Tapping McWashington's serious brain power

SAY THIS ABOUT Shawn McWashington: He's versatile. In a wide-ranging Q&A this week with Cougfan.com we learned that the one-time star high school quarterback-turned-Fab Five receiver played pro ball for five teams in three leagues. We also learned that he possesses some serious brainpower, having completed coursework on a Ph.D. from Florida State. And that's just for starters.

The guy also has strong opinions about the bowl system, education, and whether college players should be paid.

Plus, he loves tailgating -- at least when it involves talking about Cougar football -- and wants you to put him on your invite list come fall.

Here's the full run down of our talk with the guy who sprung Kevin McKenzie for The Catch at USC in 1997 ...

1. We all know you were a great part of the Cougars' 1998 Rose Bowl team, but what have you be doing in the years since then and how do you think it has helped prepare you for this new role as the Cougars' radio analyst?

McWashington:
A little known fact is that I was working on my master's degree in education my senior season at WSU. Once the season ended I put that on hold and had brief stints with the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Amsterdam Admirals, Edmonton Eskimos, and B.C. Lions. When my playing days were done I finished my master's coursework and then taught special education and coached football and girls' track and field at my alma mater, Garfield High School in Seattle. Following that, I taught at Florida State University while completing my PhD coursework in athletic administration. From there I became director of academic services at two different universities. I am currently an assistant VP at Marsh & McLennan Companies in Seattle.

2. What was your initial reaction when you were approached about the color commentator's job?

McWashington:
My initial reaction, which is my ongoing reaction, was pure excitement. It's like the commercial where the dream fairy comes in and sprinkles too much dust on my face. My favorite thing so far is how excited the Cougar fans are. I view my role as their eyes and ears -- I'm just an extension of them. That's why I am so open to comments and suggestions. It's really your broadcast. I think I'm fairly personable, so I hope Coug fans will feel free to talk with me and offer suggestions and input.

3. Your dad was a standout for the Cougars in the 1960s, so you've really been a Coug since birth. What's it feel like to know you'll now be preaching the crimson gospel to thousands and thousands of listeners every Saturday in the fall?

McWashington:
It's very humbling. The fact that I am going to be talking to so many people is pretty darn cool. I'll educate them on the game as much as possible by telling them what I see, and hopefully it will be well received.

4. What was your dad's reaction when you told him about this opportunity?

McWashington:
The first thing he asked me was how much I'll make! Too funny. He and I are pretty close. I told him over the phone because I was on vacation in New Orleans when it all came together. You could tell he was pretty excited. He is at the age where he probably got a little teary eyed once we got off the phone. I ask him if I can borrow his Rose Bowl ring all the time ... knowing that he missed playing in the Granddaddy of all bowl games by a single point in 1965. You can imagine his response.

5. Have you ever seen film of your dad when he played for the Cougs? How good was he?

McWashington:
Back in 2000 I went into the archives in the library and found all my dad's old games and had them transferred from film to VHS and gave them to him for Christmas. He was very good – and fast. Way faster than me. They called him Flammin' Ammon for a reason.

6. How active was your dad in your football education as a kid?

McWashington:
He has been my hero, in all things, my entire life. Although I have to admit that when it came to football I always wanted to play like Anthony Allen. I know he is a Husky, but I had never seen someone so graceful. My dad was never overbearing when it came to football. He yelled at me just once -- when I skipped a practice when I was 8 years old and it came back to haunt me. I was playing receiver in the Rainer little league, and unbeknownst to me on that day I skipped we inserted our only pass play of the season. It was called Mr. T. When they called it in the game I had no idea what to do so the coach called time out and took me out of the game. I played football from age 8 to age 26 and I never missed another practice again. My dad only told me two other things about football: don't stand near the pile because people tend to fly around and you might get hurt, and to run back toward the line of scrimmage on out routes. I bet if he knew I was listening he would have told me a bunch more.

7. You played on what arguably was the greatest team in the history of WSU. How many times this season do you think you'll be tempted to say, "Well, back when I played, this was the way it was done ...." ?

McWashington:
That's going to be difficult for me. I'm a humble person. There are people that I have known for years that have no idea I ever played football. But if you get me on the topic I'm more than happy to say ‘Remember The Block at USC?!?!' That's how it's supposed to be done, fellas! Mike Levenseller used to say I was the smartest person he ever coached so I'm sure that idea will be tested this season. But being in the booth with a legend like Bob Robertson and a true professional like Bud Nameck takes a lot of pressure off because there's nothing they haven't already experienced. I'm very pumped up about it.

8. Between Jim Walden and Paul Sorensen before him, WSU has had more than two decades of very entertaining, very opinionated, very knowledgeable commentary coming from the color analyst's chair. Does that scare you, inspire you, or a little bit of both?

McWashington:
More than anything it's an honor that my name is now being mentioned in the same sentence as theirs. These are people I looked up to my entire life. Imagine following in the footsteps of someone you idolize. How would you feel? I feel like that times a thousand because my experience is going to play out in front of the entire Cougar Nation.

