“I ain’t never been nothing but a winner.”
~ Paul W. “Bear” Bryant
Kalen DeBoer (pronounced duh-BOR) was born and raised in tiny little Milbank, South Dakota. Right around his ninth birthday, his parents split up and his mother moved the three children to a rental home on a vacant farm. Milbank might be a small little town, but Minneapolis is three hours away and Fargo is two hours away. Also two hours away is Sioux Falls, South Dakota which would become a key location for DeBoer’s personal development.
As the oldest of three, he often took on the role of the man of the house. His mother recalls that as a kid, Kalen would mow a big plot of land on the farm property so that he could play football with his siblings and cousins.
DeBoer excelled at football and baseball in high school and received a football scholarship to the University of Sioux Falls. Although DeBoer says he has a good relationship with his father, he was not around as much while he was growing up. In college, he found a father figure/mentor in coach Bob Young who would be a big influence on his life. As a senior wide receiver, DeBoer was named an NAIA All-American as he helped lead USF to the school’s first NAIA championship.
Following graduation, he immediately became the school’s wide receiver coach. After a two year stint coaching high school ball, he returned to Sioux Falls as their OC under his former head coach. When Young retired after the 2004 season, DeBoer was promoted to head coach.
In his first season as the head man, he led his alma mater to the semi-final. In his second season, he had a perfect 14-0 record and an NAIA championship. He would repeat that feat in 2008 and 2009. Over four seasons he would lose only one game and that was the 2007 championship game.
His success at USF caught the eye of FCS Southern Illinois where he would serve as OC for two years. In 2014, he took another step up. This time to FBS Eastern Michigan of the MAC. He would coordinate the offense there for three seasons before another promotion moved him to higher profile Fresno State. It is there where his influence (and absence) first became noticeable.
The previous season of 2016 saw Fresno go 1-11 leading to the dismissal their head coach. Jeff Tedford took over and quickly hired DeBoer as his OC and QB coach. The result was a 10-4 record and a Mountain West division title. [SIDE NOTE: in 2017, Fresno played at Alabama, losing 41-10.] The next season, the Bulldogs would win the MWC with a 12-2 record.
Following this great success, DeBoer once again moved up, this time to the Big Ten Indiana. With Kalen in charge of the offense in 2019, the Hoosiers skyrocketd up to third in the Big Ten in total offense (432.8 ypg). They had their first winning season (8-5) since 2007 and first eight win campaign since 1988. Suddenly, IU coach Tom Allen was a hot name in coaching. Back in Fresno, the Bulldogs regressed to a 4-8 record.
After that one season at Indiana, DeBoer returned to the sidelines at Fresno but this time as head coach. Back in Bloomington, Allen’s 2020 squad would go 6-2 in that weird and wacky season. However, Allen followed that up with three losing seasons with a combined 9-27 record. He was fired last November.
Under DeBoer’s leadership, the Bulldogs would go 3-3 in 2020. FSU progressed to 9-3 in the 2021 regular season which included upsets of #13 UCLA and #21 San Diego State, plus a tight seven-point loss at #11 Oregon. QB Jake Haener had a breakout season with 4,096 yards, 33 TDs and 9 INTs. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Saints in the 2023 draft.
DeBoer did not make it to the Dogs’ bowl game that year for Washington came in, swooped him up and took him to Seattle. The rest, you probably know: 25-3 in two seasons with the Huskies, the final PAC-12 championship ever and a national championship runner-up. He also boosted QB Michael Penix’s game into receiving second most Heisman Trophy votes this past season.
Almost as important is to note where UW was before KDB’s arrival. Chris Petersen had a nice run as coach including two PAC-12 titles and three NY6 Bowl games from 2016-2018. His 2019 team had a flat 8-5 season and he retired shortly thereafter. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake took over and went 3-3 in 2020. In 2021, Lake was suspended without pay after he struck one of his players in the facemask and shoved him out of the way of a near-brawl against Oregon. The incident was controversial but many other issues during his short tumultuous tenure led to him being fired a week later. The Huskies would finish that season at 4-8 and the program was in a really bad place. DeBoer came in and had UW back at 11–2 a mere twelve months later.
DeBoer is married with two daughters. Wife Nicole was a member of the Augustana University basketball team in Sioux Falls. The couple met in the summer 2000, around the same time Kalen was an offensive coordinator at the University of Sioux Falls. Their older daughter, Alexis, plans to attend UW in the fall on a softball scholarship. Might she have a change of heart?