Kalen DeBoer is Washington’s 30th head football coach.
Not Matt Campbell, or Justin Wilcox, or Bob Stoops, or Kalani Sitake, or any of the other names that inhabited two weeks of coach search stories and message board threads. Certainly not Lincoln Riley, who may have instantly shifted the Pac-12 power structure by trading Oklahoma for USC on Sunday.
UW athletic director Jen Cohen arrived in Fresno, Calif., on Monday to finalize a deal with DeBoer, multiple sources confirmed to the Seattle Times. That deal is now done, the university announced Monday afternoon.
“My family and I are so grateful for the opportunity to lead such a storied program and be part of this prestigious institution,” DeBoer said in a press release. “The tough, hard-nosed tradition of Washington football speaks for itself, and it was obvious throughout this process that UW is committed to competing at the highest level. This is a perfect fit for me and I would like to thank Jen Cohen and President (Ana Mari) Cauce for their trust. We could not be more excited to get to Seattle and get to work.”
DeBoer’s deal comes after the Huskies made a significant run at Campbell, offering the Iowa State head coach a contract worth roughly $7 million annually – according to two sources – before eventually being rebuffed.
A Milbank, South Dakota, native, DeBoer has gone 12-6 in two seasons as the coach at Fresno State – including an impressive 9-3 run this fall. That record includes a stunning 40-37 upset of No. 14 UCLA on Sept. 18 and a narrow 31-24 loss at No. 11 Oregon on Sept. 4. He signed a five-year, $7 million contract in 2019.
DeBoer has previous head-coaching experience at the University of Sioux Falls – his alma mater – where he went 67-3, was named NAIA National Coach of the Year three times and won three NAIA championships in five seasons from 2005 to 2009.
Both former UW coach Chris Petersen and former Cal and Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford served as advisers to Cohen throughout the coaching search and heavily endorsed DeBoer, according to several sources.
“I could not be more excited to welcome Kalen and his wonderful family to the University of Washington,” Cohen said in a statement. “We set out to find the best fit for Husky football and we found an individual that exemplifies everything this program represents.
“Kalen is a winner and champion, plain and simple. He has succeeded at every stop because he does it the right way and is committed to a culture of excellence for Husky football student-athletes. His strong value alignment with our department, university and community will make all of Husky Nation proud.”
But given his résumé, and lack of national name recognition, DeBoer will inevitably be dubbed by some as an underwhelming hire. In the wake of Riley’s arrival at USC, it’s natural to covet a candidate with comparable sizzle. And though DeBoer may be the best man for the job, a cavalcade of questions await at Washington.
Specifically: Given former coach Jimmy Lake’s lack of head-coaching experience, does DeBoer – who has yet to sit in the hot seat on the Power Five level – qualify as an obvious upgrade? And though DeBoer touts obvious California connections, how will he fare on the recruiting trail against USC’s Riley, Oregon’s Mario Cristobal and others? Can he assemble a staff to compete with – and conquer – his Pac-12 rivals, both in recruits’ living rooms and on Saturday afternoons?
His UW tenure may ultimately depend on the answers.
But regardless of location, or level of competition, DeBoer’s offenses have always produced.
With former Husky quarterback Jake Haener under center this fall, Fresno State ranks ninth nationally in passing offense (330.1 yards per game), 10th in passing touchdowns (34), 15th in total offense (463.6 yards per game), 15th in pass efficiency rating (156.64), 16th in first downs per game (24.2), 17th in completion percentage (66.8%) and 25th in red zone touchdown percentage (68.75%).
DeBoer has helped elevate Haener – who transferred from UW to Fresno State before the 2019 season after losing a quarterback competition to Jacob Eason – into one of the country’s premier passers. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound passer has completed 67.5% of his passes and thrown for 3,810 yards with 35 total touchdowns and nine interceptions in 12 games this fall.
Before landing the Fresno State job in 2020, DeBoer quickly transformed the offense at Indiana. In his lone season as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2019, the Hoosiers ranked eighth in the nation in completion percentage (67.9%), 15th in passing offense (302.4 yards per game), 15th in third down percentage (46.89%), 20th in first downs per game (23.4), 24th in pass efficiency rating (150.61) and 24th in yards per pass attempt (8.3). IU improved from 5-7 in 2018 to 8-5 – its best record in 26 years – and the eight wins were its third-most in school history.
DeBoer also coached at Southern Illinois (offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach, 2010-13) and Eastern Michigan (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, 2014-16), before completing his first stint at Fresno State as its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2017 and 2018.
The 47-year-old South Dakotan starred at wide receiver at Sioux Falls from 1993 to 1996, helping the Cougars to a NAIA Division II National Championship win over Western Washington in his senior season. At the time of his graduation, he held school records for career receiving yards (3,400), receptions (234) and receiving touchdowns (33). DeBoer also played baseball for the Cougars and currently holds program records for career batting average (.492), career slugging percentage (.944), career home runs (37) and single-season batting average (.520).
“I am excited to begin the next era of Husky Football by welcoming Kalen DeBoer to the UW family,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce said in a statement. “Coach DeBoer is committed to supporting our students on and off the field, and will help them be successful both in football and in their lives and careers after graduation. I share our community’s enthusiasm about the future of Husky Football under Coach DeBoer’s leadership.”
DeBoer’s hire comes barely two weeks after Cohen announced Lake’s firing on Nov. 14. Lake – who arrived as UW’s defensive-backs coach in 2014, before being promoted to co-defensive coordinator (2016-17), then defensive coordinator (2018-19) – went 7-6 in less than two full seasons at the helm, his first head-coaching position in any capacity.
“I recognize that terminating a coach after 13 games is unusual, and quite frankly, it certainly goes against my beliefs as an administrator,” Cohen said at the time. “However, when I know something is not working or something just isn’t right, I do have an obligation to act.
“I hired Coach Lake in 2019 full of confidence and had high expectations and did everything that I could to help him be successful. I’m really disappointed and I’m sad to be here today in his second season. As a director of athletics, his hire is on me, and I own it.”
Likewise, DeBoer’s hire is on Cohen as well.
It’s not the big name. Is it the right one?
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