Gilby takes one for the team

It was a bit surreal, hearing Washington Athletic Director Todd Turner quote Booker T. Jones, but the point came across loud and clear. Bad luck was the main component, but bad timing may have been just as much to blame. Either way, Keith Gilbertson's announcement Monday that he would be stepping down from the UW head coaching job at the end of the season was sweet music to a Husky fan base singing the blues. And that's exactly why he did it.

"As early as the first day on the job, I knew that I was basically an interim coach without a long-term commitment," Gilbertson said, who also admitted that he would have probably stayed only through last year if former Head Coach Rick Neuheisel had not been fired. "So when it was apparent that this season was not going to go as I hoped, I went to Todd and asked for a long-term commitment or for a change. That's what I wanted. But if they weren't going to be able to make a commitment to me, then I wanted them to make a commitment to the program.

"I'm a bottom-line guy, and the bottom line is wins and losses, and it's not happening. The program is suffering and it's time for some investment and commitment. Both Todd and I agreed that the program needs a shot in the arm. This is not a happy day for me or my family, but I do love this place and I have a great passion for Washington football. I feel like I have made a positive contribution. The only regret I have is that I didn't win enough."

At the time of the announcement, Gilbertson was 7-13 during his UW tenure with three games remaining. His departure will open up a lot of speculation on his replacement. California's Jeff Tedford, Utah's Urban Meyer and Boise State's Dan Hawkins are just three names of western-based head coaches that will most likely be mentioned during this search.

The big theme of the day around Montlake is building momentum. The timing of the news was done, in part, to jump-start a poor recruiting effort to date, and to also energize a fan base waiting to put their dollars behind a winning program.

"We work on recruiting 365 days a year, and a year ago at this time we had a large number of commitments. This year it was tougher and we had lost some players that said there was too much uncertainty around the program.

"And I felt that if, in the best interests of the school and the program, if I could add some certainty, some recruits would hold off on decisions. And it's really important that this next recruiting class match last year's so that there's some depth."

Right now, Washington has four current verbal commitments, two from junior college players and two local high school prospects. At this same time last season, the Huskies had twice as many commitments and seven players from in-state.

"The last couple of weeks, with having a sense about what was happening with me, my line with recruits has been, 'Whether I'm here or not, this is a great place to go to school and play football. You have to be thinking about the University of Washington whether I'm here or not.', so that's going to continue to be my message. Our staff is going to continue to talk to young people every week with that message.

"I think it's key that maybe there's an in-state guy out there that has said he's not interested in the University of Washington. Maybe they'll re-examine this, because I know that the guy that comes in here will be a big-timer, first class. There will be a great commitment on campus again to football, and if you are a local guy you need to stick around here and play. That's how I feel about it. I have no problem selling the University. I put my money where my mouth is and I've had a child go through here and I know what a great experience it is."

"We've left a lot of things undone in our history and we need to look at those things," Turner added, focusing on the theme of the day. "I'm asking for our supporters and people that love the University of Washington to step up. Because it's not in keeping with our desire to be excellent in all that we do that our football program would not have the best. Our players know that, I want our our alumni and our supporters to know that. I want our recruits to know that. I want our new coach and his staff to know that.

"We want to return to the point where we are one of the premier programs in the nation. We aren't far from it, and that's what we're going to get done."

The lesser theme, but still of equal importance to Turner and Gilbertson, is that of stabilizing the internal workings of the program. "Last year it was so much different because you almost had to devote chunks of every day to what was going on," Gilbertson said, referring to Neuheisel's dismissal and subsequent NCAA investigation.

The results of that investigation were made public recently, charging the school with a 'Failure to Monitor'. They doubled Washington's current probationary status, and scaled back the number of official football visits and eliminated the use of boats on recruiting trips for two years.

Over the past few weeks, Gilbertson and Turner started meeting about the future and Gilbertson's place in it. Eventually, after meetings Saturday and Sunday, an accord was reached.

"The circumstances that led to this (Gilbertson's resignation) are complex," said Turner. "When he took the job, it was a difficult play he was asked to run. The chance of him being successful was very small. I believe he took the job because one, he really loves Washington, and two, he had a strong affection for his team and the coaches.

"There's been a lot of frustration, and if it wasn't for bad luck we would have no luck at all."

What comes next is a home game against Arizona, a team that just put it's stamp of renewal and emphasis on their football program with the hiring of former Oklahoma defensive co-coordinator Mike Stoops. Now that the decision has been made to move on, Gilbertson hopes the focus can be put back where it should be.

"I get twelve more practices to enjoy," he said. "For the next three weeks I get to coach and be left alone. After this (conference), it's all about the upcoming game and our opponent."

"One of the main reasons we wanted to do this now is because we didn't want it to be a distraction any more," added Turner. "I met today with the team and explained our expectations for them for the remainder of the season and for the interim period. The thing I got out of that meeting was how respectful they were. They have a lot of pride and I have a lot of confidence that they will end the season on a positive note.

"They want to be successful and they want a chance. I told them that our University needed to be committed to their success. I think they took some encouragement from that."

And while the 2004 win-loss record will not reflect well on Gilbertson and his coaches, Turner made a strong point of the program's positives.

"He has provided courageous and steadfast leadership," said Turner. "He's demonstrated uncommon resolve and determination. He's instilled in our players discipline and accountability. They've gone to class and have been good citizens. They have treated people with respect and treated each other with respect. That's a tribute to Keith Gilbertson."

Gilbertson's duties will not conclude at Washington once his head coaching obligations are complete. He has been asked by Turner to consult on the new head coaching hire, something Gilbertson has said he will do.

Research will go forward on potential candidates, but no sitting coach will be contacted until after their regular seasons are complete. Turner said he will work with University leadership, including faculty, as well as current and former players and supporters that have 'a lot invested into the program' to cull a list.

"I will work very closely with the President (Mark Emmert) throughout the process to identify who I believe to be the best candidate or candidates, and then we will have a small advisory committee," said Turner. "They will meet the candidate or candidates at the appropriate time.

"We will not rush. Our goal is to get the right person, and not to meet an external timeframe."

He also stated that no contact with agents or emissaries on behalf of any coaching prospects have taken place, and that any news regarding the coaching search would not be made public until one was hired.

Turner announced that all financial obligations to Gilbertson and the rest of his staff will be honored, including Gilbertson's full base salary for 2005 and 75 percent of his 2006 salary, totalling $735,000.

"I talked to all of them today and told them that I would love to see all of them back," he said. "But we don't know what the future will be." When asked about any financial obligations toward the right coaching candidate, Turner said that the University leadership is committed to getting the right coach and that they would work everything else out. Top Stories