SEATTLE — The decision to select Jimmy Lake as Chris Petersen’s successor at Washington was a nod to continuity.
The Huskies had rejoined the national conversation under Petersen. It made sense for the most obvious head coaching candidate on his staff to take the reins when Petersen left less than two years ago.
A series of missteps by Lake, including posting a losing record during a season that began with high expectations, has now left Washington back at square one.
The Huskies are hiring a search firm, creating an advisory committee and hoping to find the right fit this time after Lake was fired Sunday.
“We’re going to have an open mind to that,” Washington athletic director Jen Cohen said. “Obviously, we want somebody that cares deeply about developing students, both on and off the field, and can build a championship program here.”
Lake was never afforded a full normal season in charge. Washington played just four games last year before a COVID-19 outbreak ended its season early. Nine games are all he got this year. He was still the coach for the 10th game of the season, Saturday’s 35-30 loss to Arizona State, but he wasn’t on the sideline after being suspended for one game.
He was disciplined for swatting at and shoving one of his players during the previous game. The incident only added to the heat on Lake and the suspension was a precursor to his dismissal.
Cohen, who chose Lake to replace Petersen, is now tasked with making the biggest hire of her tenure.
“We’re going to run a swift search but it’s gonna be thorough, too,” Cohen said. “Our focus first and foremost is on our current student-athletes and providing them the best experience we can. We understand decisions like this can impact recruiting, but we’re going to be thorough enough to get the best coach for the University of Washington.”
Washington (4-6) has one of three head coaching vacancies in the Pac-12, along with USC and Washington State. It also has a pedigree that could create a lot of interest among coaches, including being one of only two Pac-12 teams to have reached the College Football Playoff and boasting two Pac-12 titles since 2016.
“It’s a special place. We have all the resources we need to be a championship program,” Cohen said.
The last time Washington was left looking for a replacement after a coach was fired was in 2008, when the program was at its lowest point in modern history. Tyrone Willingham had left Washington in a shambles after an 0-12 season and the youthful energy of Steve Sarkisian was the elixir the Huskies needed to return to respectability. Within two years, Sarkisian had Washington back in a bowl game and, while the Huskies plateaued under Sarkisian and there were some off-field concerns, he set the table for Petersen, who arrived in 2014.
Washington is not at the same point it was 13 years ago. But whoever takes the job will face challenges.
Washington’s current situation is similar to what the Huskies faced in the mid-1990s. Jim Lambright took over after Don James suddenly resigned before the start of the 1993 season. Lambright was a terrific defensive coordinator and never had a losing record in his six seasons as a head coach.
But a 6-6 record and a bowl game loss in 1998 led to Lambright’s firing. In stepped Rick Neuheisel, who in his second season had Washington in the Rose Bowl before running into his own off-field troubles.
Cohen is hoping she can find that kind of immediate success with her selection this time, even if it means a big expenditure.
“We have the resources to go get the best coach for Washington,” Cohen said.