Following his team’s 26-16 loss to Oregon on Saturday, Jimmy Lake sat at a table in the old team room up the west tunnel of Husky Stadium and said: “That was our deal all week long, we have to have poise. We knew this was going to be a very heated matchup and there was going to be a lot of trash talking.”
It’s one thing to say it. It’s another to show it.
Poise reflects leadership.
Lake — UW’s second-year coach — didn’t show much poise in his weekly news conference Monday, when asked if he considers Oregon a recruiting rival. In an instantly infamous response, he said “the schools we go against are way more … have academic prowess — like the University of Washington, Notre Dame, Stanford, USC. We go with a lot of battles toe-to-toe all the way to the end with those schools. So, I think that’s made up in your (media/recruiting service) world. In our world, we battle more academically prowess teams.”
Regardless of whether Lake’s words were twisted or misconstrued, the fact remains, they should not have been said. The firing of UW offensive coordinator John Donovan on Sunday doesn’t change that, either.
Likewise, Lake didn’t show much poise in the first half of Saturday’s loss — when he attempted to separate walk-on linebacker Ruperake Fuavai from a possible scrum by hitting him in the facemask, then shoving him in the back when he turned to walk away. The interaction was broadcast live on ABC.
In the aftermath, Lake explained that “the guys were chipping back and forth, and one of our players — (Fuavai) — was up in an Oregon defender’s face, and I went in to separate them and push him back. Then after that we settled down a little bit.”
When a reporter followed up by asking if Lake regretted striking Fuavai, he added: “I separated him. I didn’t strike him. I separated him.”
That may be for UW’s administration to decide. On Saturday night, Husky athletic director Jen Cohen released the following statement: “We are aware of an interaction between Head Coach Jimmy Lake and a student-athlete during the first half of Saturday’s game. We have high expectations of the conduct of our coaches and we are working to gather more information on this matter.”
Whether you’d call it a strike or a forcible separation, it can’t be called a demonstration of poise. And as of Sunday evening, the UW athletic department’s investigation remains ongoing.
Which brings us to what happened when the clock ran out. After Oregon took a knee at the UW 1-yard line to seal a 26-16 win, players from both teams had to be separated by their coaching staffs. Lake yelled, “No! No! No!” in the middle of the field, pointing his players to the locker room. The situation was diffused before it turned physical.
But that didn’t make it a banner moment on Montlake, either.
“Neither side wants that to happen,” Lake said. “We don’t want that to escalate like that. We want it to end and both teams give congratulatory high-fives or whatever, hugs. A lot of these guys know each other. And then we want to separate. That’s how we’d always want a game to end, with a handshake. So no, we don’t want that to happen.”
Unfortunately, a lot has happened this season that UW football fans didn’t welcome or expect.
It would be bad enough if Saturday’s storyline centered on UW losing to its primary rival for the 15th time in its past 17 games; or the Husky offense managing just 166 total yards, 58 fewer than Oregon running back Travis Dye; or Lake’s decision to punt on fourth-and-10, trailing 24-16 with just 1:59 remaining, a surrender that resulted in an immediate Oregon safety; or the UW defense yielding more than 200 rushing yards for the fifth time this season (and more than 300 rushing yards for the second time); or the same Huskies who were ranked No. 20 nationally to start the season needing to win two of their final three games just to qualify for postseason play.
That would be bad enough.
The reality is worse.
And regardless of what happens the next three weeks, more changes will have to be made. The offense, it seems, is irreparably wrecked — ranking 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring (22 points per game), 10th in total offense (332.1 yards per game), 10th in yards per pass attempt (6.8), 10th in completion percentage (59.9%), 11th in rushing (115.33) and 11th in yards per carry (3.48). And the defense’s 195.2 rushing yards allowed per game are the program’s most since its winless season in 2008.
Of course, wins and losses are one thing. But the world doesn’t revolve around football results. And the headlines the Huskies garnered last week should be unacceptable for an otherwise proud university, athletics aside.
When asked Saturday where to point the on-field blame, Lake said: “Execution starts with me. It’s all on the coaches. You can put 100% on the coaches. So you can write that. That’s all on us.”
That’s true of the Huskies’ play, as well as their poise.
For better or worse, it starts at the top.