There was once a defensive backs coach at Washington who so impressed his head coach that he was promoted to co-defensive coordinator after two years. And while serving as the defensive coordinator at UW, he so impressed coaches around the nation that he was wooed by some of the country’s most prestigious football programs — including Alabama.
But this coach turned down those DC jobs, because his reputation as a defensive genius had blossomed to the point that he was a no-brainer to take over as the Huskies’ coach once his predecessor left. His name is Jimmy Lake, and in case you weren’t sure — this Washington defense belongs to him.
That’s important to note, because there has been some buzz, or perhaps more appropriately — some yawns — over his latest staff choice. On Monday, a couple weeks after Pete Kwiatkowski left UW to become Texas’ defensive coordinator, Lake tagged Huskies inside linebackers coach Bob Gregory to take over as DC.
This had all the splash of a sparrow jumping into a puddle, but that might not matter much. Lake is the mastermind of the Huskies’ “D.”
A defensive coordinator under Lake is kind of like what an offensive coordinator was under Chris Petersen at UW. Former OC Bush Hamdan caught flak during his time at Washington, but was he ultimately responsible for the Huskies’ offensive shortcomings?
Petersen earned his stripes as an offensive guru while at Boise State and carried that reputation to Washington. The Huskies’ offensive success started with him, and he was worthy of criticism when the numbers dipped in his last couple seasons.
This isn’t to say that Gregory’s role is irrelevant. That’s not even close to the case. A head coach’s responsibilities make it impossible to give the same attention to one side of the ball as he did during his coordinator days.
Gregory’s promotion is still a significant decision, but was it as significant as Lake hiring John Donovan to be his offensive coordinator before last season? Probably not.
Let’s assume I’m wrong for a second, though. Let’s assume that this was a critical hire — that an exceptional defensive coordinator is the difference between the Huskies winning a Pac-12 title or not.
Was promoting internally necessarily a bad idea? Do you need the “sexy” hire to succeed?
Lake himself rose from within the Huskies’ system before garnering national acclaim. And he spoke glowingly of his new DC, emphasizing that this decision was made after a national search.
“We interviewed numerous people around the country at different levels — college, NFL — and we had the best defensive coordinator right here on our staff,” Lake said. “That’s Bob Gregory, who has 15 years of calling defense at the college level. He’s been an integral part of our defensive success, when we were at Boise and also here at the University of Washington.”
We still have little idea of what Lake is capable of as a head coach. He went 3-1 last year in what might go down as the most tumultuous college football season of the century. He hasn’t had a chance to develop his own recruiting class, he hasn’t proven he can weather the rough patches on an even keel, and he hasn’t had a full season to show he can make the necessary adjustments to succeed.
But there’s no doubt he knows what he’s doing on a certain side of the ball. As he told KJR-AM on Monday: “If you guys trust me, knowing that I know defense, you trust that we just made the best hire possible to keep this Washington Death Row defense rolling.”
Yes, it was just four games, but the Huskies led the Pac-12 in yards allowed per game last season. The same was true in 2016, 2017 and 2018, when Lake was the DC.
He got to where he is because of his knowledge on defense. And regardless of who he hires, the Huskies’ defensive success starts and ends with him.