Young Paus comes of age

Loyalty. When speaking historically of Keith Gilbertson, it's a deeply ingrained and two-way street between the coach and his Husky charges. In talking with former players Lincoln Kennedy and Ed Cunningham this past week, each had pointed examples of this when the question of Gilby and player loyalty was posed.

"All of us (Husky) offensive linemen, personality-wise, we were all across the shelf," said current Oakland Raider Lincoln Kennedy. "We couldn't have been more different. And yet one chubby little Italian comes up and firmly shakes your hand, and says ‘hey, how ya doin?' And you felt that love.

"He really made you feel comfortable. Gilby could be a hard ass like any good coach, but he also really builds you up. He made us offensive linemen ready to be accountable to one another… I am proud to have played for him."

Back when current ABC broadcaster Ed Cunningham and Supiueli Malamala were preparing for the NFL draft, an offensive line coach from the Atlanta Falcons came up to Seattle to test them out. This coach had slicked back hair and a smarmy, arrogant attitude that apparently didn't leave good impressions with anyone he spoke with at Montlake. Gilbertson, in his inimitable way, answered a question and got a point across all with one blunt retort.

This Atlanta coach took Cunningham and Malamala over to Newport High School so he could time them running on that turf. In the process, he related to Cunningham and Malamala an interaction between himself and Gilby.

"The coach had talked to Gilby about Supe and I," reminisced Cunningham. "The (Falcon) coach had said that he wanted to know about our loyalty as players. Gilby said to him, "Well, let me put it this way… If I told them to come here and kill you, they would.""

"Ultimately he is truthful and honest," continued Cunningham. "I've gotten to know a lot of coaches with my current job, and the best ones care about the person first, and the player second. That's Gilby. His personality fits. He has a lineman's mentality. He always told us, "I want you to show up in your business suit and with your assassin's case. We've got a job to do."

"For me," said Cunningham, "he was a breath of fresh air."

This brings us to the aftermath of the 42-10 downing of the Ducks this past Saturday night. Coach Gilbertson has stuck with Cody Pickett through thick and thin this season. There have been a lot of challenges with the offense, and much criticism leveled at his 5th-year senior QB. But Gilbertson hasn't wavered in his loyalty. Gilbertson feels an obligation to Pickett for the three years of leadership he has provided and for all the hard work that has been put into the program. Pickett has played through more injuries than any fan will know, and has sacrificed himself in the attempt to win games for the team. This means a lot to the Husky head coach, and his team. Gilbertson also wants a clear message sent to the younger players. With the more time and effort they devote to the program, the more rigid loyalty they can expect from Gilby in return. Especially when the players struggle and things get tough. They will come to know that there will be no wetting of the index finger and raising it to the air to see in which direction the wind is blowing.

It may prove to be a delicate situation in the coming weeks in terms of the QB position. There is no denying the palpable surge of energy and spark that Casey Paus infused into the game when he assumed control of the offense in the 3rd quarter. For all the breathtaking beauty of Shelton Sampson's 77-yard run, Reggie Williams' electrifying 63-yard TD catch, and Kenny James' nifty 53-yard jaunt, these were not the keys to the game.

The key to the game was Paus' first attempted pass, an innocent-enough little out route to Reggie Williams that covered a mere 8 yards. The quick 3-step drop was poised, the delivery smooth, the ball right on target. It was the kind of timing and accuracy that has been missing, and it gave Paus immediate confidence. Two plays later, Kenny James burst 53 yards through the left side of the Duck defense. With that, a jolt of momentum stirred the Husky team to life. Throughout the 3rd quarter it built up energy and mass, before finally unleashing itself as a juggernaut avalanche that engulfed the struggling Oregon team.

Suddenly, on both offense and defense, the Dawgs could do no wrong. Momentum is a curious thing, as Washington found out in the last two quarters of the UCLA game. This time, the Huskies were on the other end and rode the snowball all the way down the hill and into the Ducks' house of cards.

As Chuck Knox used to say, "Nothing succeeds like success."

Casey Paus had surprisingly delivered a pinch-hit kind of spark reminiscent of Chris Chandler's emergence back in November 1985. The team seemed to feed off of Paus' presence. At a minimum, they stepped it up a few notches for their new signal caller.

Following the contest, as the deliriously happy crowd filed out of the north upper deck, spontaneous cheers and barking erupted everywhere. It was a sense of post-game euphoria not seen at Husky Stadium since following the 1990 USC game.

As Cody Pickett returns to health, Coach Gilbertson will still give him his due as the starter. He is the best quarterback, when healthy. But if the team is to maximize its potential, Casey Paus and/or Isaiah Stanback need some playing time behind center too. With the youngsters, there would of course be the inevitable growing pains and ghastly mistakes.

But the spark infused into the team last Saturday was palpable and much needed. It just may have gotten the Dawgs into a bowl game and 15 much-needed extra practices.
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories