A half day visit to the offices on Montlake Boulevard told me a lot.
This team and their new staff all have smiles on their faces, and are hard at work every morning at 6:30 am. They are determined to put the past behind them and realize that this hard work and togetherness is the way to do it.
I took the opportunity this past week to visit with the majority of the incoming staff that only has one spot yet to fill, that of kicking game coordinator. Coach Willingham took his time and the coordination of his program appears to be as solid as any of the past 20 years of Husky football.
Tyrone has a very interesting mix of at least three different programs. It is very apparent that they have been assembled with a coordinated purpose and they have great experience in the Pac-10 in both coaching and recruiting. He has blended two hold-overs from the Husky past with two members of Dennis Erickson's staff along with four members of his Stanford/Notre Dame staff.
Longtime Husky assistant Randy Hart returns to his spot as defensive line coach, and certainly his young charges were one of the real promising areas of last year's Huskies. His return bodes well for the future development of the all important defensive line area. Both Manase Hopoi and Jordan White-Frisbee return to handle the inside positions and both should play on Sundays. Dan Milsten should heal up nicely, and also brings experience, and along with Eric Lobos and Wilson Afoa give the interior defense plenty of depth. Returning starters Mike Mapu and Greyson Gunheim return at defensive ends and Caesar Rayford and Brandon Ala will bolster an experienced and much bigger and stronger defensive front.
Linebacker coach Chris Tormey also returns and his players were easily the best position area on last year's team. He returns inside starters Joe Lobendahn and Evan Benjamin along with Scott White and promising freshmen Dan Howell and Trenton Tuiasosopo. Combine those five with Tahj Bomar, Kyle Trew, and two incoming signees and it looks like a deep position. Tormey is also an excellent recruiter and literally signed half of this year's signing class. It appears he may also become the Recruiting Coordinator, step one of the coordination of Coach Willingham's staff.
Tormey and Hart together represent a solid link to the past and certainly bring to the table a solid understanding of Husky Football and all of it's traditions of toughness and organization. It was a brilliant move by Coach Willingham in retaining them and there are some obvious links to the rest of his staff.
There is actually quite a Vandal connection on the staff. Tormey, of course, started his college football experience at Idaho playing there 1974-77 and later coaching there as an assistant 1982-83 and eventually being the head coach there 1995-99.
Also on the Vandal staff in 1982 was Tim Lappano, Willingham's new offensive coordinator. Lappano also played at Idaho and along with Tormey served as Vandal coaches under Keith Gilbertson. Kent Baer also worked for Gilby and coached at Idaho in 1986.
Playing on the Idaho team in 1985 was one Eric Yarber, who was an All-American wide receiver and kick returner there, and later an NFL player. Yarber began his coaching career at Idaho in 1996, when Chris Tormey was the head coach.
All these men are somewhat tied together by Dennis Erickson, who later hired both Yarber and Lappano at various stops including Oregon State and the 49'ers. The Beaver offense they put together resulted in the smashing of a Notre Dame team in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl.
Kent Baer, the Huskies new Defensive coordinator, left Idaho and coached in the Pac-10 at California and Arizona State under Bruce Snyder before hooking on with Coach Willingham at Stanford for the past 10 years at both Stanford and Notre Dame. At both of those two stops Baer worked as the defensive coordinator and at both stops the defenses were the strength of those teams.
These men, along with new secondary coach Steven Wilks, promise to be a great blend of defensive minds. All four have been defensive coordinators at the college level.
New Husky offensive line coach Mike Denbrock also worked for Willingham at both Stanford and Notre Dame where he coached the offensive tackles and tight ends.
Do you think the Huskies need some help there?
Like Lappano, Denbrock has also been an offensive coordinator and followed Willingham from Stanford to Notre Dame where he was hooked up with new Husky running backs coach, Trent Miles, who likewise has worked for Willingham at both "the farm" and "the dome". Miles and Yarber have both worked in the NFL as receivers coaches, with Miles coaching the great Antonio Freeman at Green Bay and Yarber coaching the equally famous Pro Bowler Terrell Owens at the 49'ers.
If Tormey, an ex-head coach, ends up the as the recruiting coordinator, and Willingham adds an experienced kicking game coordinator, this will be one of the most experienced and coordinated staffs to ever serve together at Washington. One of the most critical elements of winning is to put together a staff of winners and experienced ball coaches.
A Head coach is only as good as his assistants, and this staff appears to be an excellent blend of pairs of coaches who have worked together in many capacities before. This staff appears balanced and has a thorough understanding of the primary recruiting areas that have traditionally fed this program as well.
Tormey has a solid relationship established with many high school coaches both in California and Washington, and will stay in his old area that has produced names like Kaufman, Brunnell, Daniels, and Kelley. Yarber has always recruited LA and Lappano has always worked the Bay area. Hart has worked Washington and will probably take over Eastern Washington where the Huskies have always gotten great players with names like Emtman, Ward, and Jackson. Baer has always worked California and Hart has always worked Oregon. All bases are covered.
But here is the most exciting news, at least to me. For years the Huskies always recruited the state of Washington with four coaches (three plus yours truly). When Coach Neuheisel arrived he immediately reduced that to two. The resulting effect was WSU and Oregon strengthening their presence as did a number other schools. It's hard to keep that from happening when you only have two guys to cover it.
Coach Willingham has addressed that situation by mounting a full force recruiting attack to recapture the state. Washington will now use 10 coaches to recruit the state of Washington. They are going to make the commitment to the high school players and coaches of this state by getting into every school and letting them know that they are again the number one priority in Husky recruiting. All assistants will have other geographic areas of responsibility but this state will get the intensified attention it deserves.
You can also bet that the Huskies clinics and camps will have a local emphasis. For the next ten years or so you are going to realize that Washington's first commitment will be to recruit local kids first. If I could have my way, I would only wish that Coach Willingham will stay at Washington for, at the very least, a decade or longer. It is through coordinated continuity that the Huskies are going to return to their past position as one of the great football program in America. As a former Husky coach, I am excited to see this staff work together. They all will make a commitment to bringing us back. You understand this from the first moment you sit down and talk with this group of men
Lift up your heads all you Husky fans and allow yourself to believe that the program is on the way back. Let's all start thinking about beating Air Force right now.
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