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    What’s next for Washington after Kalen DeBoer bolts for Alabama: We have a few candidates (and loads of questions)
    • January 13, 2024

    His arrival 774 days ago generated little fanfare. His departure is the biggest story in the sport.

    Kalen DeBoer, who lifted Washington from four wins to the cusp of a national championship in two seasons, accepted Alabama’s offer on Friday.

    Credit the Crimson Tide for hiring a first-class coach and DeBoer for agreeing to replace a legend (Nick Saban).

    But our focus is on Montlake. The Huskies are in need of a head coach as they transition into the Big Ten and replenish a roster whacked by departures for the NFL Draft.

    Just 96 hours removed from the biggest stage, UW is picking up the pieces and wondering what comes next.

    And we have a question — several questions, actually.

    Did Washington president Ana Mari Cauce and new athletic director Troy Dannen do everything possible to keep DeBoer? The school offered him $9 million annually, according to sources. Had the Huskies gone to $11 million, would he have stayed? Was there another component to the negotiations that fell short?

    Or was the lure of Alabama simply too great? Were the Huskies doomed the moment Saban announced his retirement? And if not Alabama, would DeBoer have bolted for Michigan if Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL?

    We don’t know the answers, at least not yet. Important context is likely to surface in the next 48 hours, and Cauce — to a greater extent than Dannen, who was hired in October — owes Washington fans an explanation. Did she drop DeBall with DeBoer?

    Other questions in the wake of DeBoer’s departure:

    How late will the celebrations last tonight in Pullman and Eugene?
    Was the prospect of losing DeBoer on the mind of former UW athletic director Jen Cohen when she left for USC in August?
    Did Washington have a chance to lock up DeBoer months ago, before he became the hottest coach in the game and hired super-agent Jimmy Sexton (who is also Saban’s agent)? In other words, did UW wait too long to get serious? If so, that’s on Cauce.
    What is former Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith thinking right now? If Smith had passed on Michigan State, a mid-level job in the Big Ten, he would be the obvious candidate to replace DeBoer in Seattle.
    Lastly, where do the Huskies turn for their fourth football coach in just over four years.

    Clearly, they should turn to former coach Chris Petersen — for advice, not to return to the sideline. His counsel will be crucial as Dannen embarks on a coaching search that must be completed in short order.

    The first decision, of course, is whether to hand the program over to offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, who has been at DeBoer’s side for years. His promotion would ensure continuity of culture and scheme.

    Is Grubb wired like a head coach? Or is he better suited to be an elite coordinator for decades? And are the Huskies willing to hire a first-time head coach after getting burned by the Jimmy Lake experiment in the wake of Petersen’s departure?

    This much is sure: Grubb would come cheap, clearing room for the Huskies to spend heavily on the coaching staff.

    If they don’t promote from within, the Huskies should have a solid pool of candidates interested in taking charge of a Big Ten program coming off a playoff run.

    Our list of possible candidates is heavy on coaches who have proven they can compete against programs that have greater resources. Why? Because UW will be playing from behind in the Big Ten.

    The Huskies are scheduled to receive half-shares (approximately) of the Big Ten’s media rights revenue over the rest of the decade. That’s roughly $30 million per year headed to Columbus, Ann Arbor and Los Angeles that won’t be going to Seattle (or Eugene).

    UW’s next coach will have to do more with less. The school should hire someone familiar with that challenge, such as:

    Arizona coach Jedd Fisch. In three years under Fisch, the Wildcats improved from 1-11 to 10-3. This, at a basketball school with a modest amount of in-state talent and a second-tier football budget. The risk with Fisch: he has been a head coach for all of three seasons.

    UNLV coach Barry Odom. The former Missouri coach just won nine games in his first year in Las Vegas. And if you can win in Sin City, you can win anywhere. That said, he spent four years in charge at Missouri in the 2010s and experienced modest success.

    Washington assistant JaMarcus Shephard. The other possible in-house candidate coordinates the passing game and coaches the receivers. And if you watched UW’s receivers, you know they were masterfully coached.

    Michigan offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore. Should the Huskies consider hiring a key member of the coaching staff that just beat them? Moore filled in for Jim Harbaugh during the latter’s suspension and is considered a potential heir to the throne in Ann Arbor. But if Harbaugh doesn’t leave for the NFL, Moore could be available. He certainly would know the terrain UW is about to encounter.

    Kansas coach Lance Leipold. In three years, Leipold has rebuilt one of the sport’s perennial cellar-dwellers. That alone should place him near the top of UW’s list, but there’s more: His background tracks closely with DeBoer’s resume.

    Before arriving in Seattle, DeBoer had won at both the small college level (Sioux Falls) and in the Group of Five (Fresno State).

    Before taking the Kansas job a few years ago, Leipold won multiple Division II championships (Wisconsin-Whitewater), then thrived in the Group of Five (at Buffalo, in the Mid-American Conference).

    He won two games in his first year at Kansas, six last season and nine in 2023, including a victory over Oklahoma.

    Put another way: Leipold has won 17 games in three seasons in Lawrence. Prior to his arrival, the Jayhawks needed 10 years to register 17 wins.

    The hiring model — a low-profile coach who has won at multiple levels of the game — worked once for the Huskies. Why not lean into it once again?

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    ​ Orange County Register