Some returning members of the Washington Huskies football team will be on their third head coach in five years.
The assistant-coach positions will have undergone an almost complete flush. Players return after a 4-8 season that was among the most embarrassing in UW history (a delay of game penalty on a first play?), concluding with the worst purple loss in Apple Cup annals, which included the implanting of the Cougars flag in the sacred, ersatz sod of Husky Stadium.
The debacle was followed by a transfer-portal revolving door that gave away more than it drew in. Then Wednesday, at the second national signing day in the 2022 recruiting cycle, an eight-player group of newcomers was introduced, including just four high school seniors. Only two were in-state, while a host of four-star kids at Washington high schools went out-of-state.
For whatever it’s worth, the freshman class of eight — five others were announced in December, but the best one de-committed — was ranked 11th in the Pac-12 Conference by 247 Sports.
Finally, there is the psychological debilitation from nearly two years of dealing with COVID-19 consequences, including a four-game season in 2020 that made them eligible for the conference title game, except they couldn’t field a sufficiently healthy team to play.
The longest-tenured players collectively seem a bit like the forlorn Tom Hanks character on the deserted island in the 2000 film Cast Away. They’re the only guys on campus packing volleyballs.
Even though new coach Kalen DeBoer had a genersl idea of what he was getting into, he learned about the depths of despair quickly when he had to re-recruit the surviving players on hand to keep them from fleeing.
“I think that was something that was probably a little tougher than what I imagined, just because of how much these guys have gone through over the course of the last two years,” he said. “I’ve gone to different programs, but I can’t say that it’s been something where the turnover happened within two years at this rate. Then you had COVID, and just when guys feel like it’s kind of stable, all of a sudden you have another change of coaching staff.
“What I’ve really asked them to do is just pull down the walls and let us touch their hearts and minds, and get to them. They’re allowing us to do that, and I appreciate it . . . those relationships area gonna be even better, because we got together and talked through that.”
All well and good. But whatever nascent cuddly feelings DeBoer and his staff hope to generate come in a distant second to playing talent. As always, it’s close to impossible to discern, past an obvious few, who will emerge as difference-makers. The past three classes under previous coaches Chris Petersen and Jimmy Lake were each ranked in the top 20 by the recruiting guessers, and look what happened.
The biggest news this week was the flip of 6-foot-4 Sumner High School safety Tristan Dunn from an Arizona State offer to accepting one from Washington. Dunn joins Tumwater HS tight end Ryan Otton, who signed in December, as the two highest rated state players to commit to UW.
Via the transfer portal, the Huskies did add four who figure to be of immediate service next fall: WR Lonyatta Alexander Jr., from Kennedy Catholic via Arizona State; LB Cam Bright of Montgomery, AL via Pittsburgh; Aaron Dumas, of El Paso, TX via New Mexico, and punter Kevin Ryan of Mesa, AZ., via Idaho State.
DeBoer also reported progress on the name, image and likeness (NIL) frontier, where third-party money from businesses and social media platforms has begun flowing to UW athletes. A Seattle business group calling itself Montlake Futures has been linking up athletes and businesses via UW liaison staffers with cash offerings for promotions and endorsements.
“That’s a big deal,” he said. “There’s some people that really want to take advantage of what they can do for our players, who want to take advantage of themselves with the businesses that they have.
“We do have some NIL agreements.”
He didn’t elaborate, and is under no obligation to disclose the private transactions between player and business.
There are far fewer rules than rumors surrounding NIL funding.
The most intensity is found, of course, around the Southeastern Conference, where reports of million-dollar deals for a handful of top-tier players are common. The rumors Wednesday infuriated Jimbo Fisher, the Texas A&M coach whose recruiting class has been rated No. 1 nationally. The rumors of massive NIL funding for the Aggies caused him to erupt.
“There is no $30 million fund. There is no $5 million. There is no $10 million. This is garbage, OK? It pisses me off,” Fisher said at his signing day news conference. “It comes from a site called ‘Bro Bible’ by a guy named ‘SlicedBread,’ and then everybody runs with it. So it’s written on the internet and it’s gospel. How irresponsible is that?
“We’ve got writers who have said it’s off a guy named ‘SlicedBread’, who made it up. And then to have coaches in our league say it? Clown acts. Irresponsible as hell. Multiple coaches in our league.”
Seems if DeBoer plans to get his Huskies to run with the biggest dogs, he’s going to have to ratchet up his rhetorical game. If SlicedBread is right about the money in the SEC, the Huskies might be toast.
HUSKIES SIGNING DAY ADDITIONS
Name • Pos. • Ht. / Wt. • Hometown (High school/Last school)
Lonyatta Alexander Jr. • WR • 6-2 / 200 • Auburn, Wash. (Kennedy Catholic/Arizona State)
Cam Bright • LB • 6-1 / 220 • Montgomery, Ala. (Park Crossing/Pittsburgh)
Aaron Dumas • TB • 5-11 / 180 • El Paso, Texas (Americas/New Mexico)
Tristan Dunn • S • 6-4 / 188 • Sumner, Wash. (Sumner)
Jaivion Green • CB • 6-2 / 196 • Houston, Texas (Lamar)
Armon Parker • DL • 6-3 / 284 • Detroit, Mich. (Fordson)
Jayvon Parker • DL • 6-3 / 296 • Detroit, Mich. (Fordson)
Kevin Ryan • P • 6-0 / 160 • Mesa, Ariz. (Mountain View/Idaho State)