Jimmy Lake stood at a podium with Chris Petersen seated to his left in the Don James Center at Husky Stadium.
It was the transition between the new University of Washington football coach and his predecessor, in what seemed like a seamless succession.
As he accepted the new job, Lake reminisced about working as an assistant coach for Petersen, following him from Boise State to UW and learning how it’s done.
“I was able to see his whole plan implemented from day one and completely turn a program around in his vision, and I’m very thankful I was able to work with this man for eight years,” Lake said, before famously adding, “I know the recipe, I’ve seen the recipe and I’m going to copy the recipe.”
Everyone gently laughed at his quaint proclamation. The departing Petersen broke into a smile.
Twenty-two months and nine games later, Lake has burned more than a couple of dishes, pulling them out of the oven smoking, prompting an impatient section of the fan base to clamor for new ingredients.
To be fair, the transition has been full of a number of unanticipated obstacles. Lake’s first season was delayed by a relentless global health crisis, and abruptly ended by a team outbreak of COVID-19. His defensive coordinator left for Texas. The roster was disrupted by opt-outs and the lure of the NFL, plenty of portal transfers, and a spate of injuries or illnesses involving headline players.
As Lake uses the bye week to reflect on a laggard second campaign, the Huskies sit at 2-3 — their worst start to a season in more than a decade, matching Steve Sarkisian’s five-game sample in 2010 to begin his second year as the man in charge of UW football.
When Petersen unexpectedly resigned following the 2019 Apple Cup, Lake seemed like a natural successor, as someone entrenched in the program, prepared for a promotion and positioned to minimize distractions that normally would come with a transfer of power.
Yet a Lake background check showed a blemish worthy of note. He was fired once before by UW.
In 2004, he was part of Keith Gilbertson’s coaching staff that was held responsible for a disastrous 1-10 season that sent Huskies football tumbling into its darkest era. Now, 15 years later, Lake was being hailed as a program hero.
Lake’s critics have assailed his two recruiting classes as feeble, falling several notches below Petersen’s annual grades. The replacement coach has had more decommitments (three) in six months than his predecessor dealt with in six years.
Detractors have stamped his coordinator coaching hires as unimaginative reaches, with John Donovan and Bob Gregory jettisoned from their previous offensive and defensive leadership positions at Penn State and California, respectively. They appear to be welcomed by UW basically because they were available and inexpensive.
A season-opening 13-7 upset at the hands of an FCS Montana team did nothing but ratchet up criticism of Lake to a disturbing level. His team didn’t play physically on either side of the line against the lower-division school that day. People assumed rough stuff would be part of the coach’s trademark.
It’s not like Lake didn’t have ample personnel to work with when he took over. His current team initially boasted 20 of 22 returning starters before five wide receivers abandoned the program, including a pair of first-teamers, either displeased with Donovan’s run-first offense or the limited playing time. Two back-up quarterbacks, including touted freshman Ethan Garbers to UCLA, headed elsewhere for similar reasons.
Lake’s Huskies were wounded by the spring loss of play-making All-Pac-12 edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui to an Achilles tendon rupture and ensuing surgery and rehabilitation.
During the bye week, Lake collectively sent all available coaches out on the road to recruit new talent for the first time since he took over, something the pandemic previously prevented. Typical of the way things are going, he won’t be able to utilize everyone on his staff.
On the sideline during a punt play at Oregon State, tight ends coach Derham Cato was looking down at his playbook or similar paperwork when he was blindsided by the play and taken out. Cato ended up in a Corvallis hospital with a serious leg injury. He’s restricted from traveling.
Nearly two full years ago, Lake had no idea about the rash of roadblocks and obstacles coming from all directions he would have to overcome. He intimated only that he was equipped to handle whatever the challenge was.
“I’m a very aggressive, attack-mode personality,” he said during that upbeat takeover news conference. “So now here we go, I’m the head football coach.”
Nine games, four losses and one pandemic later, Lake has to wonder if this job will get easier, rewarding him rather than testing him, and whether he’ll get to hang on to it .