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University of Washington Huskies Football

Five potential candidates to replace Kalen DeBoer as UW Huskies coach

Kansas coach Lance Leipold, left, congratulates Kansas State coach Chris Klieman after Kansas State defeated Kansas on Nov. 26, 2022, in Manhattan, Kansas.  (Tribune News Service)
By Shane Lantz Seattle Times

SEATTLE – With Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer bolting Montlake for seemingly greener pastures at Alabama, the search for his replacement quickly begins.

Washington Athletic Director Troy Dannen will undertake the biggest task of his career so far as he seeks to replace DeBoer, who led UW to a 25-3 overall record and a national championship appearance in just two seasons.

Dannen, who arrived at UW in October after eight seasons as Tulane’s AD, was responsible for the hiring of Willie Fritz, who led the Green Wave to five bowl games and three first-place AAC finishes in eight seasons before leaving for a new gig at the University of Houston last month.

With one successful football coaching hire under his belt, it will be up to Dannen to get it right again.

Here are five potential candidates Dannen could look at to replace DeBoer as the Huskies’ next head coach.

Ryan Grubb, UW offensive coordinator, associate head coach

After turning down the Alabama offensive coordinator job last year, Grubb might still see his career get a boost from the Crimson Tide. He’s been the architect of one of the best offenses in college football the past two years, and while the departures of Michael Penix Jr. and most of the team’s top offensive playmakers might make things a bit more challenging next season, Grubb would be an obvious fit if the Huskies want to keep the current system in place.

Grubb has coached with DeBoer at Sioux Falls, Eastern Michigan, Fresno State and Washington, so following him to Alabama isn’t out of the question. But if Grubb wants to finally take a shot at running a team of his own, there wouldn’t be any more exciting opportunity than taking over for his longtime friend and co-worker at Washington.

The other question – would UW be willing to take another chance on a coach without head coaching experience? The Huskies might be hesitant to go down that road after the same plan backfired with Jimmy Lake, who didn’t last two seasons as head coach after being promoted from defensive coordinator.

Jedd Fisch, Arizona head coach

Fisch is another attractive candidate to replace DeBoer after lifting the Wildcats program out of the depths of the Kevin Sumlin era. After going 1-11 in his first season, the Wildcats improved to 5-7 in Fisch’s second season at the helm. In 2023, the Wildcats finished 10-3 after beating Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl, the squad’s first bowl game appearance since 2017.

Over Fisch’s three seasons in Arizona, the Wildcats have gone from being the nation’s 101st-ranked team in total offense in 2021 to 21st this past season, and finished 18th in scoring offense in 2023 after being 124th in the nation in Fisch’s first year.

Fisch has a Seattle connection, having been the Seahawks’ quarterbacks coach in Pete Carroll’s debut season in Seattle in 2010, and was offensive coordinator for Minnesota, Miami, and Jacksonville in the NFL. He was most recently a senior offensive assistant for the Los Angeles Rams from 2018 to 2019, and New England Patriots quarterbacks coach in 2020.

If the Huskies want someone with lots of experience at football’s highest levels, Fisch’s 13 NFL seasons are definitely a big selling point.

Lance Leipold, Kansas head coach

Leipold, who has been the head coach at Kansas since 2021, seems like another potential fit for the Huskies. Since taking over a Jayhawks squad that finished 0-9 in 2020, Leipold has led the program to consecutive bowl games for only the second time in team history.

The Jayhawks finished 9-4 this season after a win over UNLV in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, and had the 17th-best scoring offense and 21st total offense in all of college football.

Leipold will bring a run-first offensive approach, as the Jayhawks ran the ball 499 times this past season while passing 311 times, and finished eighth in the nation with 2,678 yards on the ground.

He’d bring a much different offensive attack than DeBoer and Grubb’s pass-first fireworks show, but Leipold’s ground-and-pound approach might fit in well when the Huskies make the shift to the Big Ten.

Leipold previously spent eight years as the head coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he won six NCAA Division III national titles and finished with 109-6 overall record, before winning two MAC East titles and two MAC Coach of the Year awards in six seasons at Buffalo and leading the Bulls to their first NCAA Top 25 ranking in 2020.

Chris Klieman, Kansas State head coach

Klieman, a native of Waterloo, Iowa, has taken Kansas State to four bowl games in the past five years after finishing up a highly successful five year run at North Dakota State from 2014 to 2018.

Klieman won four FCS national championships during his stint with the Bison, the first two coming with Carson Wentz at quarterback. After claiming another title in 2018, Klieman left for Kansas State, where he has led one of the Big 12’s best offenses over the past several years.

Kansas State finished second in the Big 12 in scoring offense this season with an average of 37.1 points per game, and had the 11th-best rushing offense and 10th-best scoring offense in the nation as DJ Giddens piled up more than 1,200 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.

Like Leipold, Klieman would bring a much different style of offense to Montlake, but there is no question about his championship pedigree. Like DeBoer, Klieman has won plenty of titles at college football’s lower levels.

Pete Carroll, former head coach of Seahawks

His schedule is definitely open. Carroll’s 14-year tenure as Seahawks head coach came to an end earlier this week when he and the team “mutually” decided that he would transition to an advisor role. Maybe Carroll will take this opportunity to step back from being a head coach and take a breath. Or maybe not.

If the chance comes for Carroll to take over one of the most exciting programs in college football, don’t you think he’d relish the opportunity? With an 83-19 official record and two national championships at USC, Carroll is one of the most successful college coaches of all time. At 72 years old, he still has the energy of someone who is decades younger.

He’s a long-shot candidate, but it sure would be fun for fans to see Carroll chomping on his gum again on the Husky Stadium sidelines.