Most Influential

Most Influential, Sports: Kalen Deboer

Former University of Washington football coach

By Danny O’Neil March 5, 2024

Kalen DeBoer

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Editor’s Note: This appeared in the January/February issue of Seattle magazine, shortly before DeBoer departed the University of Washington to take the head coaching job at the University of Alabama.

There were some people who thought Washington settled for Kalen DeBoer.

Seriously. Some folks thought the Huskies whiffed by failing to hire Matt Campbell of Iowa State, whose team went 4-8 in 2022. Meanwhile, all DeBoer has done at Washington is reach 20 wins faster than any coach in the program’s history, and become the rock the school’s athletic department is relying upon as it leaves the conference it helped found.

If DeBoer weren’t so transformative, the Huskies would be in a world of hurt right now. This was a program that lost at home to Montana in 2021, and that wasn’t even the worst thing to occur that season. That came when Jimmy Lake smacked the helmet of one of his players and then, after the player had turned to walk away, shoved him in the back. Lake never coached again at Washington, with the school paying him $9.9 million to leave.

DeBoer was hired in November 2021, and he hadn’t even coached his first game with the Huskies when USC and UCLA announced they were leaving the Pac-12. The conference never recovered, and this past summer — shortly after Washington and Oregon agreed to join USC and UCLA in the Big Ten — Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen, who had hired DeBoer, accepted the job at USC.

And somehow, one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of Washington football has also been one of the most successful. All because of a coach that some people felt the Huskies settled for.

It’s a remarkable story, really. One that goes all the way back to South Dakota. That’s where DeBoer was born and where he grew up. He attended the University of Sioux Falls, playing football and baseball at the school that was a two-hour drive from his hometown of Milbank. After earning his degree, he coached highschool football for a couple of seasons before joining the staff of his alma mater, beginning what was a 20-year climb up the coaching ladder.

He started out small, leading Sioux Falls to three NAIA championships in his five years as head coach. He then worked his way up the NCAA food chain with stops at Southern Illinois and Western Michigan. He’s worked at Fresno State (twice) and at Indiana, which is where he first coached a quarterback named Michael Penix. The two rekindled that connection at Washington, where DeBoer has become only the fourth coach in program history to lead the Huskies to consecutive seasons with 10 or more wins.

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