All About the Bucks: UW’s New Football Coach and the Realities of What College Football has Become


The fourth head football coach at the University of Washington in six years made a good first impression Tuesday. Then again, what top-tier coach doesn’t? Most of them have had a lot of practice at making good first impressions.

The college coaching carousel will soon reach a spin rate rivaling a super-colliding superconductor. The speed is astonishing. Almost between the words “drop” and “dead” uttered by Kalen DeBoer in response to UW’s contract extension offer just before accepting a larger deal from the industry’s aircraft carrier, Alabama, athletics director Troy Dannen whipped up an impressive offer to the University of Arizona’s coach, Jedd Fisch.

A recent hire himself — poached from Tulane about three months ago — Dannen hastily followed up with a private jet trip to Fisch’s Tucson home for coffee, cookies and a handshake. Fisch showed up Tuesday morning in the Huskies’ football offices with a smile and a seven-year, $54 million contract, eight days after the program began its astonishing plummet from the summit that started with the 34-13 loss to Michigan in the national championship game.

Yet Dannen’s actions were too slow.

Exercising their increasingly liberalized rights as contractors, numerous Huskies players quickly left the program before Fisch arrived. According to Dan Raley at Husky Maven, only three starters remain from the roster rolled out in Houston. UW currently is 21 players under the NCAA scholarship limit of 85. Those with expired eligibility were inevitable departures, but others were lost to early entry for the NFL draft, the rest to the transfer portal, retirement or perhaps severe whiplash injuries from the reckless business of big-time college sports. And several players recruited to Washington by DeBoer have de-committed from the incoming freshman class, meaning they are subject to predation by Alabama.

Despite the heavy steam wafting out of the crater in the middle of the program, Huskies fans need to know all is not lost. Fisch is allowed to attempt to reel back the would-be transfers, as well as the NFL wannabes. He is also permitted to pillage the roster of his former team (as DeBoer is doing with Washington). The Wildcats had a 10-3 record last season, including a bowl-game clobbering of Oklahoma and a 31-24 squeaker loss to the Huskies. How does he-resell Washington to the refugees?


Not just for Fisch, or his assistants. For his players: NIL money. Give Fisch credit for blunt talk where normally there are nervous coughs from college-football employees.

“As far as NIL, there’s an enormous commitment to doing that the right way here in Seattle,” he said of the private cash from boosters that is not part of the athletics budget, but has become the most prominent difference-maker in college football. “We are in a place now where these players need to get paid, and they need to get paid a lot of dollars, and you need a lot of resources to do that. You need the community behind that. 

“What I felt here when we met was that there’s a commitment to making sure our players not just want to come here, want to stay here, and that there’s nobody that can offer a better financial opportunity than the University of Washington.”

Whether that is true, we’ll likely never know, because there is no transparency in these transactions. It’s all done in a style that would impress leaders in the Kremlin or North Korea. But there may be some substance to the bodacious brag about big money in the Big Mossy.

According to the college sports finances database at, UW in the 2021-22 school year spent $70.5 million on its football program, from coaching salaries to ankle tape, and part of the buyout of fired former football coach Jimmy Lake, all independent of NIL money. Meanwhile, the same tabulation said Michigan, always near or at the top in football lavishness, spent a mere $52.4 million.

On the revenue side, Huskies football earned $91 million. Over in Ann Arbor, with its 104,000-seat Big House and more lucrative media contracts, Michigan football revenues were $131.5 million. In those two sentences, you have the tidiest explanation of why the Pac-12 Conference shall be no more, and why the Huskies are members of the Big Ten Conference this fall. The Huskies need more revenue to fund things like the $200,000 Fisch will get for relocation expenses, which is part of the new deal. Personally, I’d do it for half, and pay for the truck rental.

Fisch’s claim of UW’s private-money financial swagger may be exaggerated. But at least he knows that UW’s public-money commitment to football is up there with the most over-wrought in the NCAA, and can be used to help leverage contributions from the 38-year-old frat-boy alums turned software developers that increasingly populate the Tyee booster club.

As far as football chops, Fisch never played college football. But he has been on staffs of numerous proven head coaches, such as Steve Spurrier, Bill Belichick, Jim Harbaugh, Dom Capers, Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan and Sean McVay. He even spent a year in Seattle. In Pete Carroll’s first year, Fisch was the Seahawks quarterbacks coach. For the past three seasons, Carroll’s son, Brennan, was his offensive coordinator at Arizona.

