As long as the Huskies have an 0-12 under coach Tyrone Willingham, there will always be the floor of 2008, below which no season can go.
Yet, five years after making the College Football Playoff, they are 4-6 and were playing Saturday night at Husky Stadium with an interim head coach less than 24 hours before head coach Jimmy Lake was fired by the University of Washington without cause.
That is low. Not the worst. But low.
It seemed a little better on a drenching night because the Huskies, playing on the adrenaline of the oppressed, were valiant. They were ahead 14-0 early, 17-7 at the half, and 24-21 into the 59th minute.
But at 00:00, they had lost to a mistake-prone Arizona State team, 35-30 (box).
The Huskies aren’t terrible, just a middling team in a Pac-12 Conference of renegade mediocrity. More than anything, that is why Lake was fired Sunday, via department message and no media availability from the bosses.
University of Washington Director of Athletics Jen Cohen announced today that Head Football Coach Jimmy Lake has been relieved of his duties, effective immediately. The University will honor the terms of his contract. Assistant Coach Bob Gregory will serve as the Interim Head Coach for the remainder of the season.
“Making a head coaching change in any sport is difficult, recognizing that the decision impacts coaches, staff, student-athletes and their families,” said Cohen. “However, as the steward of UW Athletics, I must always act in the best interests of our student-athletes, our department and our university. No one wanted Jimmy to succeed more than I when I hired him in 2019, but ultimately, this change is necessary for a variety of reasons, both on the field and off. I am grateful for Jimmy’s service to Washington, and we wish him the very best of luck moving forward.”
UW and Lake apparently negotiated a mutual separation, providing the eight-year staff veteran a maximum of $9.9 million over three-plus years, but likely less because the salary he gets from any new job prior to the 2024 end of his UW contract can be deducted from the balance owed.
Such a settlement means it’s worthwhile for UW to avoid further diminishing Lake’s reputation, and also forecloses Lake from filing a wrongful-termination lawsuit that would force UW to explain publicly, in excruciating detail, why his nationally televised confrontation with a misbehaving player was a fireable offense.
That moment in a game against the rival Oregon Ducks will be the Seattle sports equivalent of the Zapruder film, dividing generations of Huskies fans, all certain that they really know what they’re seeing.
What the football forensics experts can tell right now is that the Huskies roster is not as talented as Lake claimed ahead of the season, and his next recruiting class is forecasted to be of maybe modest help. The transfer portal beckons, and the best the Huskies can be this season is 6-6. Lake’s own recent words denigrating rival Oregon only made him look foolish.
Even though Lake wasn’t on the sidelines Saturday, the game management of his assistants, promoted to fill in during his one-week suspension — his hires — left something to be desired.
Certainly, the circumstances were brutal for interim head coach Bob Gregory and interim offensive coordinator Junior Adams — the previous OC, John Donovan, was fired after the 26-16 loss to Oregon — but they made a choice to rotate in freshman QB Sam Huard regardless of game circumstances.
So his first two circumstances found him at his own five-yard line and six-yard line. This was after starter Dylan Morris piled up 112 yards and 14 points in the Huskies’ first two possessions. Why go away from Morris then?
For the rest of the game, the Huskies added only 154 yards of offense, 63 on a meaningless possession in the game’s final 30 seconds.
The rotation didn’t kill Washington, but Huard didn’t do much, nor did Morris and the rest of the offense.
RB Sean McGrew missed the game because of injury, and TE Cade Otton left on crutches after a four-catch outing. The defense did a credible job for awhile, then gave way in the second half when fatigue led to arm tackles or no tackles at all. ASU (7-3) finished with 286 yards rushing on 57 carries, needing only 16 passes from QB Jayden Daniels to prevail.
“We’ve been getting worn down a little bit and we’ve got to be able to stop the run when we need to,” Gregory said. “It’s pretty obvious.”
Gregory insisted that the convulsive week brought no excessive difficulty.
“When you’re out there with these guys, this is what we do this for,” he said. “It’s easy when it’s easy. And when you have a little bit of chaos, that’s the true measure of all of it.
“Our guys stepped up tonight and fought their ass off.”
Effort hasn’t been an issue for Washington this season. Talent and competence have been the issues.
LT Jaxson Kirkland even sounded a little bit clinical.
“It was like, well, this is gonna be such an interesting week,” he said about all the changes. “It kind of balanced (the negativity) out, because it was so interesting, if that makes sense. We were gonna go back to what we know — that’s grinding, and focusing on practice, not worrying about the coaches. And I think a lot of guys did a great job of that.
“There was no, like, pity parties, or a whole circle of guys just talking negative about what’s going on.”
Well, that’s good. But coaching circumstances are always beyond player control anyway.
When a coach gets a little out of control, that’s an administrative problem.
So was the meager crowd, probably less than 25,000. There were plenty of reasons to stay away — weather, broken bridge, broken coaching staff, covid — but in the wildly convoluted world of big-time college sports, the absolute worst place to be is behind, now more than ever.
That urgency burned up whatever slack a second-year coach might have warranted. For Washington officials and the wealthy booster crowd, giving away $10 million in unearned salary is a tolerable sunk cost.
Continuing the five-year slide into national irrelevance is intolerable.