Ask coach Baird

Happy New Year, Dawg fans! It was difficult to remain home during the holidays, but I did enjoy seeing my family. I hope you and your loved ones had a terrific holiday. And now our focus turns to winter conditioning, recruiting, and then spring football. Bring it!

From Mike Smith
: Can you shed any insight in needed changes Gilby might make with his coaching staff? Also, do you think he might pursue Chris Tormey, recently fired by Nevada, to rejoin the Huskies as one of his assistant coaches? Thanks from Mike, a UW Grad and Avid Husky Fan living in Florida in the midst of all these SEC knuckleheads

A: Good luck with the SEC sicko's. Firing someone is a difficult thing to do. Gilbs is a caring, sensitive, and concerned person for his assistants and their families. He has been fired so he knows what it's like. Displacing children is the most difficult thing about getting the ax. I can tell you personally that it is no fun and that Keith is thankful for everyone who helped him through this past trying season. Therefore I won't speculate about any staff changes here, unless I see that a coach has an opportunity to move on by his own accord. Chris would be a terrific addition to any staff, he's a bright football mind that can recruit.
From Matthew J. Shiltz
Dear Coach Baird,
: Please give me your two deeps and captains for next year's football team. Please give me your keys for next year's team in rank order. I have compiled and attached my answers to the three questions and was hoping you could give me your feedback to my analysis. I really appreciate it. Go Dawgs and go Gilby!

A: Whew! You ask some pretty big questions. I don't think I'm ready to name a two deep yet, but I think you can bet on the captains being picked from guys like Khalif Barnes, Joseph Lobendahn, Derrick Johnson, Tim Galloway, Zach Tuiasosopo, and possibly Casey Paus, Jim Newell, and ET. I always think seniors should be the captains but certainly underclassmen with leadership skills could be named. Spring will tell. I'm not sure there is a difference in talent between teams as much as a difference in attitude. They way the kids think has a lot to do with their success. My three keys to good football teams are always the same:. 1) Play sound, aggressive defense, 2) Run the ball effectively on offense, particularly in the second half, and 3) Be solid in the kicking game, meaning you make big plays and not give up any. No blocks, returns, bad snaps etc. You don't have to win the kicking game, but you sure don't want to lose it.
From Morris
Dear Coach,
: Many recruits say they are not sure whether they have been offered or not. Obfuscating verbiage seems to be the order of the day here ("We really want you to come" "We will offer you very soon" "I guarantee you will get a scholarship offer") Can you explain exactly how and why this is done? What happens when the recruit finally says "Give me a written offer or don't"?

A: Recruiting is often an implied process. You only have 56 visits, 25 scholarships, and 85 total rides, so you can't offer everyone that you are recruiting. You also want to create balance in your class so you can't (or shouldn't) just take say 6 wide receivers because there is a need there. You need to prioritize and be honest and tell kids when you fill up at a position and have to let him go. It's tough, because you don't want to let kids go to a rival, but that's how it works. It becomes even tougher when your own school gives away scholarships during sanction periods. I had to tell Peter Sermon (Oregon LB) that we didn't have room and he's still playing in the show. I couldn't offer Reggie Tongue (Oregon State FS) out of high school because we had already taken two safeties his year. Ouch. You have to tell many "no" because there are certainly many who tell you the same thing. It's part of the process. I can remember recruiting against Colorado and they were offering over 100 visits, I swear. Kids thought they were visiting for sure but then the visit would never materialize. I didn't like that part of the process but it does happen.
From Agnes Roper
Dear Coach,
: Love reading your column....great insight!!! What is the current situation with Nathan Rhodes? Of the current recruiting class who do you feel will be able to come in and make an immediate impact? Is it possible that either one of the JC recruits (Goodrum, Goldson) will redshirt?

A: I am positive that the two junior college kids were signed to play immediately. Both are defenders that need to be on the field at needed positions. No question the Huskies needed to improve at safety play and rushing the passer. They were "need" recruits and I'd be real surprised if both are not playing regularly next fall. I also think this is the best class over the past 10 years. It's better than many of my classes already. Nathan Rhodes will probably never play for the Huskies. He was a recruiting mistake because they never gave him a physical and therefore never detected his bad back.
From Gerald Weishaar
Dear Coach,
: What are the chances ex-huskie coaches coming back to coach the huskies like yourself, Chris, etc?

A: I'm not sure what chances there are to get any old Huskies back. One of the big positives that Rick Neuheisel brought to Husky football was getting the assistant coaches decent salaries so they wouldn't be temped to leave. Most Husky assistants are happy with their compensation packages and will only leave if fired or a position move (becoming a coordinator or moving on to the NFL). As for me, I don't think Gilbs needs a 57 year old gardener who fishes, and golfs too much and who went over to the dark side (the media). I would love to see ex Huskies like Tormey or Lambright return to help Gilbs win a championship. I really like some ex-dogs in the NFL like Ron Milus, Scott Linehan, and Ray Horton, but I don't think they would be interested.
From Carolina Dawg
Dear Coach,
: What do you make of the fact that the Huskies have already signed "4" Safeties and NO CB's. We need help at the CB position or am I missing something? Where's the Beef? Do you see them signing any mean sob's? I've heard that Garcia (from the Tri-Cities) has that mean streak that we've all grown to love in our lineman.

