Coach's Corner

Barbara Hedges came through in the clutch, stuck to her guns and named the most deserving candidate, Keith Gilbertson, as the new head coach of the Washington Huskies. Nobody was surprised by the announcement but the problem of title and compensation had yet to be resolved.

Although she paid him considerably less than she was paying Rick Neuheisel, it was a fair and reasonable figure that Gilbs was happy with. Even though this does not end the summer of discontent and disarray at the Montlake school, it does reward a loyal soldier who has more than paid his dues in earning the job.

Consider that he has been a head coach twice before and has coached in the NFL, Gilbs actually brings to the table a much better resume than did his predecessor. He is up to the challenge and definitely understands the culture and tradition that surrounds Husky football. He knows what to expect and has been preparing a lifetime for this opportunity. He openly admits a responsibility to the legacy and the tradition of the program. He grinned as his whole family and mentor, Don James, looked on. He is proud to be the coach. I was equally proud that he was given a four-year contract, one that will help him in recruiting, and be paid a figure that is fair to him.

I commend Ms Hedges for stepping to the plate and avoiding any "interim" label as well as making it a four-year contract. He has earned the respect of the players, coaches, alumni, and administration thru three tours of duty as a Husky coach.

He has traveled the west and finally returned home to complete his career as the coach of the finest football program in the western part of the country. It has to be a feel good story with a happy ending. He has waited so long that each game in itself will be another dream come true.

This summer has been hard on Barbara Hedges and she has suffered over her decision to fire Coach Neuheisel. After all, he was her chosen one and even though he made her endure one problem after another, she stood by her man. It wasn't until this past year, after the NCAA had reprimanded him for violations at Colorado (over 50), followed by a censor from the AFC (American Football Coaches Association), followed by the infamous 49'er lie, that she finally had reached the end of her rope.

The gambling issue was not grounds for dismissal but the collective continuances of indiscretions on his part literally forced her hand. The betting pool was the preverbal straw that broke the camel's back. That, plus what I suspect was a direct request from the UW Board of Regents, resulted in his finally being fired and thus ending the beleaguered tenure of a coach whose personality will never be matched by Gilbs or any other football coach for that matter.

Coach Neuheisel is a great people person. His wit was contagious and his speaking ability in front of groups was super. He was simply too much flash for her to ignore. He was a showman and a colorful one at that. She had stuck her neck out for him and raised the payroll bar well before people were ready to accept it. He was given a golden opportunity to either succeed or screw up. He, unfortunately, chose the latter. Not intentionally but still he was on the edge and his reputation preceded him. He was viewed as too slick, too slippery, too young, too rich, too good looking and way too confident. He was almost too good to be real and that kind of summed it all up.

It needs to be said, though, that Rick was great to his assistants, the boosters, and his players. He made the game fun and was not afraid to do things differently. He challenged the system but never seemed to be the right fit at Washington. Still he had success and after his first two seasons had made Barbara look like a genius for hiring him. She was nothing but smiles after he led the Dawgs back to the Rose Bowl and national prominence.

Suddenly, however, cracks began to surface in his ethical approach to the game. Although he thought he had left those problems in Colorado, his past came back to haunt him and slowly the Buffaloes joined a conspiracy of sorts to bring him down. Maybe Colorado felt they were restoring their own reputation by condemning Rick for being the reason for their own lack of institutional control. Colorado had a major axe to grind with Coach Neuheisel and when they shifted the blame to him, they opened the door for his reputation to grow even worse. It started the ball rolling fast and culminated in his being fired, and for that I am both sad and disturbed.

Following his meetings with the NCAA and the AFCA, his fate had probably been sealed. He was a marked man and they were going to get him sooner or later. When the lie and the pool both surfaced on the heels of the reprimands, it tied Hedges' hands. She had no choice but to dismiss with cause.

Now the financial settlement will be hammered out in the courts. This is now about his family and name, and he is determined to fight it all the way. I wish him luck and commend him for getting out of the way and allowing for the program to move forward.

The hiring of Keith Gilbertson will start the healing process. It will return a little of the old school flavor to the program. It will bring back the element of smash mouth football led by a swarming defense and solid kicking game. Even though Gilbs is an offensive coach, he realizes that the Husky fans demand defense and big plays in the kicking game. It is what they expect and what will be most notable in the change of the team.

Barbara Hedges hired the right man and I promise you she will never have to fire him. He promises to do it by the rules, and besides, I really don't think she wants to ever fire a coach again. Age alone would indicate she is nearing the end of her own career and it looks like she will leave on her own terms. Although I have not always agreed with her decisions, particularly with regard to personnel, I commend her for this last one and believe that she did what was best for Husky football.

All hail Gilby. Bring on the Buckeyes. 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 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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