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Forde-Yard Dash: Jimmy Lake’s Firing Stands Out for Its Swiftness

The development adds to the track record of what’s afforded to Black coaches in college football’s annual carousel.
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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (collapsible tents sold separately at Auburn):

MORE DASH: Big 12 Karma | Status Quo Upheaval | Best Coaches

SECOND QUARTER: LAST TO BE HIRED, FIRST TO BE FIRED?

Washington fired Jimmy Lake (11) Sunday, ending his tenure as head coach at 13 games. That makes the state of Washington the Firing Capital of College Football in 2021, with Washington State having sent Nick Rolovich (12) packing last month after just 11 games on the job in Pullman.

But these are dramatically different circumstances. Rolovich was dismissed completely for off-field reasons, since he wouldn’t comply with Washington’s vaccine mandate for state employees. He essentially fired himself. Lake was terminated for what athletic director Jen Cohen termed "a variety of reasons, both on the field and off.”

Lake had been suspended for Washington’s game Saturday against Arizona State because of what happened the previous week, against Oregon: He struck a player’s helmet and shoved him after the player was involved in a brief skirmish with an opponent on the Washington sideline. There also was a Seattle Times report about Lake shoving a player during halftime of a game in 2019, with conflicting descriptions of the severity of that situation from several witnesses.

Washington coach Jimmy Lake

So there are some issues beyond on-field performance with Lake as well, though they could not be characterized as the kind of behavior that got Bob Knight fired at Indiana or led to other coach dismissals. Lake was not fired for cause, which makes clear that Washington wasn’t making a move solely for the above non-football performance reasons. Program observers agree that Lake would still be the Washington coach if his record were better.

His greater sin seems to be making a terrible offensive coordinator hire in John Donovan and having the team’s offense ground to a halt this season. For that, Lake earns the dubious distinction of being the fastest firing from a Power 5 job in the last decade for football-related reasons.

There is zero reason to believe that the dismissal of Lake was racially motivated. But this is another development that underscores the tenuous positions Black coaches often occupy in college football hiring and firing cycles. The only place you can find heavy representation of Black coaches in the sport is on the Power 5 Conference Fastest-Fired List of the last 10 years. Here it is:

Nick Rolovich, Washington State. When fired: October 2021. Number of games: 11. Record: 5–6. Reason: Refusal to comply with state vaccine mandate.

Jimmy Lake, Washington. When fired: November 2021. Number of games: 13. Record: 7–6. Reason: Losing and player interactions.

Steve Sarkisian, USC. When fired: October 2015. Number of games: 18. Record: 12–6. Reason: Alcohol abuse.

Willie Taggart (13), Florida State. When fired: November 2019. Number of games: 21. Record: 9–12. Reason: Losing.

Chad Morris, Arkansas. When fired: November 2020. Number of games: 22. Record: 4–18. Reason: Losing.

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Turner Gill (14), Kansas. When fired: November 2011. Number of games: 24. Record: 5–19. Reason: Losing.

Jon Embree (15), Colorado. When fired: November 2012. Number of games: 24. Record: 4–21. Reason: Losing.

D.J. Durkin, Maryland. When fired: October 2018. Number of games: 25. Record: 10–15. Reason: Player death and subsequent investigation of staff and institutional protocols.

Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State. When fired: January 2020. Number of games: 26. Record: 14–12. Reason: Losing, despite having a winning record; player discipline.

Charlie Weis, Kansas. When fired: September 2014. Number of games: 28. Record: 6–22. Reason: Losing.

The current Power 5 has had 175 head-coaching positions occupied for at least one full season from 2011 to the present. Twenty-four of those positions were filled by Black coaches, among 19 different men (James Franklin, Mel Tucker, Charlie Strong, Kevin Sumlin and Taggart have had two each). That’s 13.7% of the head coach workforce, yet Black coaches make up 40% of the fastest-fired list.

That isn’t to say that those individual decisions were based on race. But the overall track record says that there are instances when Black coaches have been given less time than similarly unsuccessful white coaches.

Weis got more time than Gill at Kansas. Weis also got more time at Notre Dame than Tyrone Willingham in the previous decade. Mike Norvell is almost certainly going to get more time at Florida State than Taggart, despite currently having a lower winning percentage. Embree was fired faster than any full-time head coach in modern Colorado history. Joker Phillips coached 37 games at Kentucky, the quickest dismissal of any football coach there since World War II (at least).

Administrators will passionately argue that they devote great time and energy toward identifying quality coaching candidates of color, and that the pool is alarmingly thin. Some will say that in an attempt to be diverse, they have hired or promoted coaches who simply weren’t ready. For many reasons, college football has major shortcomings in identifying, developing and hiring Black coaches. Few Black coaches have landed Power 5 positions that were the picture of health when they walked in—Lake and David Shaw at Stanford are two of the exceptions. In several cases, they're taking jobs at programs where the cycle of failure is hard to break, and they're destined to become the next fired example. And the track record suggests that the sport also has shortcomings in giving them the same amount of time to succeed as what is afforded to their white colleagues.

OTHER HIRING/FIRING STATS FROM THE LAST DECADE

Power 5 schools that have gone through the most coaches who worked at least one season: Arkansas (16), Illinois (17) and Kansas (18) each are on their fifth coach since 2011.

The Razorbacks list: Bobby Petrino (2011), John L. Smith (2012), Bret Bielema (2013–17), Morris (2018–19), Sam Pittman (2020–21). The Illini list: Ron Zook (2011), Tim Beckman (2012–14), Bill Cubit (2015), Lovie Smith (2016–20), Bielema (2021). The Jayhawks list: Gill (2011), Weis (2012–14), David Beaty (2015–18), Les Miles (2019–20), Lance Leipold (2021). All three of them seem to have hit upon a potential long-term success now.

Who are the continuity kings (19)? These are the Power 5 schools that have had just one coach since 2011: Alabama (Nick Saban); Iowa (Kirk Ferentz); Northwestern (Pat Fitzgerald), Oklahoma State (Mike Gundy); Clemson (Dabo Swinney); Duke (David Cutcliffe); Stanford (David Shaw); Utah (Kyle Whittingham).

Not surprisingly, the conference doing the most firing has been the SEC (20). That conference has pushed out 23 coaches since 2011, followed by the Pac-12 (17), Big Ten (14), Big 12 (11) and ACC (10). 

MORE DASH: Big 12 Karma | Status Quo Upheaval | Best Coaches