When Washington athletic director Jen Cohen announced the firing of second-year head football coach Jimmy Lake on Nov. 14, she cited “a multitude of things” and not one incident — not even the sideline altercation with walk-on linebacker Ruperake Fuavai during the Nov. 6 Oregon game that led to Lake’s one-week suspension without pay.
“I came to the conclusion that I just didn’t have confidence in Coach Lake’s ability to continue to lead the program moving forward,” Cohen said.
Investigative notes and text messages from that week — obtained by The Athletic via public records request — reveal how the sideline incident commanded attention from the top levels of campus administration, including president Ana Mari Cauce and Blaine Tamaki, the chair of the university’s board of regents, and brought to the forefront underlying issues that led to diminished trust in Lake.
Lake’s firing would have been nearly unfathomable mere months prior. Promoted from defensive coordinator to replace Chris Petersen upon his abrupt resignation in December 2019, Lake guided the Huskies to a 3-1 record during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Most of the roster returned. Washington ranked No. 20 in the preseason Top 25, and the schedule set up favorably for a run at another Pac-12 North title — something the Huskies accomplished in 2016 and 2018 with Lake coaching the defensive backs and then calling defensive plays.
Lake had turned down multiple suitors over the years as Washington made him the highest-paid assistant in the conference, and Petersen, expressing his desire to step away and recharge, vouched for Lake publicly. “I have no doubt this is the better thing for these kids and this program and this fan base,” Petersen said shortly after he resigned, “for Jimmy to go and inject his vision and his energy into this.”
In many ways, Lake was an obvious choice as successor. He recruited and developed several defensive backs into early-round draft picks and was passionate about technique and strategy. At his introductory news conference, Lake, part of Petersen’s staff for eight seasons at Boise State and then Washington, spoke of knowing the “recipe” and the “secret sauce” that made those teams so cohesive and successful.
As Washington underachieved in 2021, though, the program little resembled what fans and administrators envisioned. Investigative records point to a divided locker room and friction among the coaching staff. Those interviewed generally agreed Lake’s actions toward Fuavai went too far, but it was the coach’s lack of contrition — particularly in front of the team the following day, when he acknowledged the incident but did not apologize, records show — that cost him the respect of some players.