In 25 years of coaching, Fisch had 14 stops. Which means, given the realities of college ball, if he’s as good as he thinks he is, he’ll be around for two or three years. But while he’s in a stopover here, it would be gratifying if he continued his trend toward candor.

A couple of times Tuesday, he fell back on the old trope of referencing the college game as “family.” No. College football is not a family. It is a business. Which is good, because most families are dysfunctional. So is big-time college ball, but everyone now is paid over the table to deal with it. Along with that, I heard him use the phrase “student-athlete.” Again, no. Each player is an athlete-businessman.

Fisch seems good at transitions. If he manages those two, he’ll set a high standard for the fifth coach in nine years, likely Brennan Carroll. He may come with his own  defensive coordinator.

Art Thiel
Art Thiel
Art Thiel is a longtime sports columnist in Seattle, for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now as founding editor at


  1. Great writeup, Art. We used to worry about how and when college football players would be able to study for classes, maintain a B average, get a good room in the dorm. Not any more.

    • Thanks. I think those values died out shortly after the raccoon coat, but maybe I’m a tad cynical. I know: You’re surprised.

  2. Coaches leaving programs early is nothing new. Back at WSU in the 70s, we lost Jackie Sherrill and Warren Powers consecutively after only one year. Powers, after he promised to stay and build the program.
    Back then, it was prestige, not big money that drove the coaches away.

  3. Not all is lost? No, but almost. I doubt the team in its current state has enough players left in the program to put a viable team on the field. You generally need a quarterback to do that, and I don’t see one on the roster ready to take on the job. This is a program that’s been t-boned at the intersection, and its going to be a complete rebuild job. That is going to take a couple of years or more to resurrect.

    The UW Husky football program has a long, proud history. It has always had strong local support, however as much as its supporters hoped, it never became one of the national powerhouse teams that consistently dominate the news and playing field year in and year out. It never ascended to becoming a ‘blue-blood’ program outside of an spasmodic season or two, separated by a couple of decades or three.

    Sure, perhaps players have become contractors, of sort, but people tend to ignore that they have a limited shelf life playing college sports (absent Covid 2.0 or some other calamity), and they want to play for winning teams.

    Look for Husky Stadium to be half-full next season.

    • If it’s any consolation, Alabama has lost 25 players to the transfer portal after DeBoer replaced Saban. Best not to draw conclusions about the quality of September football until we see which schools win the talent bidding wars.

  4. When I was a freshman student there, I thought that the UW was an educational institution dragging a football program around behind it. I quickly realized that the UW football program is a business venture dragging a university around behind it.

    That’s why I have also wondered why all the college football teams don’t break away and form a minor-league farm system. That way the players get paid for risking life-altering injuries in their long-shot quests to make some real cash in professional sports, the coaches can take their salaries and hop from team to team without pretending it’s about anything but business, and the rich (techie and otherwise) frat-boy alums can get their vicarious thrills by owning baby NFL teams.

    I know, I know. That will happen when Climate Pledge arena freezes over. The NHL already has a farm system, operated at someone else’s expense and subsidized further by corporate advertising slapped all over shoes and sports equipment at colleges and universities everywhere. And no self-respecting college football coach would settle for the kind of salaries that minor-league baseball or hockey coaches get paid. And universities aren’t going to say goodbye to the money that their teams attract from alums.

    But what really puzzles me is why those wealthy sports-booster alums aren’t willing to express their gratitude directly to the college or university that provided them the training and education to earn all their spare money. Do they really need the ego boost they get from lavishing it on athletic programs that very few of them actually participated in?

    Never mind. I know the answer to that question. Yes they do. Because to them, it is about family, which is another way of saying clan, which is another way of saying tribe, which is another way of saying that the pleasure of watching your team battle against theirs in a spectacle of controlled warfare is embedded in human culture and is deeply satisfying in a way that merely supporting higher education will never be. A lot of humans will pay a lot of money to do it. So it will always be about business. And at least the NIL rule now allows players to finally get some of this cash.

    Whenever I hear someone say, “Go Huskies,” I think about those hardworking young men on the field, and I agree that’s exactly what they should do. They should go where the money is. That’s what everyone else does, and that may be the most important lesson they ever learn in college.

    • My goodness. I couldn’t have said it better, Kathy. You pose and answer your own questions with such alacrity. You even have foresight.

