It’s hard to even call it “The Jimmy Lake era.” 

An era implies a significant passage of time.

This was more like the Jimmy Lake minute. He got his foot in the door — then became a footnote. 

UW Huskies fire football coach Jimmy Lake after just 13 games

How does one define the tenure of a man who was at the helm of the Huskies football program for fewer games (13) than any coach since 1956? How does one characterize the head-coaching career of a man who, to some degree at least, was pushed out because he pushed a player? 

It’s not the easiest of tasks. All one can really do is tell the truth. 

Truth No. 1: Lake — hired before the 2020 season — almost certainly wouldn’t have been fired Sunday if the Huskies were successful. 

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If you want to see a physically abusive head coach, go watch video of former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight choking Hoosier guard Neil Reed during practice. Or check out former Rutgers hoops coach Mike Rice bouncing basketballs off his players’ heads. Or read one of the stories about Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach allegedly putting a player in a dark shed while at Texas Tech because he thought he was faking a concussion. 

These are the kinds of actions (and again, it was alleged with Leach) deserving of a firing. Lake’s physical altercations — both with fully padded players — aren’t on the same level.

He was suspended last Monday after striking linebacker Ruperake Fuavai on the helmet — then pushing him in the back — following a sideline scuffle in the Oregon game. It was an emotional response and perhaps inappropriate. But it didn’t appear malicious — which is why he was not fired “for cause,” meaning he will receive all of his $9.9 million buyout money.  

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And then there was the report that, when Lake was Washington’s defensive coordinator, he shoved former Huskies receiver Quinten Pounds into a locker during an emotional halftime in 2019. This one is more open to interpretation as there was no video — and eyewitness accounts vary in their description of its severity.

But it sounded less like bullying and more like a coach going too far in trying to rev up his team. Maybe there were other incidents unknown to the public. If these two are it, though, Lake’s reputation can survive. After all, it was his acumen, not antics that got him ousted. Which brings us to…

Truth No. 2: Lake was a bad hire. I can’t help but think that the powers that be at Washington saw that sideline incident with Fuavai and thought, “OK, we have an excuse now.” Because everything leading up to that moment suggested that Lake — a genius defensive coordinator — was in over his head as head coach. 

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His hiring of John Donovan — previously the running backs coach for the Jaguars — as offensive coordinator was bizarre, and UW’s offense struggled all season. His inability to recruit (the Huskies’ 2022 class is ranked 54th in the country according to 24/7 sports) was alarming. His dissing Oregon’s academic standards in the lead-up to the Huskies’ game against the Ducks was just plain stupid. And his 4-5 record before his suspension — which included a loss to FCS Montana — was flat-out disappointing. 

Perhaps Huskies fans were spoiled by the success of Lake’s predecessor, Chris Petersen, who led Washington to two Pac-12 titles and three major bowl games during his six years on Montlake. It might be unrealistic to expect someone with no head-coaching experience to take the reins and maintain that type of success. 

But there’s a standard at Washington, and Lake wasn’t meeting it. This year’s team regularly flopped and floundered  and never flipped the switch. A change was necessary. 

“Making a head-coaching change in any sport is difficult, recognizing that the decision impacts coaches, staff, student-athletes and their families,” Washington athletic director Jen Cohen said in a statement Sunday. “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.”

Lake, who finished 7-6 as Washington’s coach, seems like a good dude. Perhaps he can rebuild his brand as a defensive coordinator somewhere else and get another shot at a head-coaching gig some day.

But he was the wrong guy for Washington. Painful as it may be, that’s the truth of the matter.