Ax falls on UW’s Baer, Simmons

SEATTLE — Someone had to take the fall for a 4-9 season that saw Washington’s defense perform at historically bad levels.

That someone turned out to be defensive coordinator Kent Baer, who was fired early Monday. Husky head coach Tyrone Willingham also decided to make another change, parting ways with special teams/tight ends coach Bob Simmons.

Baer has coached under Willingham since becoming the linebackers coach at Stanford in 1995. He served as defensive coordinator for three seasons at Stanford, and held the same job at Notre Dame, where in 2002 he was one of five finalists for the Frank Broyles Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding assistant coach.

Simmons worked on Willingham’s staff for three years at Notre Dame as the linebackers coach before coming to Washington. Before joining Willingham at Notre Dame, Simmons was the head coach at Oklahoma State.

“I consider Kent Baer and Bob Simmons excellent coaches and consummate professionals,” Willingham said in a statement released by the school. “Making change such as this is never easy, nor is it done without careful thought and consideration. I believe we are continuing to build this football program into a national contender and I truly appreciate the contribution Kent and Bob have made toward our progress both on and off the field.”

Both Baer and Simmons were out of their offices and unavailable for comment.

Under Baer’s direction, the defense allowed 446.4 yards per game, the worst total in school history. The Huskies finished the season ranked last in the Pac-10 in total defense and run defense, and ninth in pass defense and scoring defense.

Special teams play was another area of concern for the Huskies, who ranked ninth in both kickoff returns and kickoff coverage. Washington’s tight ends also struggled to get involved in the offense this season. The three-man rotation of Michael Gottlieb, Robert Lewis and Johnie Kirton combined for just 20 catches, 226 yards and no touchdowns.

Following the season, there was speculation that Willingham could be fired, and once word came that he would be retained, the next question was whether his staff would return intact. Willingham did not say at his end-of-the-year press conference if any changes would be made, but said that “if something has to take place you’d always like it sooner than later.”

Baer was under fire all season as the defense struggled, but Willingham made it his policy not to discuss his coaches’ job statuses during the season. When asked during the season if loyalty to a longtime assistant like Baer would prevent him from making changes, he said that he was “loyal to winning.”

And while many felt Baer’s removal was inevitable after the Huskies allowed 42 or more points five times and 500 or more yards six times, many of his players stood up for him and the defensive staff as the year went on.

“It’s real tough,” said senior defensive tackle Jordan Reffett, who was told of the news by Baer Monday morning. “I’ve been talking a lot with Greyson Gunheim about it and we feel like it’s partly our fault as senior leaders on this defense. We feel horrible because Coach Baer is a hell of a coach and a hell of a guy… I don’t think that he should have been fired. Some college team out there is going to be very lucky to get Coach Baer in their program. I don’t think you can fire a guy that has that much knowledge. He worked so hard to help the team out and I disagree with the way things went down.”

With Monday’s decision, Willingham now has three coaching vacancies to fill. In addition to Baer and Simmons, he will also have to find a new running backs coach to replace Trent Miles, who recently took the head coaching job at Indiana State.

Contact Herald Writer John Boyle at jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more on University of Washington sports, check out the Huskies blog at heraldnet.com/huskiesblog

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