After the tears, the smiles and reflections — after the ceremony, explanations and exchanging of praise, new Huskies football coach Jimmy Lake fielded a question that I presume has been on fans’ minds long before his promotion.
Have you given any thought to your offensive coaching staff? a radio host inquired.
Translation: Are you going to fix this offense, or what?
Chris Petersen stepping down as the head Huskies football coach Monday was one of the most shocking Seattle sports moments of the decade. His contributions to the program over six years made him a Husky legend and solidified his future as a College Football Hall of Famer.
But as UW athletic director Jen Cohen said of Washington athletics Tuesday, “We’re always moving forward.” So with that in mind, here’s Lake’s first task as the new head coach — make this offense right.
That’s not such an easy undertaking given that Lake’s rise to the top has come exclusively on the defensive side of the ball. He built some of the best secondaries in the country as the defensive-backs coach at UW before transitioning to defensive coordinator, where he oversaw a team that won the Pac-12 points-allowed title four years in a row.
Alabama wouldn’t have kept trying to lure him away if he wasn’t a defensive genius, something just about anybody who’s played for him will attest to. But now Lake has to prove that he’s as good of a CEO as he is a coach, because that other side of the ball — that’s been a problem.
After the Huskies lost to Ohio State in last year’s Rose Bowl — where they scored just three points through the first three quarters — Petersen acknowledged that the team would have to make some adjustments in order to get more points on the board. Based on the evidence through 12 games this season, though, the proper adjustments didn’t manifest.
Despite having a potential first-round draft pick at quarterback in Jacob Eason, the Huskies finished eighth in the Pac-12 in total offense and 75th (out of 130) in the nation.
That is unacceptable for a team that wants to compete for conference titles each year. And when Petersen said Tuesday that there are “tweaks” that needed to be made to the program, you have to think the O was one of them.
Asked Tuesday how he thinks his coaching approach might differ from Petersen’s, Lake was noticeably candid.
“I’m a very aggressive, attack-mode type personality. That’s where we’re going to take this thing,” he said. “I think that’s where it will be a little different — a little more attacking, a little more aggressive. And that’s what I’m excited about.”
Don’t interpret that as a shot at Petersen, who Lake incessantly praises as a mentor. And when asked what he might do differently after a 7-5 season, no coach is going to say, “I think what we’re doing is fine.”
Lake had to say something, but those words seemed sincere. The Huskies’ offense was staggering when they reached the College Football Playoff in 2016, but since then, it’s been stagnant.
The easy target for the decline is offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bush Hamdan, the play-caller who joined Washington in 2018. But just as the Seahawks’ defense is Pete Carroll’s brainchild, the Huskies’ offense always belonged to Petersen. A fair critic can’t simply place the blame on the OC.
That said, Lake’s first real test as a head coach will be what he decides to do with Hamdan and his subordinates. Does he think the struggles over the past couple years are the result of the lack of talent on the field, or does he think the game plans and play-calling have simply been second-class? Because if it’s the latter, Lake needs to take action.
We don’t know what’s in Lake’s mind right now, but will learn soon enough. When asked what he’ll do with the offensive coaching staff Tuesday, he said he was going to take a couple of weeks to figure it out. Fans should hope he thinks carefully, because it might be the most important decision he ends up making.
No doubt there are countless thoughts swirling around Lake’s head right now. From joy to surprise to stress to excitement, he’s experienced a year’s worth of emotion in just a few days. But one thing he stressed on Tuesday was how much passion he had for the X’s and O’s.
Well, right now, he should focus strictly on O. That might not be Lake’s area of expertise, but that’s what needs to be fixed ASAP.