      The description of a pro minor league is almost exactly where the college game is headed. Fox and ESPN dictate terms and conditions to the the football conferences, which already are responding with gradual professionalization of the college game. In a few years, there will be a 48-team super league (or maybe two of 24) of the bigger “brands,” who will create a playoff tournament in the fashion of March Madness in basketball. Football will be the entertainment department of the university, which contracts with the teams for use of stadium, colors, mascot and season-ticket-holder lists. The schools sell media rights to the nets for enough money to fund football and all the non-rev sports. Class attendance is optional (as it mostly is now), and the NFL will partially subsidize the enterprise as a feeder program.

      I will be sad for the loss of the low-hanging fruit of college sports hypocrisy, but sports columnists must adapt too.

      • I’ve always been kind of luke-warm on college sports. My rationale: If they aren’t good enough yet to be paid, I’m not interested. Well, I guess that’s out the window. Still, I have to wonder about all the kids who are good enough for college ball but not good enough for the NFL or prominent enough for NIL riches. What do those post-college outcomes look like?

  5. College football was born in the wake of the Civil War, the argument being that watching teams bash each other each Saturday was a substitute for actual warfare. About that same time, American enterprise went on a tear to corner markets and cheat and consolidate. Now these two trends are married on the field. What a spectacle!

  6. Welcome, Jedd Fisch! Montlake Futures will do its minor-league best to get your players on those local Chipotle adds, but damn! – Texas just bought their latest rent-a-quarterback an auto dealership! How the hell are we supposed to compete with that? So we hope you’ll enjoy your obligatory two-year internship at Huskyville before recognizing the futility of UW athletics and moving on to (fill-in-the-name of CFB program and university with vastly greater resources and screwed up priorities here). Still trying to get over your predecessor’s move to the 14th planet as he seemed like such a regular guy who might not tolerate the abject weirdness and ongoing delusions of the former Confederacy. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. In this day and age everyone associated with big-time athletics are front-running, self-promoting and money-grubbers. What once were vices are now habits.

    The uncomfortable truth for UW supporters is we’ve always grossly exaggerated our importance on CFB’s national stage. Our bloated expectations were fed by the success of three UW coaches from a bygone era – Jim Owens, Don James, and Chris Peterson. All three (at the time and in their own way) revolutionized college football. Owens won by instilling toughness through brutal training camps which enabled his teams to dominate physically through mostly single-platoon football. He was followed up by Don James – a brilliant organizer and tactician. The prevailing belief among coaches was you didn’t want to face his UW teams (with 3-4 weeks to prepare) in a bowl game. Chris Peterson was innovative, fun and a great recruiter. Owens won a (mythical) national championship, James won a real one, and Chris Peterson took the Huskies to the CFB playoffs.

    All three of the coaches had one common trait – despite their success none had any aspirations beyond coaching football at the UW. Their loyalty to UW and success drove the unrealistic expectations amongst Husky football fans/alumni. That’s what makes Kalen Deboer’s departure such a gut-punch – he seemed cut from the same cloth as his predecessors. UDubsters were looking forward to him returning the program to national prominence on a consistent basis. Turns out the UW was just an insignificant little steppingstone needed to further his greater professional aspirations.

    The nasty truth is the UW is now nothing more than a bit player on the CFB landscape. Stand-ins and extras in the theatre of college football. In their munificence ESPN offered the UW and Oregon refuge in the Big10 as second-class (half share revenue) citizens. UW will be offered up as nothing more than weekly cannon fodder, served up for slaughter each week in a carefully choreographed way to opponents who are bigger, stronger, and more well-funded. As the long-term reality sinks in, discouraged fans will cease buying tickets, and the athletic department’s budget deficit could easily grow to $15-20mm annually – a number too big for upper campus to swallow. Recruiting budgets, coaches’ salaries and facilities upgrades will be cut – further increasing the disparity between the SEC/Big10 and the now downtrodden UW.

    Let the Hunger Games begin.

    • I agree. There is a danger the paradigm in its current state might fail at the UW. As Mr. Thiel pointed out, its about bucks, i.e. media revenue and butts in the seats. The Husky management decided that it was okay to accept media revenue that is less than that received by its competitors in order to join the Big 10, and now it is probably certain the product that will be fielded on Saturday’s will be mediocre for an undetermined number of seasons. Not good for ticket prices. I’d sure like to see the projected revenue spreadsheets for the next several years, and its expectations for the breadth of Husky sports programs.

