September Outlook – Playing Hot Seat Roulette

Over the next three weeks, there could be more than just wins and losses on the line when Washington returns to the gridiron wars after spending a couple of weeks licking their Fresno State wounds.

The natives were certainly disparaged at the premiere of the new-look Huskies. It was an offensive display that - acknowledging that any new playbook manned by untested quarterbacks is bound to cough up a hairball or two at first asking - seemed to fool itself as much as it tried to fool Fresno State. At Monday's press conference, Washington coach Keith Gilbertson, after spending several minutes fielding inquiries into the QB issue, grew tired of the questioning with a terse, "In all honesty, I am tired of talking about the quarterbacks. I have said all that I am going to say - I wish that we didn't have a bye week this week, but away we go."

If the signal-caller situation doesn't improve greatly - and really, how can it NOT improve at least slightly - over the next three weeks, the Husky head man will surely be tested in just how weary he can become of that line of questioning.

But in truth, the defense showed a moxie that could bode well for the immediate future, if you subscribe to the theory that it's easier to fix an out-of-tune offense than it is to repair a weak defense during the season. Plus, at least for the rest of the month, Gilby won't be the lone skipper on Interminable Question Island - he'll be looking across the sidelines at an array of fellow castaways looking for life preservers.

UCLA coach Karl Dorrell turned down a contract renewal offer at UCLA, publicly saying he "didn't earn the right to renew". His Bruins unveiled a west-coast look that turned the ball over four times against Oklahoma State to go with an injury-plagued defense that the Cowboys plowed through for 426 rushing yards. This Saturday they go to Champaign for a 9 AM (PDT) meeting with Illinois, who is coming off a 52-13 scrimmage over Florida A&M and looking to avenge their 6-3 defeat in the Rose Bowl a year ago.

You can bet that if UCLA comes to Seattle 0-2 - with seven straight losses carrying over from 2003 – Dorrell will need a win badly to keep the wolves from howling. Bruin AD Dan Guerrero has already stated that "it's important we see progress this year" - and we have to assume that an eighth-straight loss probably wouldn't qualify as progress.

Then from mere embers in Los Angeles rises a wildfire in South Bend, where 0-1 Notre Dame has won just five of their previous 15 games. They face a visit from fifth-ranked Michigan this weekend, and follow that with a trip to East Lansing to test Michigan State before they welcome in Washington. The Fighting Irish have suffered through three losing seasons over their previous five - unheard of in their storied history - and no Notre Dame coach has EVER suffered back-to-back losing seasons. A letter signed by 400 or so university alumni was sent to the school's Board of Regents last January, basically imploring for a return to winning football or "a coaching change will become necessary".

A similar letter was written on behalf of Bob Davie in 2001, prior to his final 5-6 season – and Willingham replaced him. "I've never seen good things accomplished with negative thoughts," Willingham recently told the Detroit Free Press. "So I prefer to think positive".

But if Willingham can't get things turned around quickly, his own chair will be positively scorching.

And finally, we have Stanford and Buddy Teevens, who won only six games in his first two Cardinal seasons - including a galling 57-7 loss to Willingham's Fighting Irish to close the 2003 season. Teevens' "Fun-and-Gun" offense opened the season with a 43-3 rout of lowly San Jose State - Stanford's third-straight blowout win in the series - but face BYU and top-ranked USC before welcoming Washington to the farm. The Cardinal are once again pegged to be near the bottom of the conference. And though the laid-back Stanford faithful are not as apt to string a gallows for their head football coaches, Teevens still feels some pressure as his third season unfolds.

"Certainly I'm neither blind nor deaf, and I see and I read," Teevens told the Sacramento Bee with regards to the rumor mill, "... but our deal is to just concentrate on what we need to do to have success." And he'll probably need some success this season to gain favor with the hot-seat parole board.

Dorrell, Willingham, and Teevens – all in a row, all potentially swimming with sharks. And though unlikely, it's not a big reach to add Fitz Hill at San Jose State, who only returns eight starters from a 3-8 season and will likely come into Husky Stadium with one win and as a 30-point underdog.

But by then, we should have a clearer idea just how hemorrhoidal everyone's seat is. So for now, we'll keep the Preparation-H on standby.
Rick Samek can be reached at Top Stories