Montana State head coach Jeff Choate walks on the sideline during the first half of a game against Washington State in 2017 in Pullman. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Montana State head coach Jeff Choate walks on the sideline during the first half of a game against Washington State in 2017 in Pullman. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Who will become UW’s next defensive coordinator?

Here’s a look at some possible candidates to replace the departed Pete Kwiatkowski.

By Mike Vorel / The Seattle Times

Pete Kwiatkowski is the new defensive coordinator at Texas.

The news has yet to be officially announced, but Kwiatkowski — who has served as either the defensive coordinator or co-defensive coordinator at Washington for the past seven seasons — updated his Twitter profile picture to the Texas Longhorn logo this week. And, in 2021, that’s about as official as it gets.

So … where does Washington go from here?

For the second consecutive offseason, Jimmy Lake is set to embark on a coordinator search. And the Huskies’ head coach could conceivably go one of two ways. Lake could seek an established coordinator to essentially hand the reins to, which would allow UW’s second-year head coach to more capably oversee the entire program. Or, Lake — who, of course, made his career on the defensive side — could opt for a younger, less experienced (and, let’s be honest, cheaper) option, while personally assuming a pseudo-coordinator role.

To put it plainly, a big-name coordinator is unlikely to accept this position without assurances he’ll have the power to sculpt Washington’s defense in the ways he sees fit. Would Lake let that happen?

We’re about to find out.

So, before UW’s coordinator search commences, here are some possible candidates for Kwiatkowski’s old gig:

Gerald Alexander

Miami Dolphins defensive backs coach

The 36-year-old Alexander is considered a rising star in the profession, and he has ties to both Lake and UW as well. The former Boise State and NFL defensive back served as a graduate student under Lake in Seattle in 2014, before earning acclaim as Cal’s defensive backs coach from 2017 to 2019. The Los Angeles native is also a dynamic personality and recruiter, much like Lake.

The issue here is that Alexander has only ever coached defensive backs, and has not served as a defensive coordinator at any level. UW also has a pair of defensive backs coaches on staff, so hiring Alexander would likely force the program to part ways with either Will Harris or Terrence Brown.

From an experience standpoint, adding Alexander would amount to a high-risk, high-reward proposition. But that doesn’t mean he’s not the right man for the job.

Peter Sirmon

Cal defensive coordinator

Sirmon isn’t lacking experience as a Power Five coordinator, and has helped elevate Cal’s defense under Justin Wilcox over the last three seasons. He has previously served as the defensive coordinator at Louisville and Mississippi State, coached linebackers at USC for two seasons (2014-15) and — after operating as the linebackers coach at Washington in 2012 and 2013 — is plenty familiar with UW as well.

The issue here: would Sirmon really be willing to swap Pac-12 defensive coordinator roles, in what one could argue is essentially a lateral move? Don’t forget that Sirmon’s son, Jackson, is a starting linebacker at Washington, and the Huskies could likely give him a considerable raise. With the program’s history of success and its location in Seattle, Washington might also have a higher ceiling for long-term success.

But Sirmon is 2-0 against UW as Cal’s defensive coordinator, so he may not see enough of a reason to move back to Montlake.

Jeff Choate

Montana State head coach

This, here, is a longshot.

But there’s some precedent as well.

Choate — who served with Lake as Washington’s defensive line coach in 2014 and 2015 — left to become Montana’s head coach in 2016, and led the Bobcats to an 11-4 record and a spot in the FCS semifinals in 2019. But after being passed up for Boise State’s head coaching job, Choate might be looking for a route back to Power Five prominence.

Yes, it’s unlikely that an FCS head coach would leave to accept a college coordinator position. But that’s what former Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin did when he accepted the offensive coordinator job at Cal in 2017.

The defensive background is there. The link to Lake is there. The history with the Huskies is there.

Is that enough? Probably not, but don’t pretend it isn’t possible.

Donte Williams

USC associate head coach/cornerbacks coach

Williams is a recruiting ace who has previously coached cornerbacks at Arizona, Nebraska, Oregon and USC. He served as a graduate student at UW in 2011 and 2012 as well.

But, like Alexander, Williams — currently USC’s associate head coach and defensive pass game coordinator — has precious little experience as a defensive coordinator. Lake could conceivably add an immediately elite recruiter while personally handling UW’s defensive play-calling and easing Williams slowly into that role.

Cort Dennison

Louisville co-defensive coordinator/outside linebackers coach

You know his name, because Dennison played linebacker at Washington from 2007 to 2011. He has also served two stints at Louisville, and currently operates as the Cardinals’ co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach. He also brings experience recruiting in the Pacific Northwest, having coached the outside linebackers at rival Oregon in 2018.

So, you can see the appeal: here is a young, enthusiastic coach who has passion for the Huskies, has recruited Pac-12 territories and coaches the exact position Kwiatkowski is leaving vacant. Were Lake to call, you’d imagine Dennison would enthusiastically answer the phone.

