Washington fires coach Jimmy Lake after less than 2 seasons

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SEATTLE — When Chris Petersen suddenly decided to step away as football coach at Washington in the days after the 2019 Apple Cup, athletic director Jen Cohen believed the best replacement for the Huskies was already on staff.

No search firms were needed. Jimmy Lake was her chosen successor for Petersen.

And after less than two seasons, he’s no longer the coach at Washington.

“I recognize that terminating a coach after 13 games is unusual and quite frankly it certainly goes against my belief as an administrator,” Cohen said. “However when I know something is not working or something just isn’t right I do have an obligation to act.”

Lake was fired by Washington on Sunday, unceremoniously cast aside amid a wave of missteps and backlash in just his second season on the job.

Lake’s firing concluded a stunningly fast fall with a team that began the season ranked in The AP Top 25 and stumbled through embarrassing losses that raised discontent in the fan base. Washington is 4-6 and needs wins in its final two games to become bowl eligible. Washington opted not to play in a bowl game last season due to COVID-19 issues. The last time Washington failed to qualify for a bowl game was 2009.

Cohen said the school will honor the terms of Lake’s contract, which puts Washington on the hook for more than $9 million dollars. Lake went 7-6 in the 13 games he coached.

“I evaluated the football program like I evaluate every program at Washington, holistically,” Cohen said. “So you go back to the looking at opportunities for student athletes both on and off the field, recruiting, leadership. It was just a combination of things that I came to the conclusion that I just didn’t have confidence in coach Lake’s ability to continue to lead the program moving forward.”

A coaching change for Washington seemed to be building from the start of the season, but accelerated in the past two weeks.

Lake was suspended without pay for Saturday’s 35-30 loss to Arizona State after a sideline incident the previous week against Oregon, when Lake swatted at and then shoved one of his players. The incident only added to the heat on Lake and the suspension seemed a precursor to an eventual separation.

Cohen said the suspension was separate from her decision to fire Lake, a decision she said was made in the past few days.

Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory will serve as interim coach the remaining two games, including the Apple Cup rivalry against Washington State.

The Cougars are also being led by an interim coach after letting go of Nick Rolovich for failing to comply with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Washington State (5-5) is 1-2 since Rolovich was fired – also less than two seasons into his tenure like Lake – and defensive coordinator Jake Dickert took over.

Washington went 3-1 during a truncated 2020 season that was cut short after a COVID-19 outbreak within the program caused the Huskies to cancel their game against Oregon, miss out on a spot in the Pac-12 championship game and decline a bowl invitation.

Washington entered this season with high expectations and was ranked No. 20 in the preseason poll. But the Huskies were beaten at home by FCS powerhouse Montana 13-7 to open the season and suffered a 31-10 beating at Michigan in Week 2.

The two losses created a hole that Lake could not climb out of and growing weight of fan anger with each passing week, even when the Huskies won.

The final straw was Washington’s 26-16 loss to No. 5 Oregon on Nov. 6 night where Lake had a sideline incident with one of his players. Lake swatted his right arm toward Ruperake Fuavai during a brief skirmish on the Washington sideline and then shoved his player as he walked away. Fuavai appeared to be exchanging words with Oregon’s Jaylon Redd.

The sideline moment led to his suspension, but it was also another misstep on a growing list that included Lake starting a rivalry week by taking a shot at the academics of Oregon while talking about recruiting.

Washington was the first head coaching job for Lake, who had grown into one of the most coveted assistants in the country while working for Petersen.

Lake turned down overtures from Alabama and other major programs to remain at Washington, and when Petersen surprisingly stepped down after the 2019 regular season, the Huskies turned to what seemed the obvious choice.

“As the director of athletics the hire is on me and I own it,” Cohen said.

Lake received a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $16 million. But he made multiple missteps along the way, most glaring the decision to hire John Donovan as his offensive coordinator. Donovan’s lack of success at previous stops did little to inspire belief Washington would be any different and he was fired the day after the loss to Oregon with the Huskies ranked in bottom third nationally in several offensive categories.

Lake came to Washington when Petersen made the move from Boise State in 2014. Lake was named co-defensive coordinator for the Huskies in 2016.

Before his time at Washington, Lake worked at Eastern Washington, Montana State and Boise State at the college level, and for Tampa Bay and Detroit in the NFL.

“I’m just disappointed and just really sad that this has not worked out,” Cohen said.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.