Coach's Corner

I did the daily double last week and spent the whole day indirectly on Husky Football. I first decided to swing by the Neuheisel trial and get a feel for it, and then I headed on to the UW for the press conference by Coach Willingham to hear him speak about his first recruiting class.

In regards to Ty's class, looking at only the high-light tapes are so deceiving because you never really know what kind of player you are getting because every prospect in America has at least a few great plays - otherwise he wouldn't be a recruit.

I did see the local kids all play in person with the exception of the tight end from Chehalis, but I know the other five will all make an impact sooner or later in their college careers.

This day also gave me an opportunity to meet and introduce myself to Coach Willingham. He was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me and was excited to hear I had worked for both Coach James and Coach Lambright, but wasn't as thrilled that I now worked in the media. He was very gracious and reminded me of a few kids he beat me on in recruiting. (We knew each other but had never met.) I found the man to be exactly how I expected him to be - very much in person like Coach James. He is very stoic, thinks very deliberately about each question and keeps everything very close to the vest. In stature, he and Coach James are almost the exactly same size but both are obviously powerful men.

I mean that as a compliment as to his demeanor when meeting the press. He is not evasive, but cannot be trapped into saying something or anything that will reflect wrong or be misinterpreted wrong by either his players or coaches. He displays ultimate loyalty to the team. It is obvious to me he is a sports-educator first and addressed character, school, and attrition as important ingredients to building his program. That really impressed me.

When talking privately with a small group of reporters he displayed a dry but obvious sense of humor - or at least I thought it was humor. He answered many questions with a question in order to clarify his position but I think it was just his way of deflecting serious stuff with a little humor. One of his zinger answers to one of Chris Fetters' questions was hilarious, but probably shouldn't be repeated here.

My first impression was very positive and I found the man to be very forthright and a straight shooter. I appreciated his deflection of any question with regard to rating recruiting classes. Like me, he believes that recruiting rankings and rating are ludicrous because recruiting is such an inexact science. You never know how good a group is until you know how many championships they have won, how many get their degrees, and how many wind up being starters or in the pros.

Willingham believes they signed a small group of players who fit their needs and wanted to be Huskies. He expects them to go to class, get their degrees, and work hard both on and off the field. For this year, that was good enough.

The class is a little short on "bigs" but does appear to have some real skill kids. Signing four JC's was unusual for Washington, and considering three came from Pasadena CC makes it even more so. But two were corners, positions that lost two senior starters, so it makes sense.

The biggest positive, besides the two Bellevue kids who I happen to think are the real deal, was the acquisition of Johnny DuRocher at quarterback. This kid can compete with the three quarterbacks they already have, and knows he will be given every opportunity to do so. He's here for spring and will be in the mix at that position which we all know is the most critical to the future of Husky football. He sincerely believes he will be competitive at the position, and so do I.

E.J. Savannah is one of the best linebackers to come out of this state in a long time. He could play immediately next fall and has speed and instinct at the outside linebacker position. I predict that if he's healthy, he will be in the depth and could even get major playing time come next fall. J. R. Hasty will prove to be a real solid running back but has a little more experienced depth in front of him than does Savannah.

Anyone who watched the game between Bellevue and Timberline realizes that he got about 300 more yards than did the "best" running back in America. I've seen him play at least 6-8 times in his career and I sincerely believe he will make the transition to college ball with ease. He is a great competitor and statistically one of the very best backs ever produced by this state. Both of the Bellevue kids are winners and Coach Willingham alluded to that in his brief comments on the class.

Now to the trial.

I admit that I only attended one day and Barbara Hedges was on the stand the whole day. She asked me what I was doing there and I laughed and told her I was media and covering the trial. That was fun.

She and Lou Peterson, the lawyer for the UW, went about portraying Rick Neuheisel as a perpetual liar. That became obvious through out the proceedings that the trial has nothing to do with gambling but every thing to do with dishonesty.

The NCAA appears to becoming more and more liable for their comments and errors in prejudicing their investigation of Coach Neuheisel. Their lawyer appeared to be the least impressive in the trail that featured three lawyers for Coach Neuheisel, five for the UW, and three for the NCAA, plus David Price (one of my least favorite people), and a current investigator for the NCAA.

Going into the day I had wondered how Barbara would do without her standard 3X5 cards that she always had whenever she had a speaking engagement. She is an extremely well organized and thorough person and never wanted to not be absolutely prepared for anytime she had to talk. Her personal notes were brought into evidence and are a record of all her dealings with Coach Neuheisel. My question was answered immediately because as a favorable witness for the defense, she literally had a whole notebook in front of her and had obviously rehearsed that day's testimony.

Peterson led her through a very systematic examination of all the lies leading up to and climaxing with the lie that broke the camel's back, when Rick Neuheisel initially lied about his involvement in a major stakes basketball pool. They were attempting to weave a pattern of lies that ultimately resulted in his termination "with cause."

I found the whole process to be very interesting and realized again why I have never liked to be in court. To me, it's like being in a hospital in that you know it has it's purpose but you just don't want to be there. The legal system with all the objections and technicalities is certainly another world.

Even though Coach Neuheisel has a law degree, I could tell he was uneasy with all the attacks on his integrity. At a break, he and I exchanged greetings and commented how much easier it was to be on the sidelines than in a court of law.

After lunch, Peterson finally wove his way to the fateful day in June 2003, when it is obvious that the NCAA ambushed Rick and Barbara with the basketball betting questions. There is no doubt that they laid a trap for Rick and when first confronted about his participation, he immediately denied any participation in the actual pool itself. He later recanted and confessed that he was not just an observer of the betting but an actual participant and a winner.

He had lied but had corrected himself when later advised by counsel.

Now the jury will have to decide if that original lie is still on the books even after you come clean. They will also have to decide whose argument to believe.

The infamous Dana Richardson memo had not come into play when I left but it is obvious that it may be a key factor in Rick's case. The UW and Barbara Hedges, however, have already tried to build a case of dishonesty against him and are contending that he was fired for that and not for the gambling. Thus, the memo becomes moot)

It was then I realized that the signing day press conference was going to take place, so I slid out the back door and decided to put myself in a more positive atmosphere.

I was glad I did, but promise to return next month for another day of justice. I'm positive this trial will drag on for at least that long.

Until then, I'm heading to Aspen for some skiing.

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