Coach's Corner

Are the rats leaving the sinking ship? Or is this an indication of disgruntled players? The answers are NO and NO. Attrition is very much part of any football team in America. This is one reason why it is so hard to correctly calculate graduation rates of any incoming class.

Currently the NCAA is considering changing how to accurately report actual graduations of recruited student athletes. Football, with its 85-scholarship limit, is always in a state of flux just trying to maintain their number count. You can just about bet on about five percent of your kids leaving the program and simply walking away from their financial aid each year. The reasons are many and varied, but invariably kids decide that they don't fit a particular system either because they are sick of football, or because they are tired of the grind. That grind is extremely demanding on both time and feelings.

Nate Robinson left because the grind of two sports was simply getting to him. The honestly of Will Conwell was refreshing. He simply didn't like it anymore and was playing for all of the wrong reasons. Matt Lingley realized he didn't have the speed to compete and had lost his desire. Mike Savicky realized he was too small and wants to transfer to a school where he is more able to compete. Eric Shyne didn't have the academic commitment to attend class and pay the price off the field to be successful. He eliminated himself.

Were they recruiting mistakes? Again, the answer is no.

Nate was probably the best freshman on the team last year and when Roc Alexander went down, he stepped into the position and did a terrific job. It's interesting that he did exactly the opposite of Mike Bush, the Cougar receiver he was matched against in the Apple Cup. Bush decided that there was a better future for himself in football, just as Nate believes there is a better future for himself in basketball.

When kids make a decision to leave the team, it's often at a time of fatigue or when they just don't want to continue the grind. If the football coaches had allowed Nate to skip spring and weight training and all the conditioning, he would have been glad to show up on Saturdays and play in the games.

Unfortunately, that's not how it works. Big time football and big time basketball are year-round commitments. That is why Julius Pepper, a starter on North Carolina's basketball team, decided to quit basketball for football. When he did, he became the dominant player in the country as a defensive end.

Players who are picking their best sport are making sense, and you respect it. Players who simply quit and leave with no explanation are harder to understand.

Players who say, "It's not for me," are at least being honest. If they have the guts to walk into your office and tell you, it earns your respect.

College football is not for everyone. It's not as much fun as high school and yet it requires much more time and effort. It is demanding, along with attending classes, studying for tests, and carrying on the social life of a normal college student. Time management is critical to stay on top of it all, and when you lose your desire, it becomes almost an impossible exercise in endurance.

For me, I always felt it was harder to quit then it was to endure. Obviously, I played in the old days but the attrition was even more severe then. We had over 100 freshmen turn out at Washington State for my college football team. 60 were on scholarship. When our senior year came around, there were nine of us left.

Now that is attrition!

Some think that only the strong survive. In our case, it was only the stupid and the tough. I realized that not only did I love the game, but also that I couldn't get a college education without the scholarship. I wanted to quit many times, but I couldn't face myself and say it.

It became a game of endurance and I wasn't going to let anybody run me off. It becomes a personal pride thing. You just tell yourself, "I'm going to stick it out. I will have the friends for life and we will know that we survived together."

It is not easy, and therefore it is proper, to respect and understand those who are capable of making the decision to walk away. They have come to somehow know that it's better that they quit now rather than later.

Both coach and player alike would much rather it happens now, rather than when the game is on the line.

Throughout the years, I was always sad whenever a kid decided to go his own way. We always tried to talk a kid out of being homesick, disgruntled, or otherwise dissatisfied. I can tell you from my coaching experiences that at one time or another, one of those three things or emotions will touch every single young man on your team. You may be able to talk a kid out of quitting once, but when they do it a number of times, you simply have to let them go. They all want to get on the field. Those who don't find playing time find it much easier to walk away. Of those who have left Washington, very few have reached a high level of success after their transfer. Most end up regretting their decision but usually for the wrong reasons.

While they are being recruited in high school, many kids don't ever realize the significance of the jump in competition they are about to face. When they actually get to college and see it first-hand, it can be so intimidating that some will be destined for failure, just on attitude alone.

To win a championship, it takes sacrifice and total commitment to doing the little things right, no matter how hard. I'll guarantee you that Pete Kaligis and Steve Emtman in the weight room are going to make this group of Huskies tougher. How? Through good ol' fashioned hard work. Going above and beyond the call. Pay the price to win it all.

There will be more to leave. I can assure you of that. Why? Because they are starting to tighten down the screws on the program.

Coach Neuheisel and his staff have made a conscious commitment to up the ante. Pay the price and become a champion. There is a definite sense of urgency to return the Huskies to their position atop the Pac-10 conference. If it means weeding out those with self-doubts, then so be it.

And no, it doesn't necessarily mean you made a mistake in recruiting.
Dawgman.com columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the Dawgman.com staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.

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