CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Why UW Huskies OL coach Scott Huff — and his bosses — deserve credit

May 10, 2023, 3:01 PM

UW Huskies Scott Huff...

UW Huskies offensive line coach Scott Huff during a 2021 game. (Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Paki Finau announced his commitment to the UW Huskies on Monday. He’s a four-star offensive line prospect from Oak Hills (Calif.) Hesperia, and he reports 26 scholarship offers. Finau had even scheduled official visits to Penn State, Utah and Arizona before pulling the trigger on UW and clearing his calendar.

Who else could emerge for UW Huskies’ star-studded offense?

He is an important addition to UW’s 2024 recruiting class, which now includes three commitments and should add more by the end of June. Finau’s listed size of 6 foot 4 and 265 pounds suggests he has room to grow within a college strength and conditioning program. The Huskies have their eyes on other O-line prospects, too, and need more than just Finau to keep that room stocked for the future. But he’s a big get.

It’s been a redemptive year for Huskies offensive line coach Scott Huff, hasn’t it?

That was my first thought when I saw the Finau news, though if you fell asleep on Sept. 3, 2021 and only recently awoke, you might not understand what Huff ever had to redeem.

Huff had proven to be one of UW’s top recruiters, signing a particularly star-studded class in 2020, and helped develop a handful of all-conference performers and NFL Draft picks since joining then-Huskies coach Chris Petersen’s staff in 2017. Washington returned a veteran, talented offensive line in 2021, Jimmy Lake’s first full season as Petersen’s successor. Lake hyped that group as the best in the Pac-12.

They didn’t play like it. The UW Huskies managed a single touchdown in their season opener, a program-shifting defeat to Montana. In limping to a 4-8 finish and seeing the head coach fired, they ranked last in the conference in yards per rush.

The 2022 recruiting class wound up decidedly un-Huff-like, too. Five-star Rainier Beach tackle Josh Conerly signed with Oregon. Four other in-state linemen who held offers from UW left the state — including two who had been committed to the Huskies at one point — and three-star center Parker Brailsford from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro wound up the only O-lineman signed during that cycle.

It was enough for some fans to wish new coach Kalen DeBoer would just let Huff walk.

“I know his name wasn’t popular in 2021,” former O-lineman Jaxson Kirkland said in Feburary on “Say Who, Say Pod,” our podcast at On Montlake, “but there’s a reason why he got retained, and I think we all saw that in 2022 — because he’s a (heck) of an offensive line coach.”

Rather than appraise Huff solely on the disaster of 2021, DeBoer — and new offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, in particular — evaluated his body of work. Grubb watched film from 2021, yes. But he also went back another two seasons and concluded: “To me, ‘21 was an anomaly. It wasn’t the norm.”

“To see the number of really elite, high-level offensive linemen that have come out of this program, that both Scott developed and recruited, spoke volumes to the type of room that he could run,” Grubb said in November.

Coaches don’t forget how to coach, right? Yet short-term circumstances still prompt fans to demand long-term solutions, even if the culprit for Washington’s pre-DeBoer shortcomings — former offensive coordinator John Donovan’s dubious stewardship of Lake’s power-run-game, pro-style insistence — appears so obvious in hindsight.

Satisfied that the 2021 season proceeded as it did in spite of Huff’s tutelage and not because of it, DeBoer kept him on staff. When receivers coach Junior Adams left for Oregon, Huff became the lone holdover from the Petersen/Lake era. Consider the accomplishments and events that have reshaped his narrative since:

• Washington’s offensive line allowed just seven sacks in 13 games in 2022 — tied for second-fewest in FBS — while ranking fifth nationally in pass attempts.

• Washington ranked second in FBS in expected points added (EPA) per rush.

• The Huskies signed five offensive linemen in their 2023 recruiting class, including four-star prospects Landen Hatchett and Elishah Jackett, then added Finau’s commitment for 2024.

• Already UW’s highest-paid non-coordinator assistant, Huff received a $150,000 raise after the 2022 season that brought his annual salary to $850,000. That figure would have put Huff in the top-five nationally last season.

“I think he deserves a ton of credit,” Grubb said. “I think he did a phenomenal job. I’m just really excited for him, because I know what it feels like to be in that seat and you have to perform.”

Remember, Grubb’s public support of Huff predated the 2022 season. When I sat down with UW’s new offensive coordinator last winter, before spring practices, I asked him about the offensive line’s lagging performance in 2021 and the need for immediate improvement. Grubb went a different direction with his response than I was anticipating.

“Honestly, if I’m being really direct, I expect more out of our running back room,” Grubb told me then. “That’s one of the things that is really important for people to understand. The O-line has got to play better, and they will. But at the same time, that running back room, we’ve got to have more production out of there. … There were times they (UW’s backs) were set up with one-on-one situations with the safety, and they were not winning. So I think it doesn’t just fall on (the offensive line).”

The O-line, he said, was athletic and intelligent enough to be “elite” in pass protection, and would perform better in the running game within a scheme that better leveraged their strengths.

How’s that for calling your shot?

Grubb’s faith in Huff surely contributed to his confidence in that group’s potential, and his desire to retain Huff despite no prior professional connection is particularly noteworthy, considering the necessary chemistry between a coordinator and his o-line coach. For example: when Jeff Tedford hired DeBoer back in 2017 to run the offense at Fresno State, Tedford actually had his own O-line coach in mind. But as he told the Argus Leader a few years ago, he wanted his OC and O-line coach to share a close relationship, and that’s how Grubb came to accompany DeBoer to Fresno in that role.

Redemption and reclamation were themes of the 2022 UW Huskies season. Michael Penix Jr. changed his compound modifier from “injury-plagued” to “Heisman-candidate.” Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan went from underutilized talents to 1,000-yard stars. But it’s possible nobody reversed his fortunes to the same degree as Huff, whose O-line, it turned out, could actually thrive within a less stubborn offensive scheme. And he’s proven he can still recruit more than a little; the Huskies, in fact, appear set to roll out an offensive line this season featuring four blue-chip recruits, all of them recruited by Huff.

He deserves credit for weathering the storm. And DeBoer and Grubb deserve credit for cutting through the noise and seeing Huff for what he actually was, and not what the 2021 season suggested he might be.

This article was originally published at OnMontlake.com, the new home for Christian Caple’s full UW Huskies football coverage. Subscribe to On Montlake for full access to in-depth UW coverage.

More from UW Huskies insider Christian Caple

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• 7 questions to ponder after UW Huskies’ spring practices
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• Should Huskies move Voi Tunuufi over with Sav’ell Smalls moving on?
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