      • Spreadsheets won’t be pretty. This should have been an epiphany moment for Ana Mari Cauce. A chance for her to jump the UW off this hamster-wheel-from-hell that used to be intercollegiate athletics. Shut down all programs. Tear down Husky stadium and use the site to expand the UW Medical school – turning it into a truly world-class program/facility. Bill Gates would (hopefully) support this as a part of his greater vision to expand world health initiatives. THAT would be quite a legacy…

  7. A number of years ago my younger daughter, who was a biochemistry, chemistry major, explained that on any given Saturday, half to two-thirds of the students on campus didn’t know there was a football game and about one-third of the students didn’t even know there was a football team.
    Then I noted that shortly thereafter Coach Chris Peterson pretty much said the same thing.
    Meanwhile the UW Medical Center, and the UW research team, racks more top national and international rankings, than the boys who play tackle football down by the old dump.
    It’s a matter of perspective.

    • You’re right, Lyt. The number of current students who attend games regularly is a tiny fraction of the campus population. But among the huge majority who don’t care, their activities are of zero interest to the TV market outside campus. The national audience becomes aware of the UW brand via sports, not the chem lab. The best national AND local example is what the success of the men’s basketball team has done for the financial stability of Gonzaga in Spokane. Without hoops, Gonzaga would be just another small church school failing in an isolated college town.

      Much as many try, human nature is hard to explain.

    • Good point about Chris Peterson. He was a rarity – a football coach with perspective. And prescient regarding the NIL/Transfer Portal madness about to ensue, which he knew would force him to spend almost all his time recruiting, cajoling and schmoozing and take him the coaching he really loved. So he walked away from the madness. I wish the UW would have the guts to do the same thing…..

  8. Jeez. I thought I was a tad bleak.

    As I mentioned to the reader above, Alabama has lost 25 players into the portal too. While I agree the purple people have inflated their presence on the national football scene, the transfer/NIL money may create enough annual randomness to amp the entertainment value for the minor league I described to Kathy, and allow in the Huskies for an occasional title sniff.

    Your history lesson with UW coaches left out the legendary Gil Dobie and his 58-0-6 record. He was fired by President Suzzallo for a good reason: No goldurn football coach, he said, was going to be bigger than the university. Hah!

    • Gil Dobie – of course (note: never try and “out-history” Art Thiel and his Wayback machine).

      Of course the UW COULD survive this if they had a benefactor like Oregon’s sweat-shop shoe magnate. A quick search indicates the Quackaroo’s sugar daddy is worth ~ $41bln. UW has no one like that…..

  9. Good hire by UW. I’m finding it both amusing and disappointing at how Husky fans have thrown insults and vitriol at Coach DeBoer for leaving the Huskies for the Tide. They conveniently forget that UW poached him from Fresno State. Or how UW Women’s BB head coach Mike Neighbors quickly built the program into a contender then bolted for Arkansas. College Athletics now rarely has long term coaches, ( or 4 year players) especially in the big money making sports. And I don’t fault DeBoer for going to basically the Mecca of college football. Most coaches would have done the same. For that reason I don’t believe UW was outbid though I thought his daughter playing softball for UW would have committed him for a few more years.

    Listening to Coach Fisch’s presser he carefully chose his words and wisely didn’t anything close to “I’m a Dawg for life!” Just sold off the impression. I’m expecting him to succeed here then go to his Alma mater, Florida, in 4 years. Again it’s the nature of the business. Anxiously awaiting for UW to name Richard Sherman head coach in 2028. Hey, if Colorado can hire Deion, right?

  10. Hey! I can get as tribal as the next guy. I love my guys, and I hate your guys. My team is better, more talented, and well loved.

    Hail to the Purple and Gold, Blue and Orange, Crimson and White…. Wait a minute, I’m talking about uniforms, clothing, fashion.

    I care more about the outfit. Yeah, i’m upset now, but i’ll get over it. I’ll root for anyone wearing a costume that i can get behind.
    I think we should petition Vogue to cover sports.

    Art, you should wear Prada. 😀

  11. Art-side note: Could it be that Pat O’Day and his voice have been reincarnated in the body
    of Chris Collingsworth? Do you think Collingsworth could call the hydro races?


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