An uncertain hire

At the press conference to announce that head football coach Keith Gilbertson would step down at the end of the season, Athletic Director Todd Turner said he wanted to make an "emphatic statement" with who he hired to be the next coach of the Husky program.

"The profile will have to fit our league," he said. "They've got to be able to recruit in the West, particularly in the Northwest, put some pizazz in and give people confidence and hope."

So the question must be asked: Why does this hire mean so much to the athletic department?

It all comes down to one word - money.

Turner, along with new University President Mark Emmert, have laid out an ambitious plan to bring Washington athletics to the forefront again, and hiring a top name to head the football program is the number one priority.

"If we could sell 70,000 tickets at $35 to listen to a lecture on the Civil War, I'd be all for it, but that's not going to happen," Emmert told Enrique Serna on KCTS in an interview Thursday. "But people will watch football."

One of Emmert and Turner's biggest obstacles is getting funding for a long-overdue Husky Stadium renovation. It is estimated that $150 million dollars will be needed to remove the track around the field bringing the seats closer and to possibly close the west end of the stadium. Another $50 million will be needed for other facilities upgrades, including the soccer field and a new track arena.

How can Turner and Emmert raise that kind of capital when their marquee product - football - just finished a season with the most losses in the history of the program?

One plan being mulled over is to increase the amount Tyee seats available in the stadium. Currently 20,000 seats are allotted to Tyee members. Most of those lie between the thirties on both sides of the field. Discussions have centered on changing that amount to almost 50,000 which would include all the seats between the goal lines. With donors having to pony up big money to attain and retain those seats it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the face of the Husky football program needs to be someone who will energize the fan base.

Current Cal head coach Jeff Tedford is the name being thrown around as the number-one candidate on the board as Turner and Emmert search for the right man. With Cal's apparent lack of movement on promised stadium and facilities upgrades, Tedford has made inquiries through a third party that he is looking at possibly leaving Cal for what may be perceived as greener pastures. As most know, Tedford's buyout drops from $1 million to $500,000 if ground isn't broken on facilities upgrades by December 15th. Publically, Cal administrators are not close to having the funding in place to make those plans a reality and Athletic Director Sandy Barbour admits that a cohesive plan isn't even in place yet.

"There are lots of different models out there," she said. Estimates on cost are "all over the board," she added.

So with the news this weekend that Barbour will have two big announcements on the future of the Cal football program - supposedly news on facilities and keeping Tedford in place at Berkeley - coming within the next '7 to 10 days', Washington has a small window to lure away on of the hottest coaching prospects in the country.

Fans and some insiders have wondered if the Huskies aren't putting all their hopes on one man. If they don't get that man, who is plan B? With names like Tyrone Willingham and Bobby Petrino on the market, some are wondering why the Huskies aren't looking to those men as possible candidates.

The simple answer is neither one of those candidates will energize the big donors the way Tedford would.

When Turner took over officially in August as AD, he faced possible sanctions from the NCAA and the prospect of a losing season for the first time in 27 years. With both of those hurdles in the rear-view mirror, Turner's new focus will be his first major hire. This hire will go a long ways toward making or breaking his tenure at Montlake and it will be his legacy when people judge his performance.

The first hire that Turner's predecessor, Barbara Hedges, made was former softball coach Teresa Wilson. In 1992, Hedges hired Wilson to start UW's softball program and they set out to make UW Softball competitive at a national level. They succeeded on the field, but off the field, rumors of players being prescribed pain-killers and birth-control pills by a team physician led to her firing and subsequent lawsuit against the school.

Turner and the Washington Athletic Department cannot afford a repeat of that disaster.

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