A: The safeties are all athletes, first and foremost, who they are looking to improve the tackling and strength up the middle. Some may be able to help on the corner and some may grow into linebackers. I believe that we already have a number of corners back but couldn't find enough safeties who could tackle well. I think the pass rush and safety support were the two most important missing ingredients on last year's defense. They have really addressed those needs.
From Alan Kaselj
Dear Coach,
: When you were the recruiting coordinator - how many offers did you have out on the table at one-time? Was their a number or process that you followed? What do you think will happen with the Safety situation in the Spring? Who will win out in the battle for FS and SS positions.

A: It really depends on the time of the year as to how many offers you have out on the table at any one time. At this time, with 17 already in the boat, there are most likely 15-20 offers still left on the table. In the spring however, they probably put out somewhere between 25-30 offers and then add to that number as they have their camp and complete their junior film analysis. A lot of recruiting is done by "implied" scholarships, meaning you haven't actually offered them but the intention to do so is there. Goldson will probably come in and start at one safety position. They recruited him twice to get him so I am positive he is on the board to be a starter. Donte Nicholson would have started this past season if they had gotten him back. I think Evan Benjamin would be a great outside linebacker and could grow to be a pretty good inside guy as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see him move up and to see Jimmy Newell move out to corner, leaving the secondary with two new safeties next fall. CJ Wallace really impressed me this fall and I think he is a big time prospect that could start next fall.
From Jeff Strand
Dear Coach,
: I'd like to get your take on the recruiting class as it's shaped up so far. Is this better than you would have expected, and can attending a bowl game hurt recruiting or help?

A: I am just finishing writing about this recruiting class, which I think could be the best ever for this time of year. I have always felt that the teams not bowling are at a distinct advantage in recruiting. They can really go strong in December. I remember after losing to Air Force in a bowl game that their coaches confessed that they did little or no recruiting in preparing to play us but rather concentrated on putting in a passing attack that the subsequently beat us. We did not anticipate it and after we lost we were fired. I really think Cal did a great job recruiting when they never went to bowls and that is why Tedford has done so well there. I'm not sure it really makes much difference if you are in a bowl game or not. Kids seem to feel they can play earlier at a school that doesn't go to one. It's all in how you sell your program.
From Peter Kwan
Dear Coach,
: Now that we are in the thick of recruiting season, how do you think this class is shaping out? This honestly appears to have the looks of a "special" class not so much in the sense that everyone is a media-darling 5-star type player like USC always gets. Rather that we are being successful in obtaining high quality players in the numbers and for the specific positions that we really need (eg. all of the OL and DL beef that we so sorely lacked the last several years). Also, there appears to be greater balance than we ever had even during Neuheisel's reign. This is a class much more akin to "classic" Husky power classes of the past where tough football specific athletes were the priority versus the sellout for nothing but pure speed regardless of lack of football sense, toughness, or athletic ability which we seemed to have picked up a lot of over several years. Also, don't you think that the quiet redshirting of 20+ freshmen in each of the last two seasons is going to be absolutely huge in the coming years, especially if we can continue to do the same in the future? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've honestly thought that we are only now getting close to fully recovering from the probation years where the lack of recruits and talent forced too many true freshmen into early playing time over the last 8 seasons. Too many have sustained injuries from not being physically ready for D1 ball and some just never seemed to get over the mental stress of being pressed into service too early. If I'm not mistaken, the glory days of Husky football were built on Don James foundation of redshirting en masse and loading up the program with 4th year juniors and 5th year seniors in order to physically dominate. I think we'll get there again. I know its more difficult to redshirt with only 85 scholies now versus the 105 in the old days. Also, the special ones seem to all go pro after their junior years anyway so you may as well use them if they are ready as true freshmen. Anyway, sorry to keep rambling on but I'd really like to hear your take on our future as related to the latest and current recruiting strategy.

A: I totally agree with you regarding this current recruiting class. There is no question that there is more balance and therefore more linemen. Games are still won up front. Also there appears to be less emphasis on "number of stars" and more emphasis on character assessment. As far as redshirting goes, I couldn't agree more and firmly believe that from now on you will see the Huskies play 3-4 frosh per year max. There is no question that the kids leaving early are really big hits to the program. When we lost Olin Kruetz and Benji Olson in the same year, we lost our jobs the following season. Redshirting 20 kids in each of the last two classes will pay dividends in and over the next 3-4 years. A 22 year old is so much more ready physically than an 18 year old. I'm sure they wish they hadn't played a couple of freshmen like Tahj Bomar and C.J. Wallace. They did well on special teams but probably wasted a year otherwise.
From Carolina Dawg
Dear Coach,
: What is the status of all the injured players? Will any of the injuries cause long-term problems for any of the players? It was announced last summer that two defensive lineman would miss the 2003 season due to injuries (one was Junior I believe). Can we expect to see either of them back for the 2004 season?

