On Monday morning, minutes after Washington announced that inside linebackers coach Bob Gregory had been promoted to defensive coordinator, head coach Jimmy Lake met the media to discuss the news. Below is a full transcript of that press conference.
“Happy New Year to everybody. I haven’t seen you guys in a while. Now I’m just staring at these blank boxes here, but we do miss you guys. Can’t wait to see you guys here soon. We’ve had some staff changes, as you guys know. First I want to thank Pete Kwiatkowski for his long service here and his friendship, which will remain for the rest of our lives. We wish him continued success. He had an opportunity that he’s always wanted, and we in no way are ever going to stand in the way of our coaches or our staff for that matter’s dreams. So he’s excited for the new opportunity. We’re excited for his new opportunity, and we wish him continued success. Definitely want to say thank you also to his family – his wife Laura, and his kids Shelby, Riley and Olivia. Even though you guys are no longer in the Dawg family, you’ll always be in our football family. We’ll miss you guys and we love you.
“OK. Over the years the strength of our defensive staff has been that we’ve had a number of former defensive coordinators on our staff. We’ve played some big-time defense around here, as you guys have known. We have a bunch of really good ideas and a bunch of really good coaches on that side of the ball. So once this occurred we did an exhaustive process. We interviewed numerous people around the country at different levels – college, NFL – and we had the best defensive coordinator right here on our staff. 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 State and also here at the University of Washington. His steady leadership, his sound run fits and also pass coverage being right there in the middle at the inside linebacker position, knowing (the defense) front and back (were all factors), and also knowing we didn’t want to stray far from our defensive front and the way we have it set up right now. We know we have something really good going on. We’ve been the No. 1 defense (in the Pac-12) I believe five out of the last seven years here since we’ve been here. So we want to continue that success and we’re excited for Bob Gregory to take over the reins.
“We’re going to move Ikaika Malloe, who has been one of our best coaches on our whole staff and definitely one of our best recruiters, to outside linebackers. He’s done a phenomenal job of recruiting and coaching the defensive line and now we expect that same success with the outside linebackers, and I know he’s excited for this opportunity.
“Along with the changes, a guy who has worked really, really close with coach Malloe the last two years is Rip Rowan. We’ve personally seen how smart, how knowledgeable and how much energy and juice Rip possesses, which I cannot wait for you all to see once we get to practice. So Rip Rowan will be our new defensive line coach.
“The last change here – we’re excited about all these changes – but Keith Bhonapha is going to be our new special teams coordinator. He’s always been in the mix at all phases of our special teams for all the years that we’ve been here. Most recently he coaches our kickoff returners and punt returners, but he’s always been a part of every single phase and game planning. His energy, his juice, his enthusiasm and his new ideas are going to be really, really exciting for our team and for our players and for our staff. We are really looking forward to him taking over the reins of our special teams.
“The last notes here: two of our signees that signed with us in December are currently here, so I just wanted to give you an update on those guys. Those guys are here. They’re already lifting. They’re with the team. They look great. It’s great to see their faces. Quentin Moore, our tight end, and Kuao Peihopa is here as well – our defensive lineman. So we’re excited those two guys are here. They’re enrolled. They’re lifting weights. They’re running around. Also, our transfer quarterback is also here, Patrick O’Brien. So we have three new guys currently on campus.”
On when it became clear that an internal promotion was the best option:
“It’s interesting, you go into it with eyes wide open and you really want to listen to these other candidates and what they would bring to the table. But definitely during all those interviews, after the interviews and weighing the options, it just kept going back to an internal hire that made the most sense. Our defense has been extremely successful. We definitely did not want to bring in just a whole different brand-new defense for our guys to learn. There’s a lot of stability here in knowing that we’re not going to just completely throw our defensive scheme in the garbage can and start from scratch. We are not doing that whatsoever. Now it’s going to be building on what we’ve done in the last eight years and adding different wrinkles, just like we normally do. Our coaches are already doing what they would normally do in an offseason – researching the best of the best. We’re going to bring those new wrinkles here and install them and continue to be successful on that side of the ball.”
On the importance of maintaining continuity on the staff:
“It is so important, so important. Really the only outside hire so far was John Donovan. We knew we wanted to go a different direction on offense way back when I first got hired. That was definitely going to be an outside hire. As you guys see with how we’re setting up our staff, I always want to be able to promote from within when guys are doing their job and we know it’s going to make us better. You’re always going to see our quality control coaches and even our GAs, they are working to become that next guy at whatever position it is. If for whatever reason the qualifications are not there and we’re not happy with that candidate then we will definitely go outside of the building. We’re all about being bricklayers around here and that’s a code word for being a hard worker. There’s a lot of hard workers in this building and I am extremely delighted that we’ve been able to promote from within and reward that hard work.”
On why Bob Gregory was the right choice for DC:
“It’s been almost nine years now we’ve worked together, I believe it is. Being able to just watch him present, first on defense. He was a defensive guy first and foremost before he was special teams coordinator. That kind of just came upon him. That’s another story. He’s a defensive guy. Being able to see him coach his guys, being able to see him in the meeting room. We go over a new coverage, maybe a new blitz, and him being able to consume it and then come out with really good ideas how we should do it. And then in the game. Him and I — very close together over all the years — it was him and I on the sideline for years, us making the adjustments since we’ve been at Washington and even the two years we were at Boise State together. It was myself and Coach Gregory making all the adjustments, hearing something from the booth or maybe something on the field making us go, you know what? We need to do this to make sure we can get these adjustments on the boards, to the others, to be sure our players get that and make the changes. He’s extremely smart. He knows the backend, he knows the linebackers, he knows the fronts. He’s got extensive experience. He’s only going to build now on what we’ve already built here on defense at Washington.”