9. Have you talked with Jim or Paul to get any pointers?

McWashington:
I haven't talked with Coach Walden yet, but Paul and I chatted on Monday. He has been a friend for a long time. He just told me to be myself, and if so people will love it. My mom was a little stronger -- she said to be myself and people will love it and if they don't that means something is wrong with them!

10. How are you going to prepare yourself between now and the season-opener at BYU on September 1?

McWashington:
Completing my PhD coursework has made me a researcher by nature. Therefore I will read everything I can get my hands on. I will also practice in the studio watching old games, listen to Cougar fans about what they want to hear, talk to coaches and players, I have a vast network of current and former broadcasters that I have already been meeting with, but the one thing that would mean the world to me is to talk to the man: Keith Jackson. He mentioned my father during the 1998 Rose Bowl broadcast and that meant the world to me.

11. After the Cougs beat the Huskies in 1997 to clinch a berth in the '98 Rose Bowl, you had a truly memorable post-game quote, saying the rain coming down must be the tears of Babe Hollingbery and Mel Hein. Was that just off the top of your head or did you have it prepared and tucked away in the back of your mind?

McWashington:
That was off the top of my head. Pretty cool, huh? The only thing that was scripted was the picture with the rose in my teeth. That, along with the picture of Leon Bender smelling the rose, are my two favorite Cougar photos of all time. I made that picture into a Christmas card and sent it to every Husky I know. Good times! I am looking forward to more of those.

12. Mike Leach offenses typically burn around 25 seconds between the end of one play and the snap of the next. Do you think you can talk fast enough to tell us everything you're seeing on the field?

McWashington:
I don't have a choice. I doubt I can call down to Jess on the field and have her walk over to coach and tell him to slow it down because I am trying to explain cover 2. The four of us will make it work, and it will be a great product you can be proud of. I really believe in Bill Moos. He, much like former President Sam Smith, never puts someone in a position in which they would not be successful. He has put us here for a reason.

13. In terms of style, what national analysts do you think you'll most resemble? Chris Collinsworth? Troy Aikman?

McWashington:
I don't know that I will resemble anyone. My thoughts and experiences are my own. I guess I hope to resemble your buddy you always invite over to your house to watch the game because he is cool and has insightful stuff to say. I think you'll find I tend to call things exactly as I see them -- not in a judgmental way, but in a matter-of-fact way. I'm definitely not shy about expressing opinions. I have an opinion on most topics, but I am an educator by nature.

14. Do you think you'll have time for any tailgating this season?

McWashington:
I'm an approachable guy and want to hear what our fans are thinking, so would love to be invited to the RV lot before and after the game. Eating and talking Cougar football are two of my favorite things. Though I workout every day, my 40 time is still measured with a sun dial so just don't ask me to play any flag football. But I will play catch with anyone who has a ball.

15. You are highly educated and you come from a family in which education was first and foremost. How does that shape your outlook on college athletics?

McWashington:
I have strong opinions on higher education and the purpose and place of athletics at universities. I enjoy talking about it. My father was superintendant of Seattle high schools, and my mother is currently completing her law degree. When my grandmother was growing up in Arkansas they didn't accept Black students at the university so UA paid for her to go to Ohio and get her bachelor's degree there. Once they began accepting Black students she went back to Arkansas and got another degree. So needless to say my family is staunch in knowing the value of education. I am a firm believer in what the NCAA is attempting to do with the APR and requiring student-athletes to maintain progress toward a degree to keep their eligibility. The first thing that endeared me to Mike Leach was his history of high player graduation rates, and his position on academics. I'm looking forward to watching him aid in the maturation process of Cougar men.

16. What do you think of the idea of going to a playoff system at the end of the season?

McWashington:
When it comes to playoffs vs. bowl games I am a firm believer in the bowl system. As a fan, I love the idea of a playoff -- it would be exciting, and it would keep me entertained throughout the winter months. But I am against the system because I don't think it's in the mission of universities to determine and crown a national champion. I think it would take away from the academic missions of institutions. You would have to play games during finials periods, and you further move college athletes away from amateurism.

17. What about paying players? Your old teammate Ryan Leaf made a strong case in favor of the idea in his book 596 Switch. Do you agree?

McWashington:
I do not think athletes should be paid. I think it opens up universities to too many complicating issues, including Title IX and workers compensation. I do think athletes should control their own image and marketing rights. It's not fair that companies are making millions selling video games and jerseys and players are not seeing any of that money. I could go on forever talking about academics, and social issues in college athletics.

18. Final thoughts?

McWashington:
In joining the Cougar broadcast team, I view us as just that: a team. I am a team player first and foremost. I support the mission of the university, our current and former presidents, Bill Moos, our head football coach, and all players that abide by our university's code of conduct and the standards Mike Leach set's forth. I'm looking forward to a great season all the way around.

For additional thoughts from Shawn on his new role, check out this message board post he fired up on Cougfan.com shortly after Monday's announcement.

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