Washington fans just finished experiencing the high of making it to a national title game under a second-year coach who seemed destined to lead the Huskies to continued national prominence as they move to the Big Ten. They may stay there but it won’t be with that same head coach after Kalen DeBoer is set to be named Nick Saban’s successor at Alabama following several days of speculation.
Sources: Kalen DeBoer has informed Washington officials he's taking the job at Alabama. He's expected to tell his team soon.— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) January 12, 2024
The Huskies finish with a 25-3 record during DeBoer’s tenure at Washington including a trip to the national championship game this season. Washington was the first and only team to finish the regular season undefeated during the Pac-12 era behind a veteran core and a quarterback that finished 2nd in the Heisman voting. Now, not only will a large chunk of that core be headed to the NFL Draft but Washington will also be looking to replace their head coach for the third time in 5 seasons.
While it seemed improbable for DeBoer to leave given the tremendous success he just experienced, there were always doubts in the back of many fans’ minds. Even though his daughter enrolled at Washington this year to play on the softball team. New Athletic Director Troy Dannen has made it clear that a contract extension has essentially been on DeBoer’s desk awaiting a signature for weeks. The stated reasoning for the delay was that DeBoer wanted to focus on finishing out the season. But it only takes a few seconds to sign paperwork.
Washington officials spent more than two months in discussions with representatives for DeBoer on a new contract.— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) January 12, 2024
The last offer stood at $9+ million a year for 7 years, sources tell @YahooSports. DeBoer's decision - whenever he makes it final - will be about more than money.
The most likely cause for concern had seemed to be from the same Michigan Wolverines team that just prevailed over Washington in the CFP final. Head coach Jim Harbaugh is heavily rumored to be a candidate for multiple NFL openings and it would have made a ton of sense for them to pursue DeBoer. He is a midwestern native who just had success at a school that views itself as a peer in terms of academic tradition.
Instead, the threat came from Tuscaloosa. Kalen DeBoer in the last year became a client of college football power broker Jimmy Sexton who not coincidentally is also Nick Saban’s agent. Who knows how long ago Saban actually made the decision to step away but you can be sure that he would have told Sexton before potentially everyone but his family. Sexton wouldn’t have turned around and told DeBoer but certainly could’ve used that info to let DeBoer know it’s in his best interest not to sign an extension just yet either because he could get the Alabama job or Sexton could use it as leverage for more money. Sexton was able to parlay the coaching search into raises for two of his other clients in Texas’ Steve Sarkisian and Florida State’s Mike Norvell.
There is an adage that you never want to be the guy that follows the guy. And no one was more of the guy than Nick Saban who has a very strong claim for the best coach in the history of the sport. He won 6 national titles and never lost more than 2 games in any of his final 13 seasons. The new SEC just added Texas and Oklahoma and if DeBoer ever loses 3 games in a season you can be sure that he will have fans calling for his head. The level of recruiting and booster involvement that DeBoer is going to have to deal with from day one is orders of magnitude more of a headache than anything he has ever experienced. But he also is now the head coach of one of the pillars of the sport and will have resources far and beyond what he could ever get at Washington.
Where does this leave the Huskies?
Washington has absolutely slam dunk nailed 2 of their past 3 coaching hires and only got a combined 8 seasons from those coaches in which they made 4 New Year’s Six Bowls including 2 CFP appearances. In between they tried for continuity and it stupendously backfired with the ascension of Jimmy Lake.
The obvious first suggestion is that they once again try to make the continuity play. Offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb has been viewed as a coaching candidate for jobs this cycle such as San Diego State and Indiana. Would he be hired at Washington if he were the OC for another program? Probably not. But he would keep the offense that got the Huskies to the title game running and would presumably be able to keep one of UW’s top offensive assistants such as JaMarcus Shephard or Scott Huff by promoting them to his old OC job.
Last time the Huskies made an outside hire, when they landed DeBoer, they were doing so at the beginning of coach search season. This year they’re forced to do it at the end of cycle when many potentially appealing candidates have already been taken. New AD Troy Dannen’s prized coaching pick at Tulane, Willie Fritz, would’ve become a natural candidate but took the Houston job last month. Either Washington is able to poach a sitting head coach (Lance Leipold or Chris Kleiman out of the state of Kansas?) who already has turned down several other offers this cycle or else promoting from within becomes perhaps the only viable option.
Regardless, this is a complete gut punch for Washington. They maneuvered closer to the peak of college football than they’ve been in 30 years and within a matter of months had both their AD and football head coach leave for more established blue blood programs based on the success. The Huskies made the decision to leave for the Big Ten on a reduced share to keep alive their spot in a power conference, confident they had the coach to take them there. Now they’ll need to nail their third coaching search in four tries to stay at that level.
We’ll have more on UW’s coaching search as it develops.