On Gregory as a recruiter:
“If you look at the inside linebacker room, that’s really the measure of his recruiting. And the inside linebacker room is stacked with talent and guys that are grooming to become that next guy. We’re really excited about our inside linebackers. We talked about how young they were two years ago in 2019 and how they were going to be a strength of our defense this last year, and I think you saw that they were. We had an all-conference player in that room and we have really good depth in that inside linebacker room. Now I see that spreading throughout the whole defense now and being able to make sure we’re picking up the right body types at all positions. Bob’s always been a big-time recruiter for us and he will continue to be.”
On how big the recruiting piece was when looking at Rowan, and whether Bhonapha is still recruiting coordinator:
“So, KB’s title is special teams coordinator/running backs coach. Last year when I took over he was running back coach, so hopefully that should answer that. Our director of recruiting is Justin Glenn. So that’s right when I was hired in 2019 that change was made. We only have one director of recruiting and that’s Justin Glenn. Rip is going to add all kinds of juice. This guy has energy bouncing off the walls. That’s where, of course, we lose years and years of coordinating experience. But we also have a lot of years and years of coordinating experience still on this staff, and now we add even more recruiting juice with Rip Rowan. Young guy that is ready to get after it, ready to prove his worth. Since he’s been here all he’s done is work hard and has given us an advantage in all his duties that we gave him as quality control coach on defense. We’re excited to watch the connection he’s going to make with these recruits and having that young energetic mentality is going to be fun to watch.”
On his initial impression of Rip Rowan when he arrived at UW:
“That was when I was defensive coordinator. That was my hire, even though I was defensive coordinator. It was through my connections that I sought out Rip to become our defensive quality control (coach) at that time. So, I actually feel like it was more my hire – which it was. What stood out was his knowledge. His knowledge and his energy. He comes from – he’s learned from a lot of really good coaches in the past. Some coaches that I’ve come across. That’s how this coaching thing usually happens. Names pop up with different colleagues I’ve had over the years and his name popped up. They highly recommended him, and all of my connections were exactly right. Because since he’s been here all he’s done is exactly what my past colleagues said he would do. He’s very smart and he’s going to work hard. And I think you guys are going to love his personality once you get to know him. You’re going to see he’s got a lot of juice, lot of energy. The players already love him; they’re going to love him even more now.”
On having a mixture of younger and older coaches on staff:
“I’ll tell you what. First, I’ll say, Bob’s got a lot of energy. Our players love BG. This is a guy that has been our special teams coordinator for the last few years here. I know that was something that was kind of thrust upon him that he ended up taking over and was a solider. And he put all his effort and energy into it, even though he’s more of a defensive guy at heart. So, I know he’s more passionate about defense. For years I’ve known that, because I worked with him before this came about. He’s going to give a lot of energy and passion, just like he did with special teams but probably even more now with defense. But you’re right. It’s awesome to have some up-and-coming guys that want to prove their way and show their worth and their coaching acumen, along with us older coaches now. But us older coaches still got to bring it. Hopefully you guys know I’m going to bring it, even though I got some gray (hairs) coming in here. We’re always going to bring a lot of energy, a lot of passion. Football, practice and meetings are always better that way and that’s just the way we know how to do it.”
On the inside linebacker play and any issues with how they were being coached the last couple seasons:
“No, not at all. This last year, we were extremely excited about the way our inside linebackers played. Going back and looking at the film, there’s definitely some things structurally where we could have helped our whole defense out better, to help them. But no, our inside linebackers were one of the strengths of our defense last year, and even the conference noticed that with voting one of them All-Conference. I’m expecting even more accolades for that position as we move forward. We have a bunch of depth. And structurally, we’re going to be able to help those guys so all 11 can play better.”
On if money was a factor when making these hires:
“No, not at all. Not at all Jen (Cohen) has been unbelievable. President (Ana Mari) Cauce has been unbelievable. Look, this place is always going to be able bricklayers and hard workers. When we start doing things the way I know we’re going to be doing around here, if that’s what you want to see – salaries go up – that’s probably what’s going to happen to keep these great coaches that are here. That is probably what’s going to happen. For us to go outside of what we’re doing on defense and go spend a bunch of money on a coach that’s going to change our whole defense that we know is not the right thing? This is my opinion, and probably a lot of shared opinions around here for how successful we’ve been on defense; that’s not the right thing to do. So President Cauce and also Jen Cohen have always been very forthright. Anything we need, we will be able to do. And I know that’s going to be the case here going forward.”
On the level of confidence that the coaching staff is complete for 2021:
“We have a bunch of rock stars on our staff. We talk about every single year, people are trying to get to our staff and pluck them off and you guys maybe hear about it and maybe you don’t. And maybe there’s a bunch of things that you guys haven’t heard, and things that are still going on. I hope everybody’s here, but there’s a lot of places that want our coaches, that try and hire and pluck them away. Some we’re able to retain, and some we want to make sure their dreams are attained, like I mentioned before about who we lost. That’s what he wanted to do and we were like hey, that’s awesome. Let’s make sure that happens for you. But this is always moving and it’s a moving target. Usually in this profession, the NFL season is winding down and signing day is coming up as well. Usually there’s even more movement in our profession after signing day and after the Super Bowl. We will see.”