The two most important representatives of the University of Washington’s near-term football future were not in attendance at Monday’s presser following the suspension of head coach Jimmy Lake.
Jen Cohen and Sam Huard.
Lake wasn’t there. He is likely a figurative dead man walking.
Cohen is the athletics director who hired Lake and seems set to fire him with cause, seeking to avoid paying him about $10 million in guaranteed money. Huard is a freshman quarterback and most prominent member of his recruiting class, whose decision to stay at or leave UW will have some impact on the severity of the damage from the pending disruption, and subsequent decay, of the program.
Cohen hopes that she can concoct a firing and hiring scheme of sufficient efficiency and worthiness to keep Huard, one of the most coveted QBs in recent UW recruiting history, and others from using the one-time, get-out-of-jail-free card to escape the mess via the transfer portal from the alma mater of his dad, Damon, and uncle, Brock.
It would have been good to hear a discussion between Cohen and Huard. But in these sorts of things, public obfuscation and opaqueness are mandatory, and stealthy legal strategy is paramount.
Cohen’s one-week suspension of Lake, announced Monday after the Sunday firing of offensive coordinator John Donovan, ostensibly over Lake’s striking of a player on the Husky Stadium sidelines Saturday, seems to be a stall tactic that buys time to attempt a settlement that forecloses on a lawsuit.
Longtimers may recall that when UW fired football coach Rick Neuheisel in 2004 for a different kind of misbehavior, sports-pool gambling. Neuheisel won a wrongful termination lawsuit and received $4.7 million from the university and the NCAA.
Failing in a public trial is never a good look for a university that prides itself on its academic prowess.
So the university likely has marshaled its battalion of lawyers to craft a settlement despite its for-cause position, knowing that a quiet check is better than drawn-out public litigation.
The question is whether they can get it done this week ahead of Saturday’s home game against Arizona State. Otherwise they have to ask defensive coordinator Bob Gregory and offensive assistant Junior Adams to assume awkward positions on a week-to-week basis.
Cohen would certainly like to get it done ahead of the Washington State game featuring a Cougars team also without its head coach. The Apple Cup is already likely to be renamed the “Can’t Coach This Bowl.”
One person who asked for anonymity because of his business contracts with UW put it this way: “They made the mistake of giving a five-year contract to a rookie head coach, so they have to figure a way not to pay that.”
That rookieness appears to be at the heart of the problem with this hire. For all of his good deeds as a defensive assistant under Chris Petersen at UW since 2014, the much-hailed smooth transition to Lake ,44, is failing, largely because he wasn’t ready for the complex command of a big-time football program. Especially with the advent of disruptions like the transfer portal, NIL (name, image and likeness) and the pandemic.
When he bailed out of coaching near the top of his game in 2019, Petersen knew what he was doing.
Regarding the episode Saturday when Lake appeared to strike the helmet of freshman LB Ruperake Fuavai after the linebacker was trash-talking an Oregon player, Lake finally admitted his error in a tweet Monday afternoon.
The tweet was nearly 48 hours late. He had the opportunity to apologize post-game when I asked him if he regretted hitting Fuavai. His answer suggested he was either lying or oblivious.
“I separated them,” he said. “I didn’t strike him.”
I’ll give Lake some slack and say he was oblivious. But the rage was unmistakable. Lake’s furious power dash through the sideline and manhandling of Fuavai in the middle of a game was a textbook example of a coach out of control.
The same observation could be applied to Lake’s remarks during the week denigrating Oregon’s “academically prowess.” Some preferred to dismiss it as typical trash talk ahead of the rivalry game, but it wasn’t.
If he had said of Oregon coach Mario Cristobal, “His mama is so fat she irons her pants on the driveway,” that’s trash talk. But Lake was making the argument that the Ducks aren’t recruiting rivals because the Huskies recruit smarter players, as do Stanford, USC and Notre Dame. That’s not only inaccurate, it’s foolish and pointless coming from a coach who should know better, and was a seven-point underdog.
So Cohen, who has known Lake since his arrival with Petersen in 2014, now knows that her head football coach can’t be trusted to do and say the right things, and is unaware when the wrong things happen.
Are these things fireable offenses that might cost the university (or its boosters) millions of dollars? When the team is 4-5 after many expected 7-2 and the transfer portal beckons, you bet they are.
Feel free to ask Sam Huard.
As for the immediate impact on him and rest the players, Gregory, the reluctant interim head coach, spoke in the inevitable coach-speak.
“I think we lock our arms, and we go,” he said. “Everybody’s good in the good times, right? We all know that. It’s how are we going to react to the tougher times? And this is a great challenge for all of us.
“If it was all good, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here. But these are the times that we can teach great lessons to young men.”
Great lessons to young men. There you have it — another way to grow the academic prowess.
Our staff has spent the last 24-plus hours reviewing video of the incident, as well as speaking with Coach Lake, the involved student-athlete and several other student-athletes and members of the staff, and I have made the decision to suspend Coach Lake for next Saturday’s game against Arizona State,” said Cohen. “President Cauce, our Faculty Athletics Representative, Alexes Harris, and members of our executive staff are in agreement that while we do not believe that his actions were intentional or deliberate, we can have no tolerance for a coach interacting with a student in the manner Coach Lake did. We have high expectations of conduct for our coaches, and we will not shy away from those expectations.