Catching up with Ed Cunningham

Early on in conversation with former Husky and current ABC broadcaster Ed Cunningham, I remarked that Washington Athletic Director Todd Turner announced on Softy Mahler's radio show that UW is returning to a more traditional football uniform. Cunningham's response was verbally akin to a pancake block.

"Oh, thank God!" he said. "I got so sick of those uniforms, especially with that horrible font. Whoever invented that font needs to stop inventing fonts. They need less inventing and more going back to what works."

We went on to speak about the possibilities of a renovated Husky Stadium, and Cunningham had a vivid image in mind.

"Listen, it's so gorgeous a setting there with the lake right next to it," he said. "But that stadium needs a lot of work. They need to lower the field. Get rid of the track, square off the west end zone, bring the seats right up to the edge of the field. Even back in the early 90s with all the sellouts we had, you would still see the first six rows around the stadium empty, and that was because you couldn't see the field from those seats. They were terrible seats.

"And this won't be a popular comment, but when you're playing Oregon, you want Oregon's fans, or any opposing fans, to be closer to the field. Right now, they're so far away it's like they're in the parking lot. During the games you want to feel that intensity… The only other thing I would add is, just don't do anything to those two upper decks. I can tell you from personal experience, when those upper decks are full and loud, it feels like they will come right down on top of you. It is an awesome experience to be on the field at Husky Stadium when it is like that."

Cunningham was asked about Keith Gilbertson, and how he has been doing since being fired as Washington's football coach.

"I have not had contact with Gilby for some time," said Cunningham. "I was so proud of how he handled that situation. I think it is obvious that both publicly and privately, it was a very ugly situation. He has also been recovering from that hip replacement surgery. He's a prideful guy, and both physically and mentally he needs to heal.

"I have wanted to reinitiate contact with him for awhile and wasn't sure of the best way to go about it. Then recently I ran into Tom Cable, who both played and coached for Gilby at Idaho. I talked to him about wanting to reconnect with Keith. Cable said that Gilby was an old-fashioned guy who likes things done in an old-school way. So he said, `why don't you write him a letter?' And I did just that. I wrote a two-page handwritten letter, telling him, 'Hey I love ya, I hope you're recovering and doing well. You have mentored me in the past and I hope you can continue to mentor me in the years to come.'.

"Because I wouldn't be who I am without Keith Gilbertson, and I wanted him to know that. He needs to continue coaching, and I hope he gets back out there. I just sent the letter two days ago, so we'll see."

Our conversation steered to the recent hire of Tyrone Willingham as Washington's football coach.

"I've met Tyrone once, briefly, when we were doing a Notre Dame game," said Cunningham. "I did a basic pre-game interview. I don't know him really well and I don't know enough about how he handles certain aspects of coaching. But in how he handles and conducts himself, he is just what the doctor ordered. In a certain sense, I see him as a new-school Don James. DJ always required that his players conduct themselves in a certain manner. And I can tell you from experience, having played on the college level for great teams, and for several years in the NFL on both bad and OK teams, that one thing is true; the only way you win is with a head coach who is a no-nonsense tough guy.

"I also like some of Willingham's hires," Cunningham continued. "And I think that having Chris Tormey as recruiting coordinator is a perfect fit. Tormey recruited me from Virginia, and he knows what he is doing. He is very organized. I am excited to see the new direction that Washington football is going in."

I asked Cunningham what he has been up to in the off-season. It turns out that he has been extremely busy in veering his life into a new direction.

"In working for ABC, I'm stealing money for my job," he said. "I get paid a lot of money to broadcast college football games. I really love my job. And I work my ass off to keep with everything that is going on in college football. But I also only work for three-and-a-half months a year, and I was looking for something else interesting to do in the other months.

"So I've stumbled upon being a documentary film maker," he said. "I'm producing them. We've just finished one and right now are negotiating to sell the rights to it. Then we've got two more projects on the way."

I asked Cunningham to describe what his first film is about.

"It is called New York Doll, and it's about the bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane," he said. "And make sure that you write the word "Killer" with quotes around it, because if you were to see him, you would see that he is the antithesis of a killer… The New York Dolls were a 1970s New York glamour punk band. They are the ones that started the punk rock and glam rock genres. They were the precursor to bands like Poison and Twisted Sister."

I asked Cunningham how the New York Dolls would compare to the makeup-laden band KISS, given that they were first band I saw perform live, at the Seattle Center Coliseum, when I was 8 years old.

"KISS became KISS because of the New York Dolls," said Cunningham.

"And the films shows how they imploded, and the several tough years that Kane went through- and this guy has been through a lot. Then they made an attempt to get the group back together thirty years later, and we documented that."

As our interview concluded, Cunningham reiterated about how optimistic he was about the direction the Washington program is going. From the firing of Neuheisel, to the sense of discipline and leadership from new coach Tyrone Willingham, to the new athletic director and university president, to even the move back to a more traditional uniform.

"They seem to have the right people in every key position now," he said.

Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories