Kalen DeBoer stopped mid-sentence.

It was 11:52 a.m. on Tuesday, 22 hours after DeBoer was announced as the Washington Huskies’ next head football coach. The 47-year-old from Milbank, South Dakota, sat in a crowded lounge on the west side of Husky Stadium — overlooking his future football field and a video board reflecting his own smiling face.

It took more than two decades to arrive at this place — from a dynasty in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Southern Illinois, to Eastern Michigan, to Fresno State, to Indiana, back to Fresno State.

Now, he was here — having signed a five-year, $16.5 million contract — subject to a college football coronation, his arrival serenaded by the Husky marching band.

As DeBoer started the sentence, athletic director Jen Cohen sat to his right, staring at the man who ended Washington’s two-week national search. His family — wife, Nicole, and daughters Alexis and Avery — sat in the front row in matching purple masks, opposite UW President Ana Mari Cauce. Damon Huard — UW’s director of community and external relations, the father of freshman quarterback Sam Huard, and a former Husky signal caller in his own right — stood near the back of the room, decked out in a beige hat and a black vest. Former UW coach Chris Petersen — who assisted Cohen with the national search — silently stood on the opposite side.

“This is a special place. This is a special place,” DeBoer repeated, as Harry the Husky nodded his mascot head and swayed from side to side in his peripheral vision. “So I’m looking forward to …”

He paused — at once a Seattle newcomer and a planet everyone orbited around — and embraced his program’s expectations.


He accepted the challenge to deliver championships.

“Conference championships are going to be an expectation here. That’s an expectation,” DeBoer said, draped in a black suit and a purple tie. “National Championships are what our goal is. That seems lofty, but I’ve been at places where lofty goals seem out of the imagination, and we’ve accomplished those things. So we’re going to set our goals high. Being at a place where there’s expectations is awesome. It’s an awesome thing. I love that. I love that there’s pieces of pressure that come along with those expectations.

“But let’s consider the alternative. The alternative is no expectations, and that’s not fun to be a part of.”

The good news, then, is that Washington comes equipped with expectations — though recently, the Huskies haven’t had much fun. Despite starting the 2021 season ranked No. 20 nationally, UW finished with a 4-8 record and head coach Jimmy Lake was fired after going 7-6 in 13 games. Moreover, Mario Cristobal has returned rival Oregon to national prominence, and USC hired Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley on Sunday in a move that shook the foundation of college football.

So that’s the situation DeBoer inherits in Seattle.

The expectations are there.

The excuses can’t be.

“When we set out to hire our next coach, we had tremendous support to do that from President Cauce and the whole university, to go get the very best person to lead this program. And that’s Coach DeBoer,” Cohen said Tuesday, when asked why Washington didn’t make more of a splash hire. “I’m really, really confident in his abilities. I love his background, love his leadership capabilities as well. I just think he’s a tremendous fit and he’s going to do a great job here.”

Time will tell whether Washington’s players believe it as well. DeBoer met with his new team on Monday night, hoping to avoid a parade into the transfer portal. Meanwhile, Jake Haener — his standout quarterback at Fresno State, who transferred there from UW in 2019 — entered the transfer portal on Tuesday night, and could potentially return to Washington as a graduate transfer.

But quarterback aside, record aside, DeBoer believes he can win quickly at Washington.


“I don’t want the guys who have one year left to think that this is a rebuild. This is not that,” said DeBoer, who brings a high-powered offense to UW. “To me, this is about reloading. (It’s) a place that has everything we need to be successful right now. You talk about the different spots I’ve been, you can see that that’s happened very quickly. Within a year or two years for sure, at all those universities and all those places.”

Speaking of all those universities and all those places, DeBoer has made six different coaching stops in the last 12 seasons.

So, assuming he has success in Seattle, can this truly be considered a long-term destination for DeBoer?

“Yes. Absolutely. My whole family is going, ‘Yes,’” he said with a laugh. “We spent 10 years in Sioux Falls. Ten years. At that point, I never felt like I ever wanted to leave. I love that place and it’s great. But opportunities come along. I think over the last couple of years, it’s just always been positive ones that make sense, knowing full well that I wanted to be back in the head coaching world. And here I am at the highest level possible.

“I really want to be careful with that because it’s not always about being at the highest level. It’s about being in places where I feel it’s a great fit. That’s what this place is and that’s what me and my family are so excited about.”

Eventually, DeBoer hopes that excitement extends to UW’s fans and alumni, too.


“I think you’ll feel it from our players — how they embrace each other, how they love each other,” DeBoer said. “I think, other than watching some great football as well, you won’t help but love what you see and want to feel a part of it and continue to join along and make this place special. Sold out stadiums, right? Sold out Husky Stadium is what it’s going to be all about in making this a home advantage.”

He added, speaking directly to UW’s alumni: “I can tell you that I want this to always be home for you. It doesn’t matter which staff you played for. It doesn’t matter. This is always supposed to be home and you should always be welcome here, and I can’t wait to hear your stories and learn all the traditions and be a part of that. That’s only going to make us stronger in the years to come.”

Amidst the pomp and circumstance and pervasive purple of a Husky homecoming on Tuesday, DeBoer stopped mid-sentence — then established an expectation.

Now, as he assembles his staff and starts recruiting, it’s time to put those words into motion and get to work.