This is the latest in a series examining the 15 most important assistant coaching hires of the 2018 season. Previous installments:
Who: Bush Hamdan, Washington
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks coach (2017)
Why he’s important: They say if you love something let it go, and if it comes back it’s truly yours. That’s the situation here with Hamdan and Washington. Hamdan was born in Kuwait, the son of a nuclear scientist and a titan of the cosmetology industry. Hamdan played his high school ball in the Washington, D.C., area but ended up at Boise State, where he spent his college career as a reserve. He was on the team that beat Oklahoma in that bonkers Fiesta Bowl and, as a fifth-year senior, backed up true freshman Kellen Moore. Seeing that the continuation of his football career wouldn’t come on the field, Hamdan plunged himself into coaching, first as a student assistant at Colorado in 2009.
Hamdan climbed the Coach Pete tree from there, serving as Brent Pease’s wide receivers coach at Florida in 2012 and then Bryan Harsin’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for his season at Arkansas State. He returned to Petersen’s bench in 2015 as a quality control coach in 2015, then was promoted to wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator before rocketing forward to become the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterbacks coach.
And then Jonathan Smith got the Oregon State job, and it was Hamdan’s time to return to his football roots, this time to run the show.
Hamdan returns to Seattle in a young man in his early 30’s, but a grizzled veteran of the Chris Petersen approach to offense. He’s lived it in all its forms, nearly a decade full of seasons in different roles, a multitude of locations, with various approaches and to varying degrees of success.
“When you think about it, he’s been grinding for over 10 years, moved how many times? This has not come easy for him by any stretch,” Petersen told the Tacoma News Tribune in April. “I mean, he’s moved nine times in 11 years. He’s been single. His whole life has been football for 10 years. That’s all he’s thought about.
“People think ‘Oh, here’s this young guy’ but they do not understand the sacrifice and what he’s done to get himself in this position.”
He also takes over Washington’s offense at an interesting time. Huskies quarterback Jake Browning is essentially the purple-and-gold sequel to Kellen Moore. A slight but cerebral veteran, Browning enters his senior season with 1,096 career attempts already behind him (Baker Mayfield entered his senior season with 1,093 attempts; Moore had 1,221). Among those 1,096 passes, only 24 have ended up in opponents’ hands — a paltry 2.2 percent. And now he’ll be tutored by a coach who just spent a year watching how Matt Ryan works day in and day out.
Obviously, Hamdan is responsible for more than just the quarterback room now, and he also inherits one of college football’s most experienced running backs in senior Myles Gaskin, who, barring injury, will lead the Huskies in carries all four years on campus. That battery will operate behind an offensive line that returns three starters — including both tackles — but loses its best pass-catcher in Dante Pettis.
All that experience comes with a price. Two years removed from winning the Pac-12 and reaching the College Football Playoff, Washington is expected to do so again. A repeat of 2017 — a 10-3 record, a loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl and a No. 16 final ranking — will be viewed as a disappointment. The challenge begins immediately with a date with Auburn in Atlanta, a neutral site game that is essentially a road game, and continues with trips to Utah, UCLA, Oregon and Washington State and a season-decider with Stanford on Nov. 3. (Washington does miss USC this season.)
“It always starts with running the football,” Hamdan told the Seattle Times this spring. “By nature, we are pro-style guys, if you look at it (from) 20 years ago. I want to be downhill, I want to be able to run the ball and establish things off the run, but this tempo has been really good for us as well and being able to do a lot of different things. The theme, hopefully, stays exactly the same. We’ve had some success here the last couple years, and it’s the ability to do a lot of different things — show a lot of different things — and just keep this thing going.”