The Huskies now sit at 5-5 and are maddeningly inconsistent. The public cries of protest are growing louder. The refrains are pretty consistent: The Husky players often seem lethargic. The quarterback struggles mightily with his accuracy. Offensive coordinator John Pettas loses faith with the running attack much too fast. The tackling on this team is sometimes alarmingly poor. The season as a whole is in danger of unraveling into a legacy of shame (i.e.- 5 wins and 7 losses).
Gilbertson admitted thinking about removing his senior quarterback and replacing him with his sophomore that threw 8 passes last weekend and provided a nice spark. However he stuck with Pickett and the comeback fell just short when Reggie Williams was overthrown near the goal line.
Coach Gilbertson is now under enormous criticism. The Dawgman.com message boards are teeming with "Fire Gilby" posts. That's a given, as most of the posts immediately following games are made out of knee-jerk emotions. However, even the local newspapers are becoming more cynical. The radio airwaves of KJR have been filled with angst and demands that Gilbertson be fired. It's not a joke, people actually want him fired after his first 10 games with a team that he inherited in July. It would be laughable but right now that's the situation. Husky fans feel uncomfortable not knowing in which direction the team is truly headed.
But perspective should never be discounted, no matter how angry you may be. Here's an example of how being too quick to judge can be a detriment to proper perspective. Two years ago I wrote an article for the PigskinPost entitled "Oregon has Legitimate Reason for Loathing Rick Neuheisel." I received nearly 100 scathing emails of people vehemently sticking up for Rick Neuheisel. They were howling that I had betrayed the University of Washington. They were also demanding that I publicly apologize to the former Husky coach. Looking back, at that time the Huskies weren't far removed from a Rose Bowl Championship. It is clear now that many fans obviously let that fact blur their judgment. Only when the play on the field deteriorated into shoddiness, did awareness increase of Neuheisel's shenanigans and poor recruiting.
Now the 2003 team is struggling aboard a roller coaster ride of mediocrity. Many incensed Husky fans want Gilbertson's head on a platter. In the wake of humiliating losses to lowly Nevada and Arizona, it is very difficult to step back and look at the big picture.
But in looking at the big picture, Keith Gilbertson is the right guy for the job. Husky fans do have the option to exercise faith, if they choose to take the path less traveled.
"Anybody critical of him needs to back off and let him do the job, give him a chance", says current Oakland Raider Lincoln Kennedy. "Those guys on the field are Neuheisel's guys. That's still mostly Neuheisel's team. That is not necessarily a favorable situation for Gilby to inherit... Give the man a chance to recruit his type of players."
Don James supported Gilbertson to Dawgman.com last week and scoffed at the Husky fans that are crying for yet another new coach.
"He is a solid football coach. He's good at planning. He's a good recruiter and communicates well with the players. (In the next 3-4 years) he will bring stability to the program, and recruit players who really want to play for the Huskies."
In a conversation following the Arizona loss, Former Husky All-American Greg Lewis had similar thoughts. "Gilby can relate to his players. He has a brilliant mind, especially offensively. When he first came in (back in 1989) you could call us mediocre, coming off a 6-5 season without a bowl game. He gave us the spark we needed.
"This year we have suffered two of the worst losses in Husky history. In those two losses the team just really looked flat. They just didn't get ready to play. I personally know that Gilby gets his guys ready to play. For whatever reason, this particular group of kids can't get over the hump. We've seen what they can do when they're motivated against Oregon State and Oregon. But when they're not motivated, they can be beaten by anybody… The distractions keep popping up week after week."
Lewis continued. "We seem to have to get them on some kind of mission for them to play really well. Week after week it seems like you have to create something. Like the threat of someone dancing on your W, or what have you."
Former Husky and current ABC-TV broadcaster Ed Cunningham is effusive in his praise for Gilbertson.
"For me he was a breath of fresh air… His personality fits; he's a lineman at heart. He would always tell us offensive linemen, "I want you to show up in your business suits with your assassins' case. We've got a job to do. Offensive linemen are usually considered to be the big fat sloppy guys that are always getting picked on. Gilby changed that notion. He said ‘no no no, we hand out the s--t, not the other way.'
Cunningham continued: "He always made us think outside of our position. He always challenged us to understand the whole field. He appreciates the intelligence of the offensive linemen. Unfortunately, the only position that usually gets that kind of attention is the QB… Like I said, he was a breath of fresh air."
In the days when running back Napoleon Kaufman would break a long run and finally be tackled, the first one often there to haul him to his feet was big Lincoln Kennedy.
"That was a Gilbertson rule," recalled Kennedy last week. "It was instilled in all of us offensive linemen by Gilbertson. He always said that you don't want defensive lineman taking cheap shots at your running back. He wanted us offensive linemen to be there to look after them. To this day (with the Oakland Raiders) I still have that instilled in me."
Kennedy also recalled about how Gilbertson unified the offensive line.
"Gilby really made you feel comfortable playing your game. He could be a hard ass like any good coach, but he also builds you up", said Kennedy. "Personality-wise, our offensive line was all across the shelf. But one chubby little Italian comes up and firmly shakes your hand and says `hey, how ya doin'?' And you felt that love. We were ready to be accountable to one another."
In an interview with Dawgman.com a month ago, Former fullback Darius Turner unabashedly made it clear he has Gilbertson's back. "Gilby's a guy I will go to bat for anytime, anywhere. He won't B.S. you. Ask any player who played for him, when Gilby called a play, you had confidence it would work-- because he called it. If he asked me to be his running back coach, I would quit my job and go be the coach, just because he asked me to."
Greg Lewis shared a great story from the 1989 Freedom Bowl, when the Huskies whipped Florida 34-7. Gilbertson noticed that whenever the Huskies brought a back in motion, Florida covered him with a safety some 20 yards downfield. Ingenious in its simplicity, Gilbertson devised a plan to take advantage of this schematic flaw.
Reminisced Lewis, "If you go back and look at the film of that game, you see our guys lining up and then someone would tap their helmet to indicate to (QB) Cary Conklin that they were uncovered.
"We just played catch all day," laughed the delighted former Husky.
The bottom line to the current situation is this: Ten years after Pac-10 gavel struck like thunder and "justice" was handed out, we find the angst-filled Huskies treading water and USC back in total command of the conference.
The University of Washington, however, is reaping what it sowed. First it rolled over and took the 1993 probation penalties without rolling up the sleeves and swinging legal punches. In fact, they turned inward and attacked themselves. A few years later, Washington decided to get back on the national map by hiring a flashy, smooth-talking individual (a type of "trophy girlfriend" if you will) who conjured up visions of UW becoming the "Florida State of the West."
He was fired for lying and gambling in an office pool.
Now we have a mess on our hands. To completely render judgment of Keith Gilbertson at this stage is ludicrous. Predictable, but far too early to be meaningful or taken very seriously. It's 10 games, not really a huge docket to make his case as to whether or not he can take Washington out of this mess.
Said a resolute Darius Turner: ‘it may take 2-3 years, but he will get it done."
Do Husky fans have the stomach for that? I doubt it.
Derek Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don James and Former Players Back Gilby
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