Kalen DeBoer did exactly what he had to at his introductory news conference Tuesday at Husky Stadium, amid the hoopla of cheerleaders, mascots and band music that made it seem more like a pep rally.
Washington’s new football coach took more than 10 minutes in his opening statement to lay out his vision for the program. It was a comprehensive plan that hit all the right notes in setting goals (Pac-12 titles, sold-out Husky Stadium and, ultimately, winning a national championship) while providing an overview of DeBoer’s road map to get there.
Of course, every incoming coach has grand plans and the requisite enthusiasm for pulling them off. Virtually two years ago to the day, Jimmy Lake stood in a different room in the same stadium and — after being lauded by the same athletic director, Jen Cohen — waxed lyrical about his ambitious blueprint for Husky success.
The fact that it didn’t happen under Lake — in fact, it blew up spectacularly after just 13 games — is the reason DeBoer was coaxed from Fresno State and was standing at the podium. But Lake’s failure doesn’t mean DeBoer can’t succeed. Nor should it detract from just how impressive, and persuasive, DeBoer was during the 45 or so minutes he met with the media. If the first step to program building is winning the news conference, DeBoer is 1-0.
At times DeBoer seemed to be speaking directly to potential recruits, high-school coaches and Husky alumni rather than the actual audience of media, Husky athletic staff (including former coach Chris Petersen) and Tyee Club members.
“I can tell you that I want this to always be home for you,” he said in an obvious message to former players. “It doesn’t matter which staff you played for. This is always supposed to be home, and you should always be welcome here. 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.”
And, to the state’s high-school coaches: “I can’t wait to have chalk talks and clinics and get to know you and be out there and see you in your element. We will be all about building the relationships with you and wanting you to know that we’re here for you any way we can help.”
DeBoer is smart enough to understand that the framework he outlined, as enticing as it sounded, above all else needs talented athletes to succeed. And that he just stepped up a level both in the scope of players he’ll being going after, and especially in the competition he’ll encounter in getting them. Talking about keeping Washington athletes in Washington, as DeBoer did, is one thing; doing it is another. But he promised to build a coaching staff filled with high-level recruiters who will work toward it every day.
The word DeBoer used frequently to describe recruiting and many other things was “relentless.” He sprinkled in catchphrases that sounded like they came straight out of coaching manuals but might have been inherited from the mentors DeBoer cited, such as Bob Young, for whom he played at the University of Sioux Falls and then succeeded as head coach en route to a 67-3 record and three NAIA national titles in five years; Chris Creighton at Eastern Michigan; Tom Allen at Indiana; and Jeff Tedford, who brought DeBoer to Fresno State as offensive coordinator and was cited as a great friend.
DeBoer said that persistence and consistency will be a key to Washington’s success: “Persistent is how you get there, and consistent is how you stay there.”
He said he would be clear and organized in laying out his plan: “Great preparation leads to confidence.”
The only time the opening remarks were interrupted by applause from the fans in attendance came when Cohen said DeBoer was going to “bring a little innovative football to Montlake.”
Indeed, DeBoer’s ability to construct high-powered offenses has been his calling card since the Sioux Falls days, and something Husky fans are hungry for. DeBoer ceded the play-calling at Fresno State for the first time in his career to offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, whom many expect to follow DeBoer to Seattle. But he assured that he would still be intricately involved in formulating the offensive philosophy and game plan, even if he’s not calling plays.
“I love finding a way to make something just a little bit better that can put a game away or be a difference-maker,” he said. “Attacking and explosive is what I’d like to really think we’re going to be. … We’ll have a lot of stuff that is simple to us but looks complex to our opponent.”
DeBoer stood in front of two teams Monday, after he and Cohen finalized the five-year deal. First came what he said was the hardest part of the process: Telling his Fresno State players he was leaving.
“Everything I asked of them, they gave,” he said.
DeBoer then flew to Seattle and, upon arrival, held the first of what will be a series of meetings with his new Husky players. These are crucially important, because part of DeBoer’s vision is inspiring enough passion for the program from within that the players themselves spread the word about how great it is in Seattle.
“When they see that and they see the excitement growing, being a part of it is what everyone wants,” he said.
It won’t be an instantaneous process to instill that in Husky players coming off a chaotic 4-8 season. But the first impression DeBoer leaves will be vital.
In the past 10 years, DeBoer has had five jobs, none longer than four years, as he ascended up the coaching ladder. I asked him if Washington is a destination spot, and if he’s now ready to put down roots. Before he could answer, DeBoer’s wife and two daughters sitting nearby in the audience began nodding their heads vigorously.
“Yes. Absolutely,” he said, adding with a laugh, “My whole family is going yes.”
Ultimately, the length of his stay on Montlake may be as much about DeBoer’s success as anything. Have enough of it, and it could be hard to keep him from fleeing for yet another step up the ladder. Have too little, and he’ll go the way of Lake and others along the way, involuntarily sent packing.
DeBoer said his ultimate goal goes beyond wins and losses, however.
“I want to be that great mentor that they look up to, and most importantly, 20 years down the road want to come back and see and have conversations with,” he said.
That’s the sort of thing you hear coaches say at introductory news conferences. But that didn’t make it any less compelling.