CHRISTIAN CAPLE

DeBoer in Year 2: What did past UW Huskies HCs do for an encore?

May 20, 2023, 9:50 AM

UW Huskies...

UW Huskies coach Kalen Deboer celebrates with Rome Odunze after a win at Oregon. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

Kalen DeBoer already outdid every UW Huskies coach in his debut season.

Can he top it in Year 2?

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Washington’s 11-2 record in 2022 was an all-time best — by a margin of three victories — for a UW Huskies coach in his first season. Accordingly, expectations are probably higher for DeBoer than they’ve been for any second-year Huskies coach in the modern era, with several preseason projections placing the UW Huskies in the top-10 nationally.

How did previous UW coaches fare in their encore performance? We examine each since 1975.

Don James, 1975-92

Year 1: 6-5

Year 2: 5-6

James took over for another legendary coach, Jim Owens, who also spent 18 seasons at Washington but retired at age 47 with the program in decline. Fans weren’t particularly high on James after Year 2. Consecutive losses to UCLA, California and USC contributed to a below-.500 record, and some wondered going into the 1977 season whether James was the right guy to turn things around. Those doubts only increased when the Huskies started 1-3, but behind quarterback Warren Moon, they won six of their next seven to clinch the Pac-8 title, then beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl — the first of James’ six career appearances in the game.

Jim Lambright, 1993-98

Year 1: 7-4

Year 2: 7-4

Both of Lambright’s first two seasons commenced under the cloud of bowl probation, but Year 2 produced a pair of landmark results — one of them good, one of them not. There was the “Whammy in Miami,” a 38-20 Huskies win that snapped the heavily-favored Hurricanes’ 58-game home winning streak. And there was “The Pick,” Kenny Wheaton’s 97-yard interception return for a touchdown to seal a monumental 31-20 victory for Oregon.

Lambright never did get over the hump. UW fell one victory shy of the Pac-10 title in both 1995 and 1996. The Huskies were a preseason top-five team in 1997 but injuries precipitated a three-game losing streak in November, and Lambright was fired after a 6-6 finish in 1998.

Rick Neuheisel, 1999-2002

Year 1: 7-5

Year 2: 11-1

Neuheisel had the best Year 2 of any coach in UW history. He followed a disappointing finish in 1999 — the Huskies came up a single win shy of a conference title — with an 11-1 record, Rose Bowl victory and No. 3 final ranking in 2000. It was downhill from there, however. The Huskies were a top-25 team in 2001, but didn’t seriously contend for a conference championship and finished 8-4 after losing to Texas in the Holiday Bowl. They slipped to 7-6 in 2002, salvaging a bowl appearance by winning their final three games against Pacific Northwest rivals Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State. But the school fired Neuheisel in June for his participation in a March Madness gambling pool.

Keith Gilbertson, 2003-04

Year 1: 6-6

Year 2: 1-10

After being promoted from offensive coordinator to replace the hastily fired Neuheisel, Gilbertson oversaw a fraught Year 1 that ultimately saw the Huskies extend their streak of non-losing seasons to 27, but just barely. With the star quarterback-receiver connection of Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams moving on, the Huskies had little offensive juice in 2004 and couldn’t really stop anybody, either. They went winless in conference play for the first time since 1973. UW announced Gilbertson’s firing Nov. 1, though he finished the season.

Tyrone Willingham, 2005-08

Year 1: 2-9

Year 2: 5-7

If there was a “best” year of the Willingham era, it was his second, which the Huskies actually started 4-2 before senior quarterback Isaiah Stanback suffered a Lisfranc injury that ended his season. (UW received the 28th-most votes in the Week 6 AP top-25 poll, if you can believe it.) Of course, 2006 mostly will be remembered for the “Suddenly Senior” game against Stanford. Earlier that week, Willingham informed several fourth-year juniors they would be included in senior-day festivities because they were not welcome back for their final year of eligibility. This famously irked many other players, and preceded a 20-3 home loss to the previously winless Cardinal. UW rallied to upset Washington State in the Apple Cup the following week to snap a five-game losing streak.

Things got worse in 2007 (4-9) and cratered in 2008 (0-12), when Willingham was fired.

Steve Sarkisian, 2009-13

Year 1: 5-7

Year 2: 7-6

The UW Huskies were in such disarray when Sarkisian took over that he noted players didn’t even wear UW gear to his first meeting as head coach. They narrowly missed bowl eligibility in Year 1, and appeared headed toward a similar fate the following season, their record sitting at 3-6 with three games to play. They won all of them, though, including a last-minute Apple Cup victory that sealed their first bowl appearance in seven years. UW avenged an earlier defeat to Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, ending Sarkisian’s second season — and the career of heralded quarterback Jake Locker — on a relatively high note. It didn’t prove to be a launching pad toward greater things, though. The Huskies managed only seven wins in each of the next two seasons, and held an 8-4 record in 2013 when Sarkisian left to coach USC.

Chris Petersen, 2014-19

Year 1: 8-6

Year 2: 7-6

Petersen inherited four players drafted in the first 44 picks of the 2015 NFL Draft, then rebuilt in Year 2 with several of his own recruits, including true freshmen like quarterback Jake Browning, tailback Myles Gaskin and left tackle Trey Adams. The offense needed most of the season to coalesce around its young core, though a defense led by sophomore safety Budda Baker helped the Huskies scratch out a 6-6 record before defeating Southern Miss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. That season-ending, three-game winning streak propelled the Huskies toward higher expectations, and a College Football Playoff bid in Petersen’s third season. They followed with New Year’s Six bowl appearances in 2017 and 2018 before struggling to an 8-5 finish in 2019, and Petersen unexpectedly resigned two days after the Apple Cup.

Jimmy Lake, 2020-21

Year 1: 3-1

Year 2: 4-5 (4-8 final)

Lake never actually coached a full season at Washington. The COVID-19 pandemic shortened his debut season, and Lake was suspended for one week and then fired before the 2021 season ended. It was a disaster in nearly every way, beginning with a 13-7 loss to FCS Montana, and ending with UW’s most lopsided Apple Cup defeat ever. It was a 26-16 home loss to Oregon that accelerated Lake’s ouster. ESPN cameras showed him appearing to strike and shove a player on the sideline after a kickoff. UW suspended him for the following week, then fired him the day after the Huskies’ loss to Arizona State.

This column from UW Huskies football insider Christian Caple is exclusive to Seattle Sports. Subscribe to OnMontlake.com for full access to Caple’s in-depth Husky coverage.

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