Coach's Corner

One of the major ingredients for team development paid big dividends for Husky Coach Keith Gilbertson last weekend. For years, loyalty has been one of the most important taught and learned concepts in Husky Football.

Coach James insisted on it, Coach Lambright demanded it and Coach Gilbertson is perpetuating it. When Husky senior quarterback Cody Pickett, with time running out, led a 70-yard drive that included the completion of a 4th down pass and a 21-yard strike for a touchdown to win the Apple Cup, Gilbertson's loyalty turned out to be a huge factor.

Ever since backup Casey Paus came in to spark the team to a win against Oregon, which was probably this year's greatest Husky win, fans and media clamored for him to replace Pickett as the signal caller in Washington's offense. In fact, there were many boos coming from Husky fans when Pickett went 1 for 11 in the third quarter against WSU.

There was never even a question with Gilbertson. This was Cody's team and the program was being loyal to its all time leading passer. Paus knew his role, and that was to come off of the bench and do his job when called upon. He did it and directed the team to victory when he got the nod. But, he knew the job was Cody's.

Still, people questioned the decision to restart Cody the next game and the next game and with the team struggling, many began to publicly question Gilbertson's decision.

That is what makes coaching so difficult, making, the tough, and sometimes unpopular, decisions.

Loyalty cannot be underestimated in a team sport like football. If a team stays strong from within, nothing from the outside can divide them. Not losing, not media scrutiny and pressure, and not what others think and say.

Coaches know this: The team is loyal to each other first and foremost.

Everyone is expected to submerse themselves into the group. The loyalty is to teammates, to coaches, and to the school, its traditions, its community, and its fans.

But when it comes right down to it, the players must maintain loyalty to each other and defend each other. When times get tough, which they definitely did this season, the answer should always be the same. To not point any fingers, because when you do there are three fingers pointing back at you. You stick together through thick and thin.

This means not fixing the blame when things go wrong. It means believing in what you are doing and how you're doing it. Loyalty builds trust, and it is a big reason why recruits choose your school. It is something that must be practiced and preached in order to become a sound program.

It goes both ways. Up and down the chain of command, from the head coach down to the scout team and all of the support personnel such as a trainers and managers. The team wins together, and it looses together. You develop seniors who have paid the price of loyalty and perseverance, to lead your group. You earn your position within the team through experience and hard work. All sound programs are loyal to their seniors and to those that work the hardest. It becomes a right of passage within the team that is treasured.

When many people on the outside were questioning Gilbertson's decision to continue to start and play Cody the whole game, even when the team was doing poorly, Gilby never wavered, and last Saturday it was the right call.

The season had been long and hard for the cowboy quarterback from Caldwell, Idaho. He knew he hadn't had a the best of years and he knew that he was injured, but when the biggest game of the year got down to 4 minutes to play, he responded with the confidence and a cool demeanor to come through in the clutch. He deftly drove his team to victory, and when he did, he rewarded his coach for keeping the faith. He rewarded his team because of the loyalty that was part of the program. It's part of the respect that comes with the position within the team he earned.

The upset of WSU was achieved because the team stayed together against all odds. They believed in each other and were loyal as a group. They won a game against a team that was probably better than they were. They won because of their loyalty to their coaches, their team, and to their traditions. They won because they never doubted their own resolve.

Sure, they won because the other team failed to put them away. But they also won because their fans recognized and responded to their resolve. They took pride in what they were doing. The red-zone defense was amazing by forcing the Cougars to kick four field goals instead of touchdowns. They won because they made turnover after turnover. They won because Cody Pickett, their senior quarterback, delivered when it counted most.

Sure, Gilbertson has some tough decisions ahead in the off season, but his team won their sixth Apple Cup in a row because their coach was loyal to his guy in the face of adversity. And it will send a message to those recruits that are looking at Washington.

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