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Washington fires head coach Jimmy Lake

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After just 13 games, Jimmy Lake’s time as Washington’s head coach ended Sunday, sources told Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel.

Washington confirmed the Yahoo Sports report via statement from athletic director Jen Cohen:

"Making a head coaching change in any sport is difficult, recognizing that the decision impacts coaches, staff, student-athletes and their families. However, as the steward of UW Athletics, I must always act in the best interests of our student-athletes, our department and our university. No one wanted Jimmy to succeed more than I when I hired him in 2019, but ultimately, this change is necessary for a variety of reasons, both on the field and off. I am grateful for Jimmy's service to Washington, and we wish him the very best of luck moving forward."

Assistant coach Bob Gregory will be the interim coach for the rest of Washington's season as a national search for Lake's replacement will immediately begin.

The news comes a week after Lake was hit with a one-game suspension following a sideline incident with a player during the Oregon game. Video showed Lake striking linebacker Ruperake Fuavai in the facemask and then pushing him after Fuavai and an Oregon player were engaged near the Washington bench after a first-half kickoff.

Lake said after the game that he did not strike Fuavai, but he “separated” him from the Oregon player. Nonetheless, the incident led to a one-game suspension from Washington athletic director Jen Cohen, who said the school has “no tolerance for a coach interacting with a student in the manner Coach Lake did.”

On Saturday, before Washington faced Arizona State without Lake, the Seattle Times published a story detailing another alleged incident involving Lake. According to the story, which cited “five eyewitnesses,” Lake was accused of shoving a player two years ago during a game at Arizona. Lake was Washington’s defensive coordinator at the time.

Lake denied that “anything improper” happened in a statement to the Times:

“Lake comes in on just a complete rampage pretty much, picks up Quinten Pounds and throws him into a locker,” one eyewitness said. “Those lockers there were wooden lockers, and it was violent. It really caught everyone by surprise. It was really unprompted. He just kind of did that and then went on a tangent about how the offense needs to start playing better.”

Lake issued a statement to The Times on Friday: “I absolutely deny anything improper went on at halftime of the University of Arizona game in 2019. There were numerous witnesses in the game — from equipment room, to football staff, to strength and conditioning coaches, and no one came to me with concerns after halftime, after the game, never.

The UW athletic department told the Times that it was “made aware of the alleged 2019 incident” while it investigated the incident with Fuavai. Several of the individuals contacted by the Times said the 2019 incident wasn’t a big deal, though others said it “did cross a line.”

Washington coach Jimmy Lake, center, stands on the sideline during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against UCLA, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Seattle. UCLA won 24-17. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington coach Jimmy Lake, center, finished 7-6 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Lake was assistant before being promoted to head coach

Lake was an assistant coach under Chris Petersen at Boise State and Washington. Lake began as the Huskies’ defensive backs coach but was later promoted to defensive coordinator. Later on, when Petersen decided to step away from coaching, Lake — who was acclaimed for his work with the UW secondary — was Petersen's handpicked successor to lead the Huskies' program.

Lake’s first season was the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Washington played in just four games and went 3-1.

Expectations were very high for the Huskies entering the 2021 season, but it began with an epic dud. The Huskies were upset 13-7 at home by Montana, an FCS program. The offense played miserably that day, and it would be a trend that lingered throughout the season. The next week, Washington got blown out 31-10 in a marquee non-conference game at Michigan.

After those two losses, the questions about Lake’s decision to hire John Donovan as his offensive coordinator got louder. Donovan was fired by Penn State in 2015 and had spent several seasons as a low-level assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars, yet Lake (a defensive coach) curiously chose Donovan as the coach to run his offense.

Over the course of the season, there were a few solid performances from the offense. But the Nov. 6 loss to Oregon — a game where Washington had just 166 yards of offense — was the final straw. Donovan was fired the next day.

That was also the game where Lake was captured shoving Fuavai, and Lake’s suspension was announced a day after he fired Donovan.

Lake made headlines earlier that week when he was asked if Washington and Oregon were rivals on the recruiting trail. Lake said Washington mainly battled with schools like Notre Dame, Stanford and USC — schools with “more academic prowess,” according to Lake.

“In our world, we battle more academically prowess teams,” Lake said.

It was a comment that brought unnecessary headlines to a program already having a lackluster season. And it wouldn’t be long after that Lake’s time as UW's head coach came to an end.

Without Lake, Washington lost to Arizona State on Saturday to drop to 4-6 on the year. To get to a bowl, the Huskies will need to beat Colorado and Washington State in their last two regular season games.

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