20, 40, 7, and 9 points this year. The 4 games where they gave up 27+ were against MWC 1st team QB Carson Strong at Nevada plus 2 games where Haener threw a combined 7 interceptions to put the defense in bad spots. No idea how UNLV managed 30 points as the 4th.

Does DeBoer have a preference for a defensive style or will he just trust his defensive coordinator to handle the defense? - Excited

I’ll be honest that I don’t really have a scouting report from DeBoer’s teams at Sioux Falls to know what kind of defense he ran back then. And no matter what it was it’s safe to say that between moving up from NAIA to FBS and from 2008 to 2021 that his opinions on the matter have likely changed. That means we really only have the last 2 seasons to try to judge his defensive philosophy.

DeBoer’s defensive coordinator the last 2 seasons was William Inge who came over from Indiana where he had been a linebackers coach and special teams coordinator for the past 7 years in various combinations. There is heavy speculation that Inge will wind up in Seattle as well although we’ll see if it’s in a solo defensive coordinator capacity.

The Fresno defense under Inge bore some serious personnel similarities to Washington. They ran a 4-2-5 with a nickel back that would seem to make for an easy transition with the Huskies’ current roster. However just because they played 5 defensive backs doesn’t mean it’s the same defensive system. I won’t profess to have watched a ton of Fresno State football last year so the following is based on PFF charting. FSU on the average snap had 4.1 players on the Defensive Line, 2.9 in the Box, 1.5 in the Slot, 1.84 at Outside Corner, and 0.5 at Free Safety. For comparison’s sake here’s what they showed for UW this year: 4.3 DL, 2.5 Box, 1.0 Slot, 1.8 Outside Corner, 1.4 Free Safety.

The biggest difference by far is that Washington played their safeties essentially at free safety 75% of the time and in the box the other 25% of the time. Fresno instead played one in the box almost full-time as a 3rd linebacker and had the other split time between the slot and as a deep safety. If Washington doesn’t see major changes in their personnel at safety in the offseason then we may see someone like Asa Turner playing as a psuedo-linebacker on most snaps. Fresno’s best defender last year was safety Evan Williams who lined up in the box on about 60% of their snaps and split the rest of his time between deep safety and the slot. He led Fresno in both tackles and interceptions.

Suffice to say that we can expect Washington next year to be much more willing to risk giving up the big play to shut down the run/short passing game than recent Husky defenses.

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Part 2 of the mailbag will be out tomorrow.