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).

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