Ambivalence admittedly isn’t an ideal quality for a sports columnist to possess.
Yet I have mixed emotions on two questions posed by Northwest football fans. Is defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake truly the right person to succeed Chris Petersen as the University of Washington’s head coach? And does Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams represent a significant setback to the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl hopes.
So much speculation surrounded Petersen’s unexpected resignation that the merits of Lake’s immediate promotion the top job has been overshadowed.
As Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone pointed out recently, the in-house elevation of college football assistant coaches has been a generally successful trend.
It has worked at Ohio State, Oklahoma and Oregon, among other schools. Oregon boosters who advocated the school throw some of Nike founder Phil Knight’s money at a coach with a strong national profile now seem happy with erstwhile Duck assistant Mario Cristobal.
Had I been in a position of power at Washington, I also would have promoted Lake. But not without some reservations — in part because I’m old enough to remember the Jim Lambright era.
Like Lake, Lambright was a highly regarded defensive coordinator at Washington. He was the logical choice to succeed Don James when the latter abruptly resigned in protest over NCAA sanctions on the eve of the 1993 season.
Lambright guided the Huskies to five consecutive winning seasons highlighted by a landmark win at Miami that snapped the Hurricanes’ 58-game home winning streak in 1993.
But Lambright often seemed overwhelmed, even bewildered at times, by the added responsibility of a head-coaching job. Well before his 1998 dismissal, it was apparent he was better suited to be an assistant.
Lake has never been a head coach at any level of football. If he deserves credit for Washington’s solid defensive performance in recent years, he also deserves a share of the blame for the Huskies’ inability to make second-half adjustments and the surprising success rate of opponents on third-and-long situations during the past two seasons. He’s been a good defensive coach, but I would stop short of calling him a genius.
With all due respect to Petersen, an exceptional coach and a class act for many years, there were times this past season when he appeared to be burned out. Kudos to him for apparently recognizing that and putting quality-of-life issues ahead of his coaching resume.
If nothing else, Lake should bring fresh energy to the UW program.
In one respect, Sunday’s 28-12 loss to the Rams did little to alter the Seahawks’ postseason outlook.
If they win their final three regular-season games, they will capture the NFC West division championship and no worse than the conference’s second seed in the playoffs. They’ll be heavily favored in the next two contests (at Carolina and home against Arizona) before closing out the regular season with a home showdown against the San Francisco 49ers.
Still, the manner of Sunday’s defeat was troubling.
Having struggled against such also-rans as Cincinnati and Tampa Bay, Seattle has built its 10-3 record on the clutch all-around talents of quarterback Russell Wilson, critical takeaways and a healthy dose of good fortune.
When Wilson’s performance has been anything short of superb, the Seahawks are in trouble. Their defense in particular fell far short of Super Bowl standards early in the campaign.
With the addition of key personnel (particularly defensive end Jadeveon Clowney), the Hawks appeared to have rectified some of their defensive shortcomings in recent weeks.
But while much has been made of Seattle’s lack of offensive touchdowns on Sunday, a more pertinent statistic was the 455 yards of total offense the Rams racked up. Los Angeles dominated the contest more than the score indicated.
The good news for the Seahawk faithful is there isn’t a dominant team in the NFC. The Hawks rank with San Francisco, New Orleans and Green Bay as clubs capable of advancing to the Super Bowl if everything breaks right in the playoffs.
One largely discredited recent rumor was that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was interested in purchasing the Seahawks from the estate of the late Paul Allen. Evidently the franchise isn’t for sale, at least as yet.
The team Bezos should buy is the Seattle Mariners. I’m guessing the Puget Sound-based billionaire would have little patience with Mariner general manager Jerry Dipoto’s “maybe we can contend by 2025 but it’s all good as long as the payroll shrinks” philosophy.
The Seahawks, on other hand, seem to be doing fine with the current management team.