HomeSportsThe 10 candidates to replace Kalen DeBoer as Washington coach

The 10 candidates to replace Kalen DeBoer as Washington coach

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It’s an old adage in coaching that you never want to be the guy after the guy

After working his way up the ranks from winning national titles in the NAIA to reaching the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, however, it appears Kalen DeBoer is not a believer in such a sentiment. 

The 49-year-old agreed to a deal Friday to replace the legendary Nick Saban as Alabama‘s next head coach. 

While that sews up a brisk search in Tuscaloosa to replace one legend, it also spins the coaching carousel up for Washington. It’s a spot that new UW athletics director Troy Dannen prepared for, but had hoped not to be in just four days after a heartbreaking loss in Houston against eventual 2023-24 national champion Michigan.

DeBoer leaves some big shoes behind for whoever winds up as his eventual successor in the loud confines of Husky Stadium. He went an incredible 25-3 on Montlake during a two-year tenure with a pair of top 10 finishes and a Pac-12 title to his name. 

His departure also leaves open a job that is very different from the one DeBoer initially accepted after arriving from Fresno State, with sparkling new facilities and a solid NIL operation being balanced out by a roster in suspect shape and a looming conference change to the Big Ten.

So, who could replace DeBoer? 

Here are 10 candidates Washington could consider: 

Ryan Grubb, Washington offensive coordinator

Last offseason, Grubb decided to turn down the OC job under Saban in Tuscaloosa to remain in Seattle for another go-around with his longtime friend, DeBoer. That paid off handsomely given that he got a hefty new deal as one of the nation’s highest-paid assistants, helped lead UW to the final Pac-12 title and was on the brink of winning it all. Grubb was firmly in the mix for several Group of Five jobs this cycle but turned them down amid the team’s CFP run and now might be the favorite to keep things rolling at Washington. The school has already vetted Grubb as a potential replacement in the past few weeks and holds him in high regard.

How does Washington replace Kalen DeBoer?

Lance Leipold, Kansas head coach

Leipold is in many ways just a slightly older version of DeBoer, winning pretty much everywhere he’s been with a 163-60 overall record. A Midwestern native who has been in the mix for a few Big Ten jobs, he could be a perfect candidate to help the Huskies transition into the league after completing the inexplicable task of rebuilding the Jayhawks into a winner. After guiding Wisconsin-Whitewater to six national titles, Leipold is about as seamless a replacement for DeBoer as they come.

Jedd Fisch, Arizona head coach

Fisch has been working toward a new deal with the Wildcats in the wake of rebuilding them from one win in his debut to a remarkable 10-win campaign this past season. His 16-21 overall mark isn’t anything that jumps off the page, but he has a relentless pursuit of winning and knows the footprint of the Huskies’ former and future conferences well enough. His offensive background and NFL connections would play well at Washington, too.

Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri head coach

Drinkwitz picked a good year to have a good year, guiding the Tigers to their first major bowl victory in decades and capitalizing on that by recruiting at a high level. He’s 40-22 as a head coach after notching 11 wins this season and is at least somewhat familiar with what the job entails in Seattle from his stint at Boise State. Though he has built things up nicely in Columbia, life in the SEC for a non-blue blood is always tough to manage.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah head coach

Given how tough and physical his teams are, it feels like Whittingham would be a perfect Big Ten coach in many respects. He will one day have a statue outside of Rice-Eccles Stadium for all he has done with the Utes, but Washington should at least give him a call to gauge his interest in making a late-career move to one of the Power Two conferences that would best position him to win a national title.

Willie Fritz, Houston head coach

Fritz might be the very definition of a football coach’s football coach, winning games (and titles) from the junior-college ranks right up to the FBS. He memorably knocked off USC in the Cotton Bowl while guiding Tulane to new heights, and is an excellent evaluator of talent. Though he just took the job at Houston with the aspirations of winning at a major conference school, he was one of Dannen‘s key hires in New Orleans and has remained close to the AD after the move North.

Dave Doeren, N.C. State head coach 

The fact Doeren keeps plugging along in Raleigh all these years makes him one of the definitions of consistency — winning at least eight games in six of the last seven years. He’s had experience out West before and led Northern Illinois to a BCS bowl back in the day, too. He has taken the Wolfpack to their ceiling and has explored a move to a bigger job before. 

Matt Campbell, Iowa State head coach

Not too long ago, there was the thinking that Campbell’s next jump up the ladder was to the likes of Ohio State, Notre Dame or the NFL. He’s a Midwest guy at heart and is the type who has maximized resources at places where winning is hardly guaranteed. Campbell racked up big wins over the likes of Texas and Oklahoma while guiding the Cyclones to their first major bowl win in the Fiesta Bowl. His best coaching job might have been this past season when he overcame significant roster losses on the eve of fall camp to wind up with seven wins.

Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan head coach

The best endorsement for Creighton might come as a result of him kickstarting DeBoer’s career in a big way after bringing the offensive savant from a small NAIA school to the FBS ranks. Some might say it’s a stretch for Washington to hire a MAC coach, but Creighton is responsible for six of the program’s seven all-time bowl games while running one of the most resource-challenged teams in the Group of Five.

Pete Carroll, former Seattle Seahawks head coach

After getting shoved aside by Seahawks ownership this week in a surprising decision, would the man who lives by the mantra “Always Compete” want to move across town to return to the college ranks? Nobody belies their age more than the intensely energetic Carroll, and it could be a coup in the Seattle market to get the 72-year-old to replace DeBoer and prove to everyone he still has the magic touch. Just imagine USC arriving to Husky Stadium during their first year in the Big Ten to the sight of Carroll roaming the sidelines and throwing the football around in purple? That thought alone is why a phone call should be made to at least see whether he’d consider the opportunity. 

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.



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