Jimmy Lake is still Washington’s football coach.
But don’t expect to see him on the sideline against Arizona State.
UW’s second-year coach has been suspended without pay for the Arizona State game on Saturday, athletic director Jen Cohen announced Monday. His suspension includes all football-related activity and will be lifted on Sunday. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory will serve as the Huskies’ acting head coach.
The suspension stems from a sideline incident in Washington’s 26-16 loss to rival Oregon on Saturday night, in which Lake was shown on national television attempting to separate walk-on linebacker Ruperake Fuavai from a sideline scrum by hitting him in the facemask, then shoving him in the back when he turned to walk away.
“Our staff has spent the last 24-plus hours reviewing video of the incident, as well as speaking with Coach Lake, the involved student-athlete and several other student-athletes and members of the staff, and I have made the decision to suspend Coach Lake for next Saturday’s game against Arizona State,” Cohen said in a statement. “President [Ana Mari] Cauce, our Faculty Athletics Representative, Alexes Harris, and members of our executive staff are in agreement that while we do not believe that his actions were intentional or deliberate, we can have no tolerance for a coach interacting with a student in the manner Coach Lake did. We have high expectations of conduct for our coaches, and we will not shy away from those expectations.”
Added Lake in a separate statement: “I want to apologize to every member of our team, and in particular to Ruperake Fuavai, for my actions during our game on Saturday. I also want to apologize to President Cauce and Jen Cohen for putting the University in this position. I fully accept the decision that was made. Our team has the right to expect better than what I displayed on Saturday, and I’m committed to doing just that — being better so our program will reflect all that’s good about being a Washington Husky.”
Lake will not be made available to the media this week. On Monday, Cohen declined to comment further on Lake’s suspension.
After the Oregon game, when asked if he regretted striking Fuavai, Lake responded: “I separated him. I didn’t strike him. I separated him.”
Cohen released this statement on Saturday night: “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.”
It appears, roughly 36 hours later, Cohen and Co. have enough information to dispense a suspension.
On Sunday, UW also fired offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Donovan after just 13 games with the program. Wide receivers coach Junior Adams was elevated to interim offensive coordinator and play-caller, while quality control analyst Payton McCollum assumed the role of quarterbacks coach.
Lake — who arrived in Seattle as Chris Petersen’s defensive backs coach in 2014, before being promoted to co-defensive coordinator (2016-17) and then defensive coordinator (2018-19) — has gone 7-6 in less than two full seasons at the helm. It’s his first head coaching position in any capacity.
Washington went 3-1 and technically won the Pac-12 North in 2020, though its season abruptly ended due to a coronavirus outbreak within the program. After being ranked No. 20 nationally in the preseason, the Huskies dropped their 2021 opener at home to FCS Montana and are currently 4-5 — needing to win two of their final three games to avoid missing the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Perhaps more damning, UW’s 2021 signing class ranked just sixth in the Pac-12 and 36th in the nation by the 247Sports Composite, while the 2022 class sits eighth in the conference and 54th in the country. A bevy of in-state blue-chip recruits — including five-star defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau (Ohio State), five-star wide receiver Emeka Egbuka (Ohio State), four-star linebacker Julien Simon (USC) and four-star wide receiver Junior Alexander (Arizona State) — ultimately signed elsewhere in the 2021 cycle.
On that subject: Lake made waves — and headlines — earlier last week, when he appeared to insult Oregon by saying he doesn’t consider the Ducks a recruiting rival because of the university’s lack of “academic prowess.”
“The schools we go against are way more … have academic prowess — like the University of Washington, Notre Dame, Stanford, USC,” Lake said. “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.”
Lake’s contract runs through the 2024 season. The 44-year-old coach from Walnut Creek, California — who played defensive back at Eastern Washington — is scheduled to make $3.2 million in 2022, $3.3 million in 2023 and $3.4 million in 2024.
Given Cohen’s assessment of a one-week suspension and the statement declaring that Cohen, president Cauce and faculty athletics representative Harris “do not believe that his actions were intentional or deliberate,” it may be unlikely that Cohen and Co. eventually pursue firing Lake with cause.
According to Lake’s contract, “just cause” includes — among other criteria — “any significant, serious or intentional act of misconduct by the Employee (Lake), including but not limited to, an act of dishonesty, theft, or misappropriation of University property, moral turpitude, insubordination, or act injuring, abusing, or endangering others.” It could also comprise “any other conduct of Employee seriously and materially prejudicial to the best interests of the University of its athletics program, as determined within the reasonable discretion of the Director (Cohen).”
“If Lake is fired for cause, all obligations of the University to make further payments or provide other consideration hereunder shall cease,” his contract states.
In the more likely eventuality that Lake is fired without cause, the university would owe him the remainder of his contract — $9.9 million guaranteed — unless UW and Lake agree to a settlement on a more modest buyout.
During Lake’s ascendant stint as an assistant coach in Seattle, his Huskies led the Pac-12 in both scoring defense and total defense for four consecutive seasons — from 2015 to 2018. He also mentored a host of defensive backs that developed into NFL draft picks — including Budda Baker, Kevin King, Sidney Jones, Byron Murphy and Taylor Rapp. Under Petersen, UW won a pair of Pac-12 titles and reached the College Football Playoff in 2016.
Prior to embarking on a second stint in Seattle, Lake coached defensive backs for Boise State (2012-13), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2010-11, 2006-07), the Detroit Lions (2008), Montana State (2005), UW (2004) and Eastern Washington (1999-2003).
The 4-5 Huskies host 6-3 Arizona State at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
And for the first time in 94 games, Lake won’t be situated on Washington’s sideline.