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Matt Calkins: Co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake staying at Washington, with a smile on his face

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 20, 2019, 12:08 p.m.

Washington co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake works with players at  spring football practice on  March 28, 2018, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Washington co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake works with players at spring football practice on March 28, 2018, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – I remember walking past Jimmy Lake on Jan. 19 when the Alabama rumors were at their peak. The Crimson Tide had just competed in their fourth straight national-title game, two of which it won, and were reportedly wooing Lake to be their next defensive coordinator.

I wasn’t about to ask Lake, a North Central grad and former Eastern Washington standout, which way he was leaning in that situation. He was just a man walking into Hec Ed to watch some Husky hoops.

But one thing stood out as we exchanged friendly greetings. Lake looked as happy as could be.

Perhaps that is to be expected of a co-defensive coordinator who’s earning $1.1 million annually. Perhaps that’s the default setting for a coach whose team has reached the College Football Playoff and Rose Bowl in two of its past three seasons.

Still, ’Bama is ’Bama – a CFB staple that lets coaches play with the shiniest toys in the nation. If you’re looking to nab a head-coaching gig one day, is Tuscaloosa not the most capable catapult?

I don’t know if the answer to that is a definite “yes.” But I do know that the Tide released a list of new assistant coaches Friday, and Lake’s name wasn’t on it.

As my colleague Adam Jude tweeted, “guess we can now officially say Jimmy Lake said no to Nick Saban for a second straight year.”

The takeaways? 1) The atmosphere at Washington must be one of the most coach-friendly in the country. 2) This is another reminder of when to know when you’re happy.

I got a feeling the smiles-per-capita ratio under Saban pales compared to most coaching staffs. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it when you get your championship ring, but it seems flagellation regularly precedes celebration.

Former Raiders and USC head coach Lane Kiffin was the offensive coordinator under Saban the year Alabama met the Huskies in the CFP semifinals. A few months earlier, Saban famously chewed out Kiffin on the sideline despite the Tide holding a 28-point lead over Western Kentucky with 46 seconds left in the game.

But harsh words toward subordinates don’t seem terribly unusual over there. Former Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said the most fun he and his teammates had in practice was watching Saban lay into Kiffin.

Obviously, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator are different positions. But the susceptibility to a tongue-lashing (not the language Saban used when describing his outburst at Kiffin) is equally high. Do you want to move across the country to that type of environment when you’re already crushing it in Seattle?

Washington has led the Pac-12 in scoring defense in each of the past four years, being the only school to keep teams under 20 points per game last season. The Huskies were sixth in the country in scoring defense last year, seventh the year before that and 10th the year before that.

And think of the recent UW products out of the secondary, which has been Lake’s area of focus. Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King were all selected in the first two rounds. Come April, Byron Murphy and Taylor Rapp likely will be, too.

If you’re on the back end at UW, you’ll end up at the front end on draft day.

I imagine that’s part of the appeal for a guy such as Lake at Washington. Molding two- or three- or four-star recruits into stars probably feels more satisfying than managing the five-star guys.

It reminds me of an old friend who, 10 years ago, said she learned way more about marketing while working for the Clippers than she did for the Lakers.

“The Lakers don’t have to market,” she said.

A couple of days ago, outkickthecoverage.com’s Clay Travis said that the guy who does something because he loves it is always going to beat the guy who does something for the perks. Alabama offered a better chance at a title and national fanfare, but my guess is the structure at UW was more conducive to coaching the way Lake wants it.

That says something about Chris Petersen’s program. It suggests that having “the right fit” is just as true about the coaching staff as it is about the roster.

My guess is that Lake will be a Division I head coach one day. Until then, he’ll stay where he’s happiest.

That’s a good thing for him, and a better thing for Washington.

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