Coach's Corner

The saga of the Rick Neuheisel era is coming to a sad ending. Sure, the negotiations will continue and hopefully Rick will receive a just settlement and financial package for him and his family. But Athletic Director, Barbara Hedges, must handle the next step in the process correctly.

Hedges has had James resign, and has now terminated Lambright and Neuheisel. Considering there were only two coaches in 38 years before she arrived, having three in the last 11 years would seem to be a disturbing trend. However, she's on the right track on this one, having already committed to retaining the nine current assistant coaches. This is an outstanding staff.

Now the last step should be to name Keith Gilbertson the head coach.

Promoting Gilby to head coach is the logical and sound football thing to do. It will give the players their coaches back, and the sooner it's done, the better it will be. Let the healing begin. Let the kids rally around their coaches. Give the team a chance to establish their own leaders by putting a rudder on the boat.

Keith is a man the kids know is a good person and a lifelong football coach. He is, quite simply, a local-born ball coach who knows the system, the background, the tradition and the meaning of Husky football. He would not look for a better job because he knows there isn't a better one than that of being Top Dawg.

Could she have anyone else in mind? I hope not, but Gilby is no glamour boy and doesn't fit the mold of coaches she's hired to Washington. He is just who he is, and that's Keith Gilbertson, the football coach.

No bells and whistles. No musical instruments. No glamorous stage presence. Just a down to earth good guy.

The Husky community as a whole would openly embrace the move because Gilbertson is one of their own. This is a man who was raised by a high school football-coaching father. He is from Snohomish and grew up being a Husky fan.

And when it comes to football, the guy is flat out brilliant. He has a great understanding of the X's and O's of the game and relates with honesty and conviction to the players. He knows all of the alumni big hitters and is in tune with the state high school coaches because he is one of them.

I also think it's important to point out that he has been nothing but loyal to Rick, and is honestly anguished by the events of the last week or so.

Rick Neuheisel was a good person to all those who worked with him, for him, and around him. Coach Neuheisel went to bat for his assistants, their wives, their children and anybody associated with his program. He was very personal and available to his players. He was engaging and outgoing. He could mesmerize a room and, as a speaker, was second to none in the local sporting scene. Rick is also a wonderful father and husband. He and his wife Susan have three sons and their whole family was involved in Husky football.

He is also my friend. He treated me with respect and realized that I have a special relationship with the Husky players. I was always welcome and made to feel I was still part of Husky football.

One of the saddest parts of this whole tragedy was the continuous character assassination of Rick Neuheisel. All the attacks on his person and his honesty and his ethics were demeaning and unnecessary. Rick was committed to the community and regularly raised incredible sums for charities of all kinds. I personally watched him auction four sideline passes to a Husky game for over $30,000 for the Leukemia Foundation. He even showed up to support ex-coach Jim Lambright's golf tournament to raise money for Jim's foundation.

Now, they both have the distinction of being hired and fired by the same person. Now, that person is again in charge of deciding who the replacement will be.

The last time around, two ex-Husky assistants who are now head coaches, Gary Pinkel at Missouri and Chris Tormey at Nevada, were both considered for replacing Lambright. This time around both should be considered again, but neither could bring to the table what Gilbertson already has. There is really no need to go outside the program at this late date. The players will be coming back for summer school and workouts soon and if Keith is their coach, I will promise you they will be happy. The Husky players, alumni, and most of the true Husky fans are ready to rally behind him.

Barbara Hedges does so many good things for Washington sports, now it's time to do the right thing for the football program.

Please, Barbara, end this latest negative chapter in Husky Football and bring on the national champions. Make the right decision and hire Keith Gilbertson.

Do it now.
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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