In the fall-out, the University of Washington probably got the guy they needed at this juncture, not necessarily in terms of wins but in dignity and in discipline. If that is not enough for the Tyee Club to accept and to live with for the next 4 to 5 years, Willingham may be exactly the wrong guy.
Yes, there was an immediate up-tick in South Bend after Willingham's hire, and that possibility does exist in Seattle – though I don't think there are enough good athletes up there to sustain a team through a full season. It is worth remembering once the shine wore off that inaugural Irish team, the season ended with a distinct thud and that may be more the pattern on the shores of Lake Washington.
Unquestionably, next season's appearance at Husky Stadium by Notre Dame will be the most hyped topic of the off season – and deservedly so. While the Huskies won only once last season and a repeat of that pattern is also a possibility for next year – I'll bet they win THIS one…. And more than I'd like to have the franchise on THAT as a pay-per-view, I would like to be in Irish Athletic Director Kevin White's visitor's suite as that outcome becomes apparent. Never would a more poetic form of justice be witnessed. I don't frequently favor the Huskies, but in this match-up I hope they win by forty.
To take advantage of a convenient segue
Another slant to all this, one that winds it's way all the way back to Eugene has Willingham being fired at Notre Dame in the hope of landing Urban Meyer, who went to Florida instead to replace Ron Zook, which opened up Utah which moved Oregon offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. Who says this isn't "All My Children". – thankfully without the bad dialogue and acting.
Terming it a "mutual decision" was an interesting choice of words for Mike Bellotti to use in describing the departure. He had previously mentioned, and has since reiterated, his would be a stronger voice in offensive preparation and game calling. If that was taken as a rebuke of sorts by Ludwig and the move to another program was a response to allow his continued free reign as a coordinator, or were it truly only an opportunity to work with a friend in the profession in the vicinity of his family home isn't a necessary distinction to me.
It is safe to say the majority of the Sec 26 head coaches aren't mourning the loss. Were I to identify a consensus of Ludwig's shortcomings from all those offered, it would be the conservatism of his play-calling – a fair criticism to my view. It is an easy trap to fall into when players aren't sustaining drives and the approach becomes one of "don't beat yourself" and you no longer trust that a risk taken will yield a positive result.
In the grand equation of four quarters played consistent three and out drives, needless penalties and poor special teams play has the equally negative impact of an additional turnover or two. Once the initiative is to prevent something bad from happening instead of trying to cause something good to happen there is a seismic shift in the tenor of the game and a pattern is established that confines the ability of a young athlete to become a better player. Some elements of winning a football game do have to learned the hard way… you just hope in the process you also learn to play through any misfortune that develops and that you also learn how to prevent additional misfortune from compounding the task at hand. Playing it safe never allows the player - or the team - to make that incremental enhancement to the learning curve.
Bellotti may find his increased participation in the offense to be a plus out on the recruiting trail. Jeff Teford has shown an active role by the head coach can be an appealing configuration and perhaps Bellotti could find his direct involvement to be a favorable factor in a potential (offensive) recruit's decision to play for the Ducks. Better recruiting was one of the remedies Bellotti has publicly identified as necessary to improve performance, so this could be an interesting card to lay on the table.
There is a precedent worth recalling – at the end of the '97 season a the program experienced a similar departure by defensive coordinator Rich Stubler. That situation worked out reasonably well for both parties and it would be a welcome occurrence if it were to do so again in this instance. Especially in light of the degree of trauma, self inflicted or not, visited upon some of the other programs – because that is the next step in the sequence should this realignment prove insufficient.
Of course there is still an important hire to be made, either of an offensive coordinator who is willing to be collaborative with regard to play design and selection or of a quarterback coach to elevate that aspect of play. Next season may find Kellen Clemens more under the microscope than was Jason Fife after replacing Joey Harrington.
My assumption is any "mentoring" by a position coach would be less in the X's and O's of the game and more in the area of leadership and game discipline - the play to play demeanor and communication of expectations on the field – holding everyone accountable in the huddle and setting the demand of success with the appropriate principles as the play is given and the huddle broke.
With an inexperienced offensive line an unforgiving truth next season, teaching a streamlined read of the play progression may also be a necessity. Despite an ongoing need, over the course of this past season there was little improvement in that aspect of play, resulting in far too many quarterback sacks taken. With any improved ability to protect the quarterback an open question, at the very least the QB has to get the pass off more quickly - even if only for an incompletion. Were there no other improvement than a more advantageous exchange of field position, it would be a significant step forward.
Some speculation has former Oregon quarterback Bill Musgrave a candidate to succeed Ludwig. Currently the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL, it would be an obvious hearkening back to the beginning of the program's ascension to bring him back to Eugene; Musgrave's junior season was Bellotti's first with the program.
Starting his first game for the Ducks as a freshman in the opening game of the '87 season at Colorado, legend has it that on a fourth down conversion that resulted in the winning touchdown (if memory serves correct), prior to giving the play in the huddle, Musgrave looked at the intended receiver and said "just catch the damn ball". Essentially the same Colorado team won the national championship two seasons later and the Ducks were first able to reasonably ask "why not us".
If that is an attitude that can be taught, Coach Bellotti and whoever is Ludwig's replacement will be able to more quickly turn the program around. However, three years of faltering results may be showing that to be a difficult bit of lightening to catch in a jar.
Do you mind?
One of the thousand and one reasons college football is more enjoyable than the professional version is a college football fan does not have to have their senses assaulted by the analysts employed by ESPN for their NFL coverage, Sean Salisbury and John Clayton. Each is reasonably intelligent and adequately communicates their point of view, but the willful and high-pitched antagonism between the two is amateurish and not welcome in my living room. Bottom line, in the confines of my living room it is my decision and my decision alone which of the two has the more interesting perspective, has one or the other better employed a reasonable logic to arrive at their stated conclusion and if either warrants my further attention. The most useless piece of information to the subject is what each thinks of the other. Here's hoping ESPN tells them both to take a hike, and they find the success they so richly deserve on FoxSports Eastern Slobovenia.
Speaking of the mothership…
Recently happened to catch an episode of ESPN's ongoing documentary "A Season" that focused on the decade of success at De La Salle high school in Concord, California. Known well to Pac-10 football fans as a major pipeline of talent into the conference, the episode gave a broad view of the program's history and how its coach, Bob Ladouceur, has created a high school football dynasty in the Bay Area.
As the episode progressed, several names attached to programs throughout the conference were highlighted in historical footage of important games the program played in it's historic 151 game winning streak. The documentary extends through the first game of the 2004 season versus Bellevue High in Seattle's Qwest Stadium that saw the streak come to an end. A graphic at the end of the program provides the update that De La Salle for the thirteenth consecutive year won the North Coast Sectional Championship, despite the unfamiliar experience of suffering three losses over the course of the season.
Featured players included Demetrius Williams, Maurice Drew, Mercedes Lewis and Matt Guittierez. Though not mentioned by name, included are highlights of games with Cameron Colvin, Jackie Bates and David Martin. Footage from contests with fellow California powerhouse programs Mater Dei High School and Long Beach Polytech, who sent players such as Sammie Parker, Matt Leinart and Mercedes Lewis into the conference, is included to document the remarkable streak.
The late Terrance Kelly is also the subject of some attention, showing game footage from his senior season, this year's team attending the memorial service after his murder and excerpting a portion of Ladouceur's eulogy. Well worth doing a search of ESPN's website for their program listings either to spend the hour or set the VCR.