UW's Turner talks about transition

A strange thing happened to Todd Turner as he was walking around campus shortly after accepting the position of Athletic Director at the University of Washington. He couldn't find the football offices. Or more to the point, they weren't a clearly visable marker of the school's athletic 'village' east of Montlake Boulevard.

It's just one thing of many that Turner noticed, but it was symptomatic of a larger issue - the face of Husky football wasn't what it should be. Maybe he had misjudged the way Washingtonians handle their football tradition. Maybe - he thought - understated was just how they liked it. Well, whether UW fans liked their football program lurking in the shadows or not, Turner and new University President Mark Emmert - using their SEC-filtered football compases - are bound and determined to put it front and center.

To that end, they are asking for help. Lots of help.

But when Tyee members receive a letter sent by Turner this week, it won't be like giving your yearly bag of canned goods to the homeless shelter for the holidays. Emmert and Turner want to give all Husky fans a Christmas present they won't soon forget - a purple and gold pigskin renaissance. But it comes with a price tag.

"Football's needs will not be met through the support of our Tyees alone," Turner states in the letter. "It will take every ticket holder and Husky loyalist contributing to the process to return the magic to Washington football."

The $50 'donation' attached to all seats to support the 'Building for Excellence' fund will go up in 2005. The amount is undetermined at this point, but Turner states in the letter that it will be a 'nominal' increase. The 19,000 Tyee-specific seats will be charged an additional $25 per seat next season. Turner said that, in the future, the success Washington hopes to enjoy will foster a need for every seat in Husky Stadium to become a Tyee seat, similar to what is currently happening in Husky basketball.

This 'donation' will be completely football-specific in scope, which should quell fears by Husky ticket-holders that the money donated would continue to be allocated to the fund at-large. Because there has been a drop in the overall number of season ticket holders - roughly ten percent since 2000 - there has been a budget deficit to the tune of $2.5 million. "Because of the loss of season-ticket holders, we've lost about a million dollars in income there, as well as $600,000 in unrealized television revenue," Turner said in a media session Friday. "We need to get those people back, and that should take care of the deficit."

To do that, as well as help as help drive an effort to provide an additional $3.5 to $4.5 million each year to the athletic department budget designated solely to football, Turner's letter spells out a plan by the AD to bring the focus back to fall Saturdays at Husky Stadium. He also said that he feels the department needs an immediate infusion of roughly $5-6 million specifically earmarked to deal with football. "The first step is to get the right leader in place," state Turner. "We will do this."

Emmert and Turner had been out of town until Friday, interviewing potential candidates for the head coaching position at Washington. Former Notre Dame Head Coach Tyrone Willingham and current Boston College Head Coach Tom O'Brien are the only reported candidates to have been formally interviewed at this time. It's also been rumored that Washington is very interested in bringing former UW player and current Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Jim Mora back to Seattle, but he has told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week that he's not interested. O'Brien has decided to stay on at BC as of Friday night after waiting two days for Washington's answer.

Other names tied to the coaching search through media reports include former Seattle Seahawk and current Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Mike Tice, Fresno State Head Coach Pat Hill, current Pittsburgh Head Coach Walt Harris. Cal Head Coach Jeff Tedford was called, but he accepted a pay increase to continue coaching the Golden Bears. Former Utah Head Coach Urban Meyer was also called but decided to coach at Florida instead.

"The second (step) is to provide that coach and his student-athletes the tools they need to be successful," added Turner. "This means improving every aspect of football operation."

An example of this improvement was given in the form of the video department. "We have an outdated video system, and if you ask a coach what one of his most valuable tools is, it's his video system," said Turner. Ours is put together with bailing wire." He added that the cost of effectively upgrading Washington's video system would cost $1 million.

This is part of what Turner called 'Phase One' of his plan to re-energize the football program and get it back to national prominence. "Everywhere I've gone, what I hear is that people don't just want to have a good football team," he said. "They want to have a great football team."

He further added that since football revenue is the 'big driver' in the department, spending money to get it back on its feet is money well-spent. "It's critical that we get Husky football straight," he said. When that happens, 'Phase Two' will begin.

At the end of the month, the AD will look at proposals from design firms that will look at Washington's athletic campus, or 'village' - including Husky Stadium - to give the school some ideas about how all the facilities can work together. A redesign of Husky Stadium - now 85 years old - is most certainly a project that will happen within a larger redesign, but Turner said that it's more important to generate success within the football program first and that will help generate available revenue streams for such an upgrade.

But the AD is not sitting on its hands right now, waiting for football to be their saving grace. They are spending $250,000 on replacing the baseball infield and the $18 million price tag to pay for the new student services center is paid for. But the larger projects, including the long-overdue soccer facility - are still on hold while Turner and Emmert continue the exhumation of Husky football.

So let's say Husky fans pony up and give back to the proverbial golden goose of the UW Athletic Department? Will they see any tangible results? "Well, they are going to notice some of it," he said. "If they walk on campus and don't see where the football offices are, we haven't done our job."

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