Gilbertson Needs to Burn this to the Ground

The cancer that permeates Washington football was in remission as recently as two weeks ago. That was when the Huskies ripped Oregon 42-10. But back the cancer came with a vengeance against Arizona. In the hours leading up to the game against California, little did we know that the end was near.

The men wearing the gold helmets with the purple W rolled over and played dead against Cal. It had been on this same field 81 years ago, that California mauled the Dawgs 72-3. But last Saturday's evisceration was the most devastating afternoon in Husky football history.

This Washington football team is predominately a group of apathetic athletes who neither understand nor care about what it means to be a Husky.

This week, Washington football is a like a condemned man knowing he is headed toward his scheduled execution. The high-flying #8 Cougars come to Seattle next week. They are looking to gleefully pin a losing season upon the Dawgs. This would be the UW's first losing season since 1976.

Regardless of that dark specter, the time is now for Gilbertson to burn this whole blasted mess to the ground. The future needs to be now.

This is emphatically not Gilbertson's team. This current roster of individuals came to Washington with other ideas in mind. They arrived with the idea that practices would be filled with boisterous music and laughter. They came here specifically to play for the charismatic and gregarious Rick Neuheisel. But Neuheisel is gone and many of these Husky players find themselves under a sterner coach. This coach is asking them to pay a large price in order to win. Many of these Huskies do not want to pay that price.

Some recruits that Neuheisel dearly wanted never made it to Montlake. Larry Stevens of Tacoma stated that there was something about Neuheisel that he didn't trust. Larry Stevens is now with Michigan. Neuheisel stated privately that Stevens "didn't even have the guts" to take a recruiting trip to Montlake. Neuheisel literally also kept big-time recruit Reggie Bush away from then-assistant coach Gilbertson, even though Bush came to Seattle with instructions from his uncle (ex-Husky Darius Turner) to spend a great deal of time with Gilby.

Keith Gilbertson is now akin to a jockey seated upon a stubborn mule and trying to spur him on, while the fans boo him for not keeping pace with eager thoroughbreds.

People forget that just two seasons ago, USC alumni and fans mocked coach Pete Carroll for being a recycled failure. They were greatly disappointed when he was named the Trojan coach. Their howls of protest increased when the Carroll-led Trojans lost to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl, managing 2 yards rushing for the entire game. The Pac-10 Conference was laughing at USC.

Two years later, USC is headed toward a Sugar Bowl showdown with Oklahoma. Unless the BCS screws that up, but that's a different article.

People also forget that Don James was 1-3 in his third year. Neither fans nor media chose to believe that he was capable of anything worthwhile. James has discussed how difficult those first 2+ seasons were. In fact, a 1977 article in the UW Daily stated that James wasn't communicating well with his players. In retrospect, imagine what would have been lost to Washington football had he been fired in his first or second year.

Earlier today I spoke with former coach Jim Owens. We talked about his first season at Washington in 1957. The Huskies were just coming off probation for paying players with a slush fund. As a team they were mediocre at best.

"In looking back, when we arrived that spring of 1957 the players had been under three different coaches, and that was awfully tough on the players," stated Owens. "The main thing we brought was the attitude of the coaching staff. It certainly was a difficult time (at first). We had to fine-tune the physical discipline. Then we wanted to bring in players that on film I thought looked aggressive. The ideas we brought weren't new. Those (so-called Death March) drills were ones that other winning clubs used. First from Oklahoma, when I played for Bud Wilkinson; and then as an assistant coach under Bear Bryant, when we were at Kentucky and Texas A & M.

"However, these ideas and drills we brought were new to the Washington players," said Owens. "Especially when you're not winning, it's doubly tough to get everyone to play hard… You have to give people time to bring in players that want to play hard and lay it on the line. It can't be done overnight."

In Owens' first year at Washington, the team went 3-6-1. By his third year, the Huskies went 10-1 and won the Rose Bowl. Imagine what would have been lost had he been fired after his first year.

A losing season now stares Washington in the face. This football program has descended to desolate, murky depths. Many members of the current roster don't want to be part of the Husky family. Thus the future is now. Gilbertson needs to stand up and send a shockwave through the team that only the most dedicated Huskies will play in the Apple Cup.

At this point, it is almost preferable to lose but see twenty-two fiery and fundamental Owen Biddles on the field, than to just mail it in again with supposedly the best players wearing that gold helmet with the purple W.

That's where this program is, Husky fans. Yes, pulling the plug on Gilbertson is one option that will be entertained. How can it not after what we just saw? His team has already done that, clearly. But if you look at two lessons from the not-so-far past of Washington football history, you might first want to first give it a little bit more thought.
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories