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University of Washington Huskies Football

Reports: Coach Kalen DeBoer leaving Washington to succeed Nick Saban at Alabama

Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer celebrates with Troy Fautanu after defeating Washington State 24-21 on Nov. 25 in Seattle.  (Tribune News Service)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Two hours and 4 minutes before Alabama coach Nick Saban’s retirement caused panic attacks in the Pacific Northwest, Kalen DeBoer was asked how he’s feeling in the wake of Washington’s loss in the national championship game.

The 49-year-old DeBoer spoke for 3 minutes and 38 seconds Wednesday, while sitting at the desk in his office. He closed an impromptu State of the Program address by stating: “We’re ready to go attack the future.”

Just not at Washington.

DeBoer – who went 25-3 in two sensational seasons in Seattle, delivering a Pac-12 championship and a national title game appearance along the way – has agreed to become the next head coach at Alabama. He brings a 104-12 career record (as well as a $12 million buyout) to perhaps college football’s most prestigious program.

“I have always had an incredible respect for Alabama football and its commitment to excellence,” DeBoer said in a statement. “The tradition-rich history of this program is unmatched across the landscape of college athletics, and I look forward to continuing that moving forward. Following Coach Saban is an honor. He has been the standard for college football, and his success is unprecedented.

“I would not have left Washington for just any school. The chance to lead the football program at The University of Alabama is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Added UW president Ana Mari Cauce, in a separate statement: “Kalen DeBoer led a remarkable run for UW Football and showed the world that we are capable of competing at the very highest level. We are disappointed that he chose to leave, but he has left us a strong foundation to build on, both on and off the field, and we wish him the best of luck at Alabama.

“We’ll start an immediate search for the next leader of UW Football – someone who can build on these successes as we enter the Big Ten and ensure the long-term excellence of our program.”

On Monday, No. 1 Michigan (15-0) snapped DeBoer and UW’s 21-game winning streak, handing the Huskies a 34-13 loss in the national championship game. And yet, DeBoer’s impending departure Friday may qualify as UW’s most devastating defeat of the week.

That departure shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, considering extension negotiations between DeBoer and UW lasted far longer than most expected, and never reached a resolution. It’s worth noting that DeBoer and Saban share an agent, Creative Artist Agency’s Jimmy Sexton.

“It’s not that you can’t do multiple things (at once), because we are working through that with the contract,” DeBoer said on early signing day last month. “I just think you’re so focused on the recruiting and game planning (for the College Football Playoff). I’m not saying it’s not typical, but I think a lot of times things like this are done before or after the season.

“I just can’t say enough about how I feel (new UW athletic director Troy Dannen) and the university are making me a priority. So it’s been good. It may feel like it’s getting elongated, and that pressure should not be put on them. It’s just, right now we’re in the moment and we’re working in good faith with each other, and I’m appreciative of what’s going on and the direction it continues to go.”

When asked about the status of contract negotiations in a podcast with Adam Breneman before the national championship game, Dannen said: “We’re in a good place. We’ve talked and gotten to where we probably could have done something a month ago, had (DeBoer) been motivated to get it done at the time. But (he was) keeping the focus where he wanted the focus, and we’ll get to the contract.

“We’ll do a deal that UW’s never seen before. Not that it’s going to be an unprecedented deal in college athletics history, but we’re breaking new ground.”

ESPN’s Pete Thamel tweeted Friday that “Washington made a strong push to keep Kalen DeBoer, attempting to make him one of the country’s Top 10 coaches, per sources. They offered to double his current base of $4.2 million (before bonuses).” Yahoo’s Ross Dellenger, meanwhile, put UW’s final offer at “$9+ million a year for seven years.”

The 57-year-old Dannen (who was previously at Tulane) took over in October, after veteran UW Athletic Director Jen Cohen accepted the same job at USC. Part of Dannen’s appeal was his recent success in retaining top coaches, after Tulane’s Willie Fritz decided to stay last offseason following a 12-2 season and a Cotton Bowl win over USC.

(After Dannen’s departure, Fritz accepted the head job at Houston last month.)

“Our job is to put (DeBoer) in a position to succeed,” Dannen said on Oct. 10. “You talk about retention of coaches. Our guy could have left last year at Tulane. Everybody leaves Tulane after that year, and he stayed. Part of it is, as much as we talk about the money and the contract, keeping them in a position to win.”

DeBoer signed a two-year contract extension (through 2028) last November. He received a $1 million raise, from $3.2 million to $4.2 million, in 2023 – and his salary was set to increase annually by $100,000.

That contract also included a bevy of performance-related bonuses DeBoer recently accrued. Specifically, he received $850,000 for reaching the national championship game, $100,000 for winning the Pac-12 championship, $50,000 for being named Home Depot National Coach of the Year and $25,000 for earning Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors (for a second consecutive season).

Alexis DeBoer – DeBoer’s daughter, and one of the top softball prospects in the 2024 class – recently signed with Washington.

As for the future of UW’s football program, DeBoer’s departure could be devastating (at least in the short term). The Huskies are expected to lose a parade of key pieces – quarterback Michael Penix Jr.; wide receivers Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk; running back Dillon Johnson; left tackle Troy Fautanu; edge Bralen Trice; defensive linemen Tuli Letuliasenoa and Ulumoo Ale; linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio – to the NFL draft. And when a coach abruptly leaves, players are afforded a 30-day window to enter the transfer portal.

“I’m sick for the boys man …” Fautanu tweeted after Friday’s news broke.

Historically, few Husky coaches have voluntarily left for another job, with high-profile outliers being Darrell Royal (who spent a single 5-5 season in Seattle before leading Texas to three national titles over two decades) and Steve Sarkisian (who bolted to USC in 2013 after five years at Washington).

Saban went 206-29 in 17 seasons at Alabama, securing nine SEC titles and six national championships. The Tide’s 16 national titles are second all time, behind only Yale (which last won a national championship in football in 1927).

A Milbank, South Dakota, native, DeBoer went 67-3 and won three NAIA national championships in five years at the University of Sioux Falls – his alma mater – from 2005 to 2009, and was 12-6 in two seasons at Fresno State (2020-21).

Between head coaching opportunities, he operated as the offensive coordinator at Southern Illinois (2010-13), Eastern Michigan (2014-16), Fresno State (2017-18) and Indiana (2019).

Last offseason, UW standout offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb interviewed for the offensive coordinator job at Alabama, before deciding to return to Washington.

Like Grubb, DeBoer has never coached or recruited in the SEC.

But apparently, he’s ready to attack the future.

As for Washington?

“Kalen DeBoer has been an outstanding leader of our football program and what he accomplished in two seasons on Montlake will forever be a part of our storied history,” Dannen said in a statement. “We are sad to see him leave and we did all that we could to keep Kalen at UW. But ultimately, he made a decision that was in the best interests of his family and furthered his professional goals. We thank Kalen for his service to Washington and wish him, Nicole, Alexis and Avery the very best in their new endeavor.

“We have one of the best head coaching jobs in all of college football, with our recent success, our upcoming entry into the premier intercollegiate athletics conference, the Big Ten, our passionate supporters and fanbase, and a world-class university. Our search for a new head coach is underway and I am excited about what comes next for Husky Football.”