Coach's Corner

One of the great lessons of football is once it's over, it's over. The officials never change calls and the losses never become wins, unless there is an after-the–fact forfeit. Like death, losing is an absolute. To dwell on it is a terrible waste of positive energy. Instead you grieve, learn lessons, evaluate, and then try to move on.

You certainly must analyze a loss, but then you must go back to the drawing table and fix the problems that all seem to surface whenever losing occurs.

Unfortunately for the Washington Huskies, losing occurred just as often as winning did this last season. This was a difficult pill for the Husky faithful to swallow. They have become so used to winning over the past 25 years that the very thought of losing more times than not was almost inconceivable.

It took a heroic effort by the Husky team to defeat their cross state rivals and deny the Cougars another trip to the Rose Bowl. Historians would be quick to point out that the Cougars did the exact same thing to the Huskies 21 years ago.

The end result is that the Cougars are going to the Holiday bowl while the Huskies get left out of the bowl picture for only the fourth time in 25 years. The Dawgs weren't eligible to go to bowls in two of those seasons due to sanctions levied by their competitors in the Pac-9 conference.

The only other time since 1978 that the Huskies failed to land a bowl berth was following their 1988 season when they lost their final game of the season, 32-31, to the Cougars. That team also only went 3-5 in conference and shortly after the season people were calling for the coach to be fired.

Don James, they said, was behind the times, and college football had passed him by.

Had the school pulled the trigger and fired Don, are you so sure that the school would've achieved a national championship team? I'm not. I also question whether the Huskies would've ever have gone to the attack defense that was to bewilder all opponents. The year following the no-bowl campaign, Don James' Washington team, with an attacking defense, throttled Florida 34-7 in the Freedom Bowl.

We also had one of the best recruiting seasons ever.

It's hard to say what will happen next year when the Huskies open up with Fresno State in their opener, a team that ducked the Huskies in the Silicon Valley Bowl. I think it will be a benchmark game for the Huskies, as it will kick off the second year of the Gilbertson era.

Speaking of the Gilbertson era, I want to go on record and say that anyone who has or is calling for his removal just doesn't understand the sport of football. It should make people check their own hole cards before condemning what he did to try to salvage a very difficult time for the program.

Let's be real, the program is in a mess, but I can promise you that things will change. There will be an entirely different mindset and some new blood come fall of 2004. This will be a tough team! They will make the commitment to become better and to compete for the championship. I know this because I know Gilby and I know the strength and conditioning coaches Pete Kaligis and Steve Emtman. I've spoken at length will all of them, and they know how to instill toughness.

I also know the two line coaches, and we all know that this is where the Huskies must improve.

It's what's up front that counts. If there will be anything different between the last few years and what you will see out of next year's Huskies, it will be noticed up front, both in recruiting and in execution.

Mark my words that the Huskies will return to a bowl game next year, and with the right breaks and a couple of big wins, just might make a serious run at the Rose Bowl.

I know, I know, that's just Baird speaking and he will always put a positive slant on everything. I know a lot of you are thinking that right now. But there is a nucleus of good players still on the team, and Gilby redshirted 20 kids this year. That is two seasons in a row that this program has had that luxury, and that is the right way to build a program's depth.

Remember what the defense did to Steven Jackson in Corvallis? If they could've just played run defense like that the whole year, they would've been a contender.

But, they weren't and that's that. The "woulda- coulda-shoulda" game is valuable only if you learn from it. Not dwell on it.

I am proud that the Dawgs showed heart in their final game and defended the non-losing season streak. We caught a glimpse of the future offense in the Apple Cup, and it was exciting because it gave them balance in their running attack. They should have a complete running game next year, with inside, off-tackle, and outside attacks as well as the necessary draws and counters to attack back against the flow. It's a shame that it took the whole season to get it right, but they will run the ball better than they did last season. Just as they improved from 2002 to 2003, the run is back into the playbook.

So the season that followed the terrible off-season was not pretty. No matter how hard I wanted to believe, optimism couldn't drown out the gambling charges, the firing, and the drug scandal. But it didn't kill the program. It will only make them tougher and more disciplined, and those two things will make them a better program.

The schedule for 2004 opens with Fresno State, followed by BYE. Then comes UCLA at home and Notre Dame and Stanford on the road. All four are winnable games, and at least they will be opening at home this year. They always should open at home. San Jose replaces Nevada and the Beavers are in Seattle. You should notice that the Beavers are in the Las Vegas Bowl because the scheduled and beat Sacramento State to open this past season. USC and Oregon on the road come next, and will be a very difficult two weeks. Then the Huskies get a shot at redemption with back-to-back home games against Arizona and Cal before heading to the Palouse for the Apple Cup.

If the Huskies can get through the Pac-10 with a 6-2 record, a Rose Bowl shot is possible. An upset win on the road at USC will the deciding factor.

But let's see how recruiting stacks up first, shall we? Top Stories