Bruce Feldman: Top candidates for UW Huskies’ head coaching job
Jan 12, 2024, 3:32 PM | Updated: 4:55 pm
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The UW Huskies have joined the Seattle Seahawks as teams in the Pacific Northwest looking for a new head coach.
Kalen DeBoer is leaving Washington for Alabama, and Washington will now have its fourth full-time head coach in five-plus years.
Was it surprising that the South Dakota-born DeBoer, who went 25-3 while leading the Huskies to a national championship appearance, is leaving Washington for Alabama and not a top midwest school like Michigan? Top college football insider Bruce Feldman of The Athletic discussed that with Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob on Friday, as well as who he sees as four top candidates for UW’s head coach opening.
“There was a little surprise to be honest just because with this job … it’s a way different dynamic,” Feldman said of Alabama compared to Michigan and Washington. ” … Michigan, yes, they just won a national title. But at Alabama, it’s the SEC, a different part of the country, but you’re also replacing the greatest college football coach of all time (Nick Saban). I mean, that is quite a burden and it’s also just such a different dynamic down there.”
Feldman, who has talked to DeBoer a lot these past two years, said the head coach is “different” and can handle that pressure more than other Alabama head coaching candidates.
“And Kalen Deboer, we’ll wait to hear exactly what he says about this, but I suspect he is drawn to the challenge of being the guy to replace Nick Saban, the greatest coach of all-time. And that’s something,” Feldman said.
Who will coach Washington?
So what’s next for the UW Huskies? Feldman said they have a candidate in-house that would be a natural fit to be head coach if he doesn’t follow DeBoer to Alabama.
“You have a really strong candidate internally in Ryan Grubb, and obviously he spent a long time and goes way back with with DeBoer at the NAIA level,” he said.
Grubb has been DeBoer’s offensive coordinator these past two years at Washington, and he held that same role at Fresno State, DeBoer’s previous head coaching stop.
The last time UW promoted an internal candidate to head football coach, it was former defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, who didn’t last two full seasons in the post. But that shouldn’t stop Washington from considering Grubb for that opening, Feldman said.
“They’re completely different situations and different coaches and different personalities,” he said of Grubb and Lake. “But does Washington say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna have a full-blown search?’ And do they look and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to try to hire somebody who has head coaching experience as we navigate the move to the Big Ten and deal with all this stuff?’ I think Ryan Grubb is a really good candidate. I’m surprised that a San Diego State or a bunch of other pretty good jobs that came up didn’t try to scoop him up, or weren’t able to scoop him up.”
If it’s not Grubb, Feldman thinks a head coach that UW played against this year would be a great target: Arizona’s Jedd Fisch, who led the Wildcats to a 10-3 record in 2023.
“I think Jedd Fisch would be a really strong candidate for Washington. He has done an amazing job at Arizona,” Feldman said. “They were horrific when he got there and this year just won 10 games. That’s something to do there, and they’re going to be really good next year if he stays because almost everybody is back. He is a guy who makes some sense on a lot of levels. He’s obviously done well on the West Coast, he’s worked in Seattle from his time under Pete Carroll (as Seahawks quarterbacks coach in 2010), he’s coached in the Big Ten where obviously they’re going to because he was on Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan. Now, I know that Arizona has offered him a new contract and they want him there, but nothing has been finalized or finished on that front from what I’m told. So I think he’s a guy that I would expect they would look at if they if they don’t just go to Grubb.”
Two Big 12 coaches are also worth keeping an eye on, Feldman said.
“Lance Leipold has done an amazing job at Kansas and done an amazing job everywhere,” he said. “He’s never worked out here on the west coast, but Lance Leipold wins wherever he goes. If Alabama didn’t get Kalen DeBoer, that’s who I would have thought they should have gone to next with Lance Leipold. He’s that good of a coach.”
The other Big 12 coach? Also in Kansas: Kansas State’s Chris Kleiman.
“(He is) another guy who did really well at lower divisions, won national titles at North Dakota State, has done really well at Kansas State and won the Big 12 last year and won nine games this year. I could see him as another legitimate candidate,” Feldman said.
“My point here is they have really good options right now,” Feldman added. “I think going forward, whether it’s do you give Grubb the chance or do you try to grab Jedd Fisch or can you can you get one of these other guys? I think they have a lot to sell and I think they will have good candidates who could be in play.”