Suddenly, Washington’s offensive coordinator position is not the most notable college football vacancy in the state.
By now, you already know: After eight endlessly entertaining seasons at Washington State, Mike Leach is headed to the SEC — finally — to assume head coaching duties at Mississippi State. If he hasn’t already, Cougar AD Patrick Chun will imminently launch a national search for Leach’s successor.
Nearly 300 miles west of Pullman, Leach’s departure must be bittersweet for new UW head coach Jimmy Lake, who effectively dominated the Washington State air raid in six consecutive wins on staff. Lake famously said following another Apple Cup win in 2018 that “hopefully (Leach) remains here for a long time. That would be awesome.”
Well, Lake hasn’t gotten what he wanted this week — and Leach is not the only example. On Wednesday, Kellen Moore — UW’s most publicized target in its offensive coordinator search — opted to remain with the Dallas Cowboys rather than return to his home state.
So, where do the Huskies go from here?
At this point, there are as many possible names as pregame boats in Husky Harbor. Former Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Former Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Tulane offensive coordinator Will Hall. Oregon State offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren. Former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh. Tennessee associate head coach and wide receivers coach Tee Martin. Former Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead. Former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long. Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning. Louisiana offensive coordinator Rob Sale. UW wide receivers coach Junior Adams. Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
(OK, I added the last one just for kicks.)
Still, to Lake and AD Jen Cohen’s credit, this search has been relatively leak-less — besides, of course, the obvious interest in Moore. And, as the days pass and the silence intensifies, the fan base’s patience understandably wavers.
That’s to be expected. After all, new FBS offensive coordinators are seemingly being named every hour. According to FootballScoop, there were 42 FBS offensive coordinator openings entering the offseason, and 25 (59.5%) of those positions have been filled. Rhett Lashlee jumped from SMU to Miami. Mike Yurcich left Ohio State for Texas. Mike Sanford went from Utah State to Minnesota. Tim Beck swapped Texas for NC State. Former Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo resurfaced at South Carolina.
And, most relevant to those on Montlake, it appears an offensive coordinator hire at Oregon is imminent. Per FootballScoop, the Ducks’ leading candidates are former Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead, LSU offensive analyst Jorge Munoz, Los Angeles Rams assistant Jedd Fisch and Tulane offensive coordinator Will Hall. A hire could reportedly come in the next 24 to 48 hours.
So, again, Washington football fans’ anxiety is understandable. After sitting through two underperforming seasons with former UW offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan, they want a proven play-caller. They want a dynamic recruiter. They want an innovator, a team-builder and a teacher.
And they want it now.
But, for Lake, it’s more important to make the right hire than the fast hire or the convenient hire. It’s important to remember that Washington has already signed 22 student-athletes in its 2020 class, including eight four-star offensive prospects. The Huskies have already locked up a top-15 class that includes three four-star offensive linemen (Myles Murao, Roger Rosengarten and Geirean Hatchett), two four-star wide receivers (Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze), a four-star quarterback (Ethan Garbers), a four-star running back (Sam Adams II) and a four-star tight end (Mark Redman). So, from a recruiting standpoint, a prolonged search shouldn’t come with unwanted side effects.
Coordinator aside, it’s equally important that Lake settle on the right offensive system. As the 43-year-old first-year head coach said at his introductory news conference on Dec. 3, said system is “going to be physical, it’s going to be bruising, it’s going to be attacking and it’s going to be aggressive.” That system also needs to maximize the young talent on a Husky roster replacing starters at quarterback, running back, center, left tackle, right tackle, tight end and wide receiver. And UW’s next offensive coordinator, whoever he is, needs to know how to install that offensive system as well.
Right now, it’s easier to identify who UW’s offensive coordinator won’t be — Kellen Moore, Steve Sarkisian, Mike Leach and Larry Scott among them — than the opposite. But that’s not a problem, as long as Lake’s Plan B eventually delivers.
After all, it’s not about winning the race. It’s about winning the Michigan game, the Pac-12 and the Apple Cup. It’s about beating Oregon and Washington State — even without Leach.