Apparently the blame for the flaming stagecoach heading for the cliff is the guy riding shotgun.
John Donovan was fired Sunday. The University of Washington offensive coordinator was in charge of the unit that had just three first downs through three quarters Saturday against Oregon Ducks, an incontrovertible fact that teeters on the frontier of absurdity.
But it was hardly worse than scoring seven points in the season-opening against Montana, which resulted in the Grizzlies’ first win over Washington since a little after World War I. So defensive competence was a non-issue. Be it Big Sky Conference or fourth-ranked in the CFP poll, opponents of the Huskies have had their way.
Now Donovan gets the highway.
Donovan’s lack of pedigree for the job — fired at Penn State after two seasons in 2015, he spent four years as an obscure assistant at one of the NFL’s worst franchises, the Jacksonville Jaguars — and lack of production this season — UW is 10th in conference scoring and total offense — made him the primary target for fan contempt over a dismal 4-5 start.
After the season opener, the question hovering over Donovan was less if and more when. Now we know. The Huskies have had two touchdown drives in the past two games that weren’t short-field gifts following a turnover.
As for the guy who hired Donovan in 2020, head coach Jimmy Lake, he was identified in the media release as the decider, but it isn’t known whether athletics director Jen Cohen made him do it, or he finally realized he made a hiring error. He’s the kind of guy who always accepts general responsibility, but finds it difficult to admit he made a mistake in judgment.
After the 26-16 loss to Oregon when the Huskies mustered 166 yards, Lake seemed more exasperated than usual with the offense, perhaps foretelling the move Sunday that was announced after an afternoon team meeting.
“We need to execute better in all three phases, but especially on offense,” he said. “We weren’t good enough on offense tonight. We didn’t get enough first downs. We didn’t score enough points. We didn’t run the football well enough. We didn’t throw the football well enough. We didn’t catch the football well enough.
“That allowed our opponent to sit there and just hand the ball off and not put them in any dangerous situations.”
The Huskies promoted wide receivers coach Junior Adams, who will assume play-calling duties for the remainder of the season. Offensive quality control analyst Payton McCollum was elevated to quarterbacks coach.
Whether the changes will make a difference is anyone’s guess, but continuing the same pattern of futility was not an option, and hasn’t been for weeks. It’s possible that a more creative signal-caller will at least earn a few third-down conversions to help the defense slow its fourth-quarter fatigue.
Getting the move done now ratchets up the pressure on Lake, who burned quite a bit of his personal capital last week. His remarks about the Oregon program’s lack of “academically prowess” was dismissed by some as rivalry week trash talk, but that ignores the possibility that Lake may actually believe the Huskies are recruiting a different caliber of athlete than the Ducks.
If that’s true, Huskies fans saw proof Saturday, the 15th loss in the series’ past 17 games, that the pursuit is a football mistake.
Then the sideline episode caught on national TV of Lake taking a swing at a misbehaving player at minimum demonstrated a lack of personal control, the sort of vulnerability he spent the week counseling his players against. The department promised an investigation that is reportedly continuing.
As a stand-alone episode, it’s unlikely to be a fireable offense. But including it as part of Lake’s body of work, there’s a legit question as to whether this first-time head coach knows how to manage his own vulnerabilities, much less those of his players.