Opinion: What could go wrong with Jimmy Lake at the helm in Washington? Everything.

Dan Wolken

We are just a few weeks shy of the eighth anniversary of Washington pulling one of the college football coups of the century. At the time, the Huskies had been planted firmly in the middle of the Pac-12 standings. But when Washington got Chris Petersen to finally leave Boise State, everything changed. 

Almost overnight, the promise of elevating the Huskies’ program into the nation’s elite became their reality with a pair of Pac-12 titles and a College Football Playoff berth to show for it. 

Petersen’s credibility was such that when he walked away after the 2019 season citing burnout and a desire to spend time doing other things, Washington fans were far more grateful than upset. And with the job being handed off to assistant Jimmy Lake, whom Petersen had championed to replace him, what could possibly go wrong?

As we found out the last few weeks, the answer was everything. 

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Jimmy Lake is out at Washington.

Washington hasn’t just fallen from grace in the two years since Petersen’s been gone, it’s practically back to square one. Though he’s only been at the helm for 13 games, Lake may have already coached his last one. 

It’s not just that Washington is an underwhelming 4-6, having already fired offensive coordinator John Donovan — an awful hire from the start that should have immediately called Lake’s decision-making into question. 

And it’s not just that he made a ridiculous, embarrassing and fundamentally false comment before last week’s Oregon game that Washington doesn’t recruit much against the Ducks because it prefers to recruit against "more academically prowess" teams like Stanford and Notre Dame. 

Now, the conversation has shifted to more serious matters. During the Oregon game, Lake charged at linebacker Ruperake Fuavai, hitting him in the helmet with a play sheet and shoving him out of frustration. That earned Lake a one-game suspension, which is why he wasn't on the sideline for this week’s 35-30 loss to Arizona State

Then on Saturday, more allegations surfaced in the Seattle Times where five eyewitnesses — all speaking to the paper on the condition of anonymity — say they witnessed Lake (then the defensive coordinator) throw receiver Quinten Pounds up against a locker at halftime of a game against Arizona in 2019. 

Lake issued a statement denying anything improper, and it appears there was no issue raised at the time to school officials. 

However, once the snowball of allegations gets rolling downhill, it’s hard to know when it’s going to stop or what kind of mess it might collect along the way. And it’s fair to say that even with what we know now, Washington would be well within reason to just cut the cord and start over. 

Whether Lake gets all, some or none of the $9.9 million remaining on his contract isn’t really anyone’s concern except for the bean-counters at the Washington athletic department. The fans just want the school to admit its mistake now before any more pain can be inflicted on a program that has gone from Pac-12 bully to also-ran almost overnight. 

At the same time, key questions need to be asked here. When an administration gets a hire so wrong that it needs to be rectified after 13 games, can fans trust that they’ll do any better on a mulligan? Is Petersen going to be involved again in picking the coach after whiffing so badly on Lake? And will Washington have the resources to hire someone who can actually compete with Oregon, not just bloviate about academic standards?

Just eight short years after a hire that put Washington on top of the world, the Huskies are suddenly staring into the abyss. Removing Lake is just the first step toward regaining the credibility they had. But even once that happens, there’s going to be a long road to redemption. 

That’s why Washington is No. 1 on this week’s Misery Index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched.