Washington coaching candidates: Chris Klieman, Matt Campbell among options to replace Kalen DeBoer

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Washington coach Kalen DeBoer will be stepping into the biggest spotlight in college football as the Huskies coach has taken the Alabama job, replacing the legendary Nick Saban. DeBoer is 104-12 overall in stops at Sioux Falls, Fresno State and Washington. He recently capped an undefeated regular season by leading the Huskies to an appearance in the College Football Playoff National Championship where they lost 34-13 to Michigan.

With DeBoer gone, attention now turns to his replacement in Seattle. DeBoer was 25-3 in his two seasons leading the Huskies, and whomever gets the job will have some massive shoes to fill with the added pressure of leading the program into its first season as a Big Ten member in 2024.

Historically, Washington hasn’t tried to make a big splash during its coaching searches. It promoted Jimmy Lake from within after Chris Petersen stepped down following the 2019 season and hired DeBoer from Fresno State after DeBoer went 12-6 in two seasons with the Bulldogs. 

Will athletic director Troy Dannen follow the same path? Or will Washington try to capitalize on its time in the national spotlight and hire a superstar as it begins a new conference era? Let’s break down some of the potential candidates to replace DeBoer.

Chris Klieman, Kansas State coach: DeBoer is recognized as a “winner,” which is exactly what Klieman has been throughout his coaching career. He led the Wildcats to the 2022 Big 12 title and has landed the Wildcats in the final AP top 20 in each of the last two seasons. He won four FCS championships in his five seasons at North Dakota State (2014-18) after succeeding Craig Bohl, the architect of the Bison football dynasty. He’s well-versed on how to sustain success with the spotlight shining bright. Plus, a step up from the Big 12 to the Big Ten would serve as a big challenge for somebody who has passed every challenge the coaching world has thrown his way.

Jedd Fisch, Arizona coach: Fisch went 1-11 in 2021 in his first season with an Arizona team that was a shambles following the Kevin Sumlin era. He quickly turned the Wildcats around to a 10-win team in 2023 that finished No. 11 in the AP Top 25. What’s more, he did it with massive injury issues and was forced to turn to redshirt freshman quarterback Noah Fifita, who stepped up to the challenge and earned Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors with his performance. Not bad, eh? He’s reportedly (but not surprisingly) in talks for a new deal with UA. Still, the combination of Fisch’s track record of success and Big Ten resources that exist at Washington would make him a great hire for the Huskies. 

Dave Clawson, Wake Forest coach: Clawson, the 2021 ACC Coach of the Year, has enjoyed remarkable success with the Demon Deacons, who weren’t exactly known for their football prowess prior to his arrival. His slow-mesh offense led them to seven straight bowl games (2016-22) and helped former quarterback Sam Hartman emerge as a superstar. Clawson’s offense finished in the top four in the ACC in six straight seasons (2017-22), and an upgrade in overall team talent would make him a hit in Seattle.

Matt Campbell, Iowa State coach: It seems like Campbell is included in every single candidate list. A move to Washington, however, makes a lot of sense. He has six bowl appearances in eight seasons at Iowa State (2016-23) and develops rosters better than the majority of coaches in the game. While Washington might not seem to be a geographical fit, the combination of the school moving to the Big Ten and Campbell’s midwestern roots should at least earn him a call from Dannen.

 

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