A: To the best of my knowledge, all injured players such as Robin Meadow, Joe Toledo, Ben Bandel, and Tusi Saau are all healing well. I have been told that the two defensive linemen may never be back. Josh Miller would be the best to get back because of Johnson and Stevens both graduating. Coffin told me he intends to return but I have not heard of his progress on his shoulders and blood clotting condition. Everyone else should be at Spring drills with the exception of maybe Toledo. The reports out of the weight room are that many of their shoulder strengthening exercises are starting to pay dividends. They feel that progress is being made to eliminate those sorts of injuries in the future. Shoulders are particularly vulnerable when playing true freshmen as they have not strengthened their joints enough to take the high contact hits. Once we get back to redshirting all true frosh except the "Reggie types" the injuries will start to come down.
From Husky Heat
Dear Coach,
: Well, I really believe the Washington State game showed that if we play our attacking style of defense, we can create HAVOC!! I really enjoyed that game and I was wondering if Coach Gilby will continue that style of defense for 2004.? Secondly, how will the offensive line look for next year? That's going to be the key for us. A good offensive line can make a lot of people look really good at our skilled positions.

A: I'm with you on the attacking defense. I hope they can develop a little better man to man coverage so they can bring the house more often. It certainly gets the crowd involved especially when playing at home. I think the three biggest wins were all partially due to attacking with the defense. Everyone except the center and strong tackle return as well as a number of key back ups on the offensive line. Look to see Robin Meadow return as a starter and Tusi Sa'au continue to improve and get healthy. Barnes needs to have his best year and earn himself a shot in the show. Brad Vannamen will be better with his year of playing as well. Juan Garcia is going to be really nasty and Ryan Brooks is long overdue to make an impact. They will all be more accustomed to Coach Cozzetto, and that will show. The renewed emphasis on running the ball will make this unit even better. Clay Walker learned the hard way but I still think he is going to be really a good player. But, the one player I expect could potentially have a break out season is Dan Dicks. I think that he is finally starting to understand what it takes and I think is the key to the progress of the whole unit.
From Steven Valdez
Dear Coach,
: Do you think the 2-deeps could look like this - QB-Paus/Stanback; RB-James/Sampson; FB-Tuiasosopo/Ericks; WR-Frederic/Williams; WR-Chambers/Shackleford; 3WR-Daniels/Robbins; TE-Toledo/Lyon; LT-Barnes/Brooks; LG-Dicks/Sa-au; C-Walker/Vanneman; RG-Daniels/Jellen; RT-Meadow/Berglund; DE-Mapu/Hopoi; DT-Mateaki/Alailefaleula; DT-Milsten/Reffert; DE-Ala/Goodrum/Lasee; ILB-Lobendahn/Galloway; ILB-White/; OLB-Bomar/Lewis; CB-Johnson/Cunningham; FS-Goldson/Newell; SS-Wallace/Benjamin/Sims; CB-Simpson/Fountain/Ellis; This is assuming best players start no seniority and more of a fast aggressive dawg football defense and The Quarter and runningbacks are toss ups between 1 and 2, and the o-line goes through some shuffling to get the best blockers on the field.

A: You have listed the current "2-deep" and I think you're pretty accurate with regard to experience. I just don't think you have the top two according to ability at a number of spots. Evan Benjamin may move up to linebacker, the JC kid will start at free safety, and look for Chris Hemphill to compete at safety or rush backer as well. I saw where you moved Eriks back to fullback and I have to agree with you there. I still think it is his natural spot and you need two so why not have he and Zach. I'm also real positive about Carl Bonnell who I know is just a winner. I wouldn't be surprised to see some movement from OL to DL or visa versa. Big Tui A would be an awesome road-grader on the offensive line. Milsten or Reffett could be good offensive tackles. Finally I think Louis Rankin is really special and will be hard to keep on the bench. Jordan Slye finished the season as a starter at WR and C.J. Wallace is one of the real thoroughbreds in the program. Spring will be fun, and then don't be surprised if 3-4 of this coming signing class get into the two deep. I think you've got most of the returners covered.
From Tanner
Dear Coach,
: Just wondering what kind of season the huskies are going to have this coming year. What you predict our final record will end up to be, etc.

A: I hate predicting seasonal records because it takes the focus away from the game at hand,. I watched Fresno State and I think the Huskies can beat them in the opener if the play smashmouth with them. With an 11 game schedule, I would say that 8 or 9 wins would be a tremendously successful season. I really would like to see them play better on the road and they will have to in order to win nine. I think this group of kids and coaches are capable of winning that many games and going to a good bowl game but not in El Paso, thank you. columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.

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