Washington doesn’t have a head football coach.
But there are a few things its next head football coach has to have.
As UW athletic director Jen Cohen’s national search stretches into its second week, here’s a list of three prospective UW head coach nonnegotiables.
UW’s next head football coach has to have previous head coaching experience.
On Dec. 3, 2019, when Jimmy Lake was announced as the Huskies’ next head coach, Chris Petersen told a group of assembled reporters: “Nobody knows how these things go. You don’t know. But if it was ever stacked up to (be) like, ‘OK, this guy needs a chance to roll,’ I’ve never seen one that’s more prepared and ready that hasn’t actually been in the chair.”
That’s all true.
Particularly the first part.
On paper, Lake was a slam-dunk hire. He was one of the most sought-after coordinators in the country, who had already transformed UW’s defense and sent a parade of players to the NFL. He was a proven teacher and recruiter who could theoretically improve upon the foundation Petersen had laid.
But nobody knows how these things go.
And two years later, it did not go well.
Now, to borrow from Petersen again, UW needs someone who has actually been in the chair.
Which isn’t to say an ascending coordinator can’t succeed as a first-time head coach, as Lincoln Riley has at Oklahoma. But considering Cohen has hired two first-time head coaches who subsequently struggled — Lake and UW men’s basketball’s Mike Hopkins — that’s not a risk she, or the university, can afford to take.
UW needs someone who understands how to assemble and manage a coaching staff, how to oversee an operation, how to appease administrators and donors and alums, how to inspire an entire team, how to run a practice or a training camp, how to sell the program to prospects and the public and how to solve previously unimaginable problems.
UW needs a seasoned CEO, not a coordinator with a chasm between their ceiling and floor.
Maybe that’s an up-and-comer who has succeeded at lower levels and can translate those results to Pac-12 play, like Fresno State’s Kalen DeBoer. Maybe it’s a Power Five head coach who can be swayed to Seattle, like Iowa State’s Matt Campbell or Baylor’s Dave Aranda or Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson. Maybe it’s a veteran attempting to get back in the game, like Bob Stoops or Gary Patterson.
But unfortunately, it isn’t Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning and all others with impressive pedigrees but precious few head coaching priors.
UW’s next head football coach has to have a winning recruiting plan.
With just nine verbal commits (and five de-commits), UW’s 2022 class ranks eighth in the Pac-12 and 59th in the nation. Lake’s 2021 class, his first at the helm, sat sixth in the conference and 36th in the country.
That isn’t nearly good enough.
But how will the Huskies’ next head coach go about closing the gap? Under both Petersen and Lake, UW averaged just 89 scholarship offers in the last five classes — one of the smallest numbers in the country. Rather than throwing a wide net, Washington preferred to home in on precious few recruits and hope diligent effort and attention would win coveted commits. The Huskies preferred a colored pencil to a broader brush.
For context: Oregon averaged 289.8 scholarship offers in the past five classes. Stanford, a significantly smaller private institution, averaged just 72.
But what works best for Washington?
That question applies to more than just offers. UW’s next head coach must decide where Washington should recruit as well. The West Coast will always be UW’s recruiting lifeblood. But should the Huskies continue to sink time and resources into Texas, which has produced a string of running back recruits in recent seasons? With more and more coveted West Coast recruits being poached by Big Ten and SEC powers, should UW expand its recruiting footprint into other areas as well?
Regardless of the answers, the end point needs to be a program that can contend with the likes of Oregon and USC. Since Mario Cristobal was named head coach in December 2017, the Ducks have sat atop the Pac-12 recruiting rankings four straight years and averaged a finish of ninth in the nation.
That might mean bringing in a head coach with established West Coast recruiting ties (like BYU’s Kalani Sitake, or Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith, or Nevada’s Jay Norvell, or Cal’s Justin Wilcox). It might mean hiring a more national name who can then hire a staff with expertise in the area (like Stoops or Aranda or Clawson).
Either way, recruiting has to be an emphasis, not an afterthought. UW’s next head coach — whoever he is — must arrive in Seattle with an approved plan of attack.
UW’s next head football coach has to be vaccinated.
Considering Washington State’s midseason firing of Nick Rolovich, this one should be obvious.
But maybe it’s not.
After all, Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin — who has repeatedly refused to discuss his vaccination status — was listed by FootballScoop.com last week as a candidate UW is currently considering.
A Boise, Idaho, native, Harsin is just 6-5 in his first season at Auburn, after going 69-19 in seven mostly successful seasons replacing Petersen at Boise State. The former Bronco quarterback also served as Petersen’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2006 to 2010, and would likely earn Petersen’s stamp of approval.
But if Harsin isn’t vaccinated, his coaching credentials won’t matter — especially in a state with a vaccination requirement for all government employees, and at a university globally respected for its medical and scientific research.
Regardless of experience, or scheme, or recruiting renown, a public endorsement of the vaccine is undeniably nonnegotiable.