Scott Huff called it “a pretty unique situation, to be completely honest with you.”
Which is like calling the Apple Cup “a pretty heated rivalry,” or describing Joey Chestnut’s Fourth of July intake as “a pretty significant serving of hot dogs.”
It’s true, for the most part. But it’s also an understatement.
Consider that, in the last 17 days, Washington’s coaching staff:
- Announced the departure of Chris Petersen and subsequent promotion of Jimmy Lake
- Spent most of two weeks on the road, visiting and reassuring 23 verbal commits
- Hosted said commits as well as four-star tight end target Jack Yary on an official visit weekend
- Flew to Las Vegas, the most recent in a dizzying list of December flights
- Signed all 23 verbal commits, then practiced, on Wednesday’s early signing day
- Prepared to play 12-1 Boise State in Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl, Petersen’s final game
Meanwhile, the list of things Lake and Co. didn’t do is much easier to digest:
“Do I look good? I look tired, right? I’m tired,” Huff confirmed following practice Saturday. “No, it’s good. You’re just managing time. If you’re not on the phone, you’re probably driving. And if you’re not driving, you’re probably sitting in an airport. And if you’re sitting in an airport, you’ve got your laptop out and you’re trying to watch film and build cut-ups and tag stuff and put together game plans.
“It’s really time management. You’re in and out of homes. Luckily for me personally, this time of year has gone really smooth, knock on wood,” he added, physically knocking on the wooden chair at his back.
Fortunately for Husky fans, the knock wasn’t necessary. The recruiting class Washington signed is ranked 14th nationally and first in the Pac-12, per the 247Sports Composite. Petersen’s departure didn’t result in a single de-commitment.
Lake turned 43 years old on Tuesday.
And he waited a day to celebrate.
“I can definitely take a big exhale,” Lake said in a signing day teleconference on Wednesday. “Really just a huge kudos to our operational staff, our recruiting department and of course our assistant coaches. It was a big web matrix to go see who we needed to see, go to the high schools that we needed to go to. That two-week period was obviously somewhat chaos.”
In Lake’s case, the chaos was unavoidable. It was critical. It was necessary. Washington’s head-coach-in-waiting had to properly introduce himself to UW’s offensive commits, to sell his vision and earn their trust. He had to make a positive impression on their families. He had to emphasize that — regardless of the scheme or offensive coordinator — Petersen’s culture would continue to thrive.
“You guys saw all the trips, flying around all over the place,” Lake said. “But there was a lot of phone calls and a lot of text messages as well, every single day to all of our guys and all of their families. It was my job to make sure they did know what my philosophy was on that (offensive) side of the ball and really throughout the whole team, and it was my job to introduce myself and make sure they know who I am and what I’m about, because obviously they knew coach Petersen. So that was just part of the process, getting to know these guys.
“I was obviously focused on the defensive guys all these other years. But it was really easy. We’ve got some great families. We’ve got some great young men. The biggest thing was just reassuring that we were going to continue on with the solid foundation that coach Pete built here. I think that more than anything — (more than) the offensive philosophy and all those things — is what really kept everybody here.”
But Lake and Co. can’t sleep quite yet. First they have to beat Boise State, the Mountain West champion and No. 19 team in the nation. They have to corral redshirt senior quarterback Jaylon Henderson, who has accounted for 12 touchdowns with just two interceptions in his last four games (all wins). They have to protect Husky QB Jacob Eason from Bronco pass-rusher Curtis Weaver, who has piled up 18.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks in 13 games. And they have to do it all without a pair of All-Pac-12 first team performers — senior left tackle Trey Adams and junior tight end Hunter Bryant — who opted instead to prepare for the 2020 NFL draft.
Without a doubt, this two-and-a-half-week stretch has been a pretty unique situation.
But that can’t be an excuse.
“It’s a crazy time of year,” Huff said. “It’s time to close (on recruits). “You’ve got to frickin’ send these seniors out the right way. Obviously you’ve got the coach Pete thing, sending him out the right way. It’s just a busy time of year, but this is what you want. You’re supposed to be busy right now.”
Faith in Lake
Nick Harris won’t play for Lake.
But UW’s outgoing senior center and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer didn’t hesitate last week to express his opinion on the program’s immediate future.
“I have 100% confidence in coach Lake — the way he approaches practice, the way he approaches football, the way the DBs have produced over the years,” Harris said Saturday. “If he can do that with the whole team, it could be dangerous for the opponents of the Dawgs in years to come.
“So I’m excited and I have full faith in this program when coach Lake takes over. The way he coaches football … it’s promising.”
Of course, it would be more promising if Eason decides to return for his redshirt senior season. That likely depends on a lot of different factors — draft stock, health and UW’s offensive coordinator all among them.
But if it comes down to playing for Lake, that shouldn’t be an issue.
“We have a good relationship,” Eason said. “Obviously as the head guy we’ve had more chit chat here in the last couple days. But we’ve gone against each other for two years now and done some good things and some bad things against each other (in practice). We have that kind of relationship on the field.
“So there’s a lot of learning and I have a lot of respect for him, because he’s a tremendous coach and he produces a lot of great defensive players and he has those guys dialed in every week. I think he’s a great guy.”
Washington’s offensive line is suddenly lacking.
Adams, as previously explained, will miss the Las Vegas Bowl after starting UW’s first 12 games at left tackle. And sophomore right guard Jaxson Kirkland will also miss his second consecutive game, after suffering a leg injury in the loss to Colorado on Nov. 23.
Last weekend, Huff said that the Huskies may shift senior Jared Hilbers — who started all 12 games at right tackle this season, after starting 11 at left tackle in 2018 — back to the left side for the bowl game. Sophomore Henry Bainivalu, senior Henry Robert and Victor Curne are all in contention for the other tackle spot. The 6-6, 326-pound Bainivalu could also make his second consecutive start at right guard after replacing Kirkland in the Apple Cup win over Washington State.