Salk: There’s one thing the next UW Huskies football coach has to have

Nov 18, 2021, 1:29 AM
UW Huskies Jimmy Lake...
Jimmy Lake looks on during his last game as UW Huskies coach on Nov. 6 against Oregon. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Failure stinks. It hurts. It stings. It makes you feel small and inadequate and like you don’t belong. It can lead to more failure. It can ruin you if you don’t recognize it, admit why it happened, and learn from it.

Trust me, I know. I have experienced it. I have attacked new projects, new shows and new jobs and not always succeeded. And in radio, those failures are public.

Will big names see UW Huskies coach vacancy as a marquee job?

Coaching is the same way. And after watching the colossal failure of Jimmy Lake’s tenure as UW Huskies head football coach, that school cannot afford another one.

Washington athletic director Jen Cohen has a challenge ahead of her. She made the right call to fire Lake – heck, he basically made it for her! Between the stale offense, a recruiting class outside of the top 50, the misplaced smack talk, the poor hires (especially offensive coordinator John Donovan), and ultimately a public physical altercation with a player, it was time for Lake to go. But after missing on him, and likely also missing on men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins, the pressure is on to get this one right.

So, with that in mind, I asked Pete Carroll what qualities he would look for in a head coach at a school like UW.

“You’re looking for a guy that’s got a plan,” he told me Monday on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Pete Carroll Show. “Someone with a philosophy and an approach. Because when you take over one of these jobs, you are challenged in so many ways, and in so many different aspects of a program. There are so many things you are going to get called on to make a decision on. It really helps if you know where you’re coming from.”

You can almost hear him thinking about how much he learned from his first two NFL stints in New York and New England, how he took that info and turned failure into success at USC.

The next day, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was asked on the Move the Sticks Podcast how he had been able to succeed at such a challenging role, with all the pressure that comes with coaching at such a storied institution.

“I had 19 years of being a head coach before I got the job,” Kelly reminded everyone. “That helped. I don’t think you could take the job over and not have some scarring when you got here. I made a lot of mistakes before I got here. I had a lot of successes, but still had some growing to do. And then I still had to figure out how to do this job.”

In short, coaching is hard. Leading a program is hard. And it can be even harder if you are trying to do it for the first time.

As Jen Cohen looks to hire the next UW Huskies football coach, she shouldn’t be looking for someone raw. The demands of the job are too vast and the stakes too high to trust a novice. This isn’t an opportunity to experiment – they tried that with the unproven Lake. They need someone who has the experience to marry with talent.

I believe making the jump from coordinator to coach is an extreme one. Not just because of the various decisions that Carroll referenced, but because they require different skill sets.

Coordinating is all about scheme and X’s and O’s. You need to be able to study hours of film and create a gameplan that can succeed. Position coaching is all about teaching – how do you take that gameplan and help your players understand and execute it? But being a head coach at that level takes so many different skills. People management, media savvy, strategy, clock management, and most of all leadership. And those skills are so hard to have from the start.

There is no way I would hire a coordinator to do this job if I was making the decision for the UW Huskies. That is a risk you don’t need to take. If the Husky job is truly one of the top three on the West Coast, they should be able to find someone who is succeeding at a small school or, even better, a lesser Power Five school that isn’t at the same level.

I wouldn’t be afraid of a coach who has failed before, as long as they have learned from that experience. I’d be much more afraid of one who hasn’t yet had the experience at all.

More on the UW Huskies coach search from 710Sports.com

Jake Heaps’ names to watch for UW Huskies to replace Jimmy Lake
Brock Huard’s names to watch to replace Jimmy Lake
Huard: Why UW Huskies had to part ways with Lake

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Salk: There’s one thing the next UW Huskies football coach has to have