CHRISTIAN CAPLE

5 UW Huskies hires under Kalen DeBoer that have paid off

Jun 15, 2023, 2:43 PM

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)

When the UW Huskies fired Jimmy Lake, replacing him with new coach Kalen DeBoer was only one part of the rebuilding process.

Who would DeBoer bring with him to help resurrect a program that finished the 2021 season with a 4-8 record?

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With an 11-2 season behind them and high expectations awaiting in 2023, here are five key hires who helped DeBoer and the Huskies recover quickly in Year 1 — and have them in position to aim higher in Year 2.

Ryan Grubb, offensive coordinator

Grubb first worked under DeBoer as an assistant at then-NAIA University of Sioux Falls in 2007, and they later worked together at Eastern Michigan and Fresno State. DeBoer hired Grubb as his offensive coordinator upon taking the head-coaching job at Fresno in 2020, and brought him to Seattle in the same role, noting that Grubb was the only person to whom he had ever entrusted play-calling duties.

It was something of a surprise when Grubb came to UW at an annual salary of $1 million, more than any OC in school history. But after orchestrating an offensive turnaround that saw Washington rank among the nation’s best in scoring and passing — and in response to serious interest from Texas A&M  — the school eventually extended Grubb’s contract and doubled his salary to $2 million per year. Alabama came calling, too, but Grubb decided to stick around for another season as DeBoer’s playcaller.

Courtney Morgan, director of player personnel

Morgan played offensive line at Michigan more than two decades ago, and Jim Harbaugh hired him as the Wolverines’ director of player personnel ahead of the 2021 season … which saw Michigan earn its first College Football Playoff bid. But Morgan still chose to leave his alma mater after less than a year to work for DeBoer, with whom he had worked at Fresno State in 2020.

“My heart was at Michigan,” he said in February 2022, “but my brain was with Coach DeBoer.”

Overseeing UW’s roster construction and recruiting operation, Morgan helped assemble a 2023 class that ranked No. 25 nationally and included eight blue-chip prospects. He has connections with high-school coaches, trainers and 7-on-7 teams across the country, but his relationships in California are especially valuable — particularly in the Los Angeles area. DeBoer also raves about his work ethic.

JaMarcus Shephard, receivers coach/associate head coach/passing game coordinator

Shephard actually was DeBoer’s second receivers coach hire, because he chose to retain Junior Adams from the previous staff. A vacancy arose, though, when Adams made the surprising decision to leave for a job coaching receivers on the staff of first-year coach Dan Lanning at Oregon.

With star receivers Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan contemplating their futures, DeBoer had to make the right hire to ensure both wideouts stayed in the program. Shephard had been the receivers coach at Purdue for five seasons and was highly regarded. DeBoer had him meet with Odunze, McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk during his interview, and the players gave their stamp of approval.

Catching passes from Michael Penix Jr., Odunze and McMillan became the first receivers in school history to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in the same season, and Odunze led the Pac-12 in receiving.

Ron McKeefery, strength and conditioning coach

There was little doubt DeBoer would bring McKeefery with him from Fresno State, because he had been highly complimentary of the Bulldogs’ strength program during his tenure. McKeefery is a two-time honoree as the top strength and conditioning coach in college athletics, and has worked in the NFL, MLB and with U.S. Army special forces.

Prior to the 2022 season, DeBoer shared with reporters at Pac-12 Media Day that UW players had cut an average of 2.5 percent body fat during their offseason workouts with McKeefery, and had gained an average of seven pounds of muscle, along with increases in bench-press average and max, and average speed per player.

Scott Huff, offensive line coach

Huff already was on staff, and had been since Chris Petersen hired him to replace Chris Strausser prior to the 2017 season. But it seemed no sure thing that DeBoer would retain him, considering how severely Washington’s offensive line underperformed in 2021. DeBoer and Grubb looked at a larger sample size than just that season, though, when evaluating whether to keep Huff, and ultimately decided the 2021 season was an aberration.

In DeBoer’s first season, UW’s offensive line allowed only seven sacks all season, tied for second-fewest in FBS, and Huff landed a five-player signing class in the 2023 cycle. He’s also picked up a commitment from four-star prospect Paki Finau in 2024.

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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