Ikaika Malloe (UW co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach) OR Bob Gregory (UW inside linebackers coach/special teams coordinator)

In some ways, Malloe or Gregory could be considered the betting favorites (although probably not the popular favorites). If Lake wants to maintain a sense of continuity in his defense, he could elevate either Malloe (a UW alum who has been on staff for the last five seasons) or Gregory (who was the defensive coordinator at Cal from 2002 to 2009) while simultaneously assuming a larger role on that side of the ball. Promoting Malloe or Gregory would also allow Lake to then hire another position coach who may arrive with more of a recruiting-centric mindset.

As is usually the case, this option wouldn’t win Lake many new fans among UW skeptics. It wouldn’t create a splash. But, then again, neither did John Donovan.

Other names to consider: Todd Wash (Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator), Marcel Yates (Cal defensive backs coach), Kane Ioane (Montana State defensive coordinator/safeties coach), Joe Cullen (Baltimore Ravens defensive line coach), Spencer Danielson (Boise State defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach), Clint Hurtt (Seattle Seahawks assistant head coach/defensive line coach), Jethro Franklin (Seattle Seahawks assistant defensive line coach).

Talk to us

More in Sports

Glacier Peak took on Cascade in football at Everett Memorial Stadium on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Prep football preview: Storylines, teams, players, games to watch

Everything you need to know about Snohomish County high school football during this shortened season.

Granite Falls' Riley Hoople makes a reception with Sultan's Derek Feltner defending Friday night in Sultan on February 26, 2021 (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
This week’s prep football schedule, picks and streaming links

Click on the game to watch your favorite team in action Friday night and all day Saturday.

Volleyball players in Wesco took the court for competition this week for the first time in the over 15 months. (Herald file photos)
Prep volleyball season preview

Local teams, players and games to watch this season.

Everett Community College’s Trojan mascot (left) poses with Everett Silvertips mascot, Lincoln. (Provided photo)
Silvertips, EvCC announce partnership to house players

Everett’s billeting program is on hold to respect health and safety protocols forced by the pandemic.

Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert (24), looks to drive against Pacific forward Jeremiah Bailey (13), during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stockton, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. Gonzaga won 76-58. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Edmonds native Kispert named WCC player of the year

Former local hoops stars Paisley Johnson Harding and Jordyn Edwards also received All-WCC honors.

Everett High School graduate Jayden White (right), a University of Washington freshman, poses next to throws coach Andrew Ninow after breaking the Huskies' school record in the weight throw last Friday. (Photo by Jamie Mitchell)
Community sports roundup: Everett H.S. grad breaks UW record

Jayden White broke UW’s weight throw record, highlighting a success-filled week for local athletes.

High School football teams across Snohomish County are closing in on their first game in over a year. (Herald file photos)
Prep football: Key games and the area’s complete schedule

The first H.S. football game in the county in over a year is set to take place this coming Friday.

A Marysville Pilchuck football player sports a spear on his helmet as the Tomahawks took on Snohomish in the Wesco 3A Championship Friday evening at Quil Ceda Stadium on November 1, 2019. School district leaders may soon need to consider dropping Marysville Pilchuck High School’s mascot, the Tomahawks. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Should Marysville Pilchuck High drop the name ‘Tomahawks’?

A state bill would ban Native American mascots and symbols from schools — unless there is tribal permission.

Dawn Trudeau (Seattle Storm)
13 years ago this month, they bought the Seattle Storm

Dawn Trudeau and her partners didn’t foresee the challenges — or the championships — that were in store.

FILE - Washington's Asa Turner (20) celebrates with Kamren Fabiculanan (31) after Turner intercepted a pass in the final minute of an NCAA college football game against Oregon State in Seattle, in this Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, file photo. Washington won 27-21. Washington has pulled out of the Pac-12 football championship game due to COVID-19 issues in the Huskies program, and Oregon will now play No. 13 USC for the conference title on Friday instead.  Washington (3-1) announced Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, it is withdrawing from the championship game after determining the Huskies did not have at least 53 scholarship players available and did not meet the minimum number of scholarship athletes at specific positions.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Washington’s 2021 football schedule released

Huskies head coach Jimmy Lake is hopeful that fans will be allowed as soon as the spring game May 1.

Washington State running back Deon McIntosh (3) celebrates after scoring against Utah during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Washington State’s 2021 football schedule released

The Cougars open the season with three straight home games and six of their first eight in Pullman.

Seattle Mariners' Dylan Moore, right, is congratulated by teammate Kyle Lewis after hitting a solo home run off of Texas Rangers starting pitcher Kolby Allard during the third inning of a baseball game, Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Servais on Dylan Moore: ‘He’s a ball player’

Mariners’ super-utility player looks to build on a breakout season.