Sports Journalism Blog

By Andrew Thomison | @Andrew_Thomison

Sports Capital Journalism Program

HOUSTON – For just a few minutes on Saturday evening, his team’s game for a national championship less than 48 hours away, Washington Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer sat in the front row for a presentation that would forever connect him with one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football.

“It really kind of hit me when I came around the corner and saw the bust,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer sat a few feet away from a bust of Eddie Robinson that would soon become his own. DeBoer accepted the 2023 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award, named for the Hall-of-Fame coach from Grambling, before members of his family, the Robinson family and the Pro Football Writers Association.

DeBoer sat with his family and silently nodded, again and again, as the audience at the award ceremony heard the names of previous winners: Woody Hayes. Paul (Bear) Bryant. Don James. Lou Holtz.

And now DeBoer, who four years earlier had been offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Indiana University, would join them.

DeBoer became just the second head coach in the school’s history to win the award, 32 seasons after James, who led Washington to a share of the 1991 title, won the award that season. DeBoer was one of 20 finalists and becomes the 66th coach to win the award since its establishment in 1957, when Woody Hayes, coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, won the first award.

DeBoer led the Huskies to a 14-0 record, the most victories in a season in Washington history. With a recent victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the Huskies will face off against Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines in the College Football Playoff.

DeBoer’s coaching career began at the University of Sioux Falls, where he coached wide receivers in 1997, the year before he earned his degree. He became offensive coordinator in 1998, was promoted to head coach in 2005, and led the school to NAIA national championships in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

After assistant roles at Southern Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Fresno State, he became offensive coordinator at Indiana and developed the relationship with Michael Penix Jr. that would change both their lives. He returned to Fresno State as head coach in 2020. The Bulldogs had a 3-3 record that season and improved to 9-3 with a spot in the New Mexico Bowl in 2021.

In 2021, the Washington Huskies came calling he and hired DeBoer, who holds an overall 104-11 record throughout his coaching career, has led the Huskies to back-to-back winning seasons.

Washington’s offense, led by Penix, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, averaged 37.6 points per game while scoring a total of 527 on the season under DeBoer’s guidance.

“A coach of the year award, to me, it’s a team award,” DeBoer said. “…It means a lot, because I know it stands for more than just wins.”