Coach's Corner

I know, I'm the eternal optimist. I see the world through rose colored glasses. I'm not going to apologize for who I am though. That being said, I want to give you my view of what I see going on in the UW football program, first hand.

The bottom line is that I'm really excited about the long range future of the Husky football program. At practices and around the offices, it's evident to me that they are on the right track, with the right plan, and most importantly with the right man for job.

Tyrone Willingham is a leader. He is stoic, under control, and is the "General". Make no mistake about it. You can sense it, he wears it well, and he has a great feel for the big picture and fully understands the educational importance of what he is doing. He has restored an automatic dignity to the program and instilled the belief that the Dawgs will be doing things the right way.

As a former UW coach, it hurts to admit that respect, perhaps THE most important ingredient to a program, has been slowly sinking in the west for over the last decade.

But it's true.

The only criticisms I have heard out of South Bend always seem to center around recruiting.

You might as well get one thing clear. Coach Willingham is going to take the high road. They will recruit with class and sell the positives of the UW, Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest. They will not cheat. They will not pressure (or badger) kids for commitments. He respects the decisions of others. He is going to push graduation first and foremost and will actively pursue every avenue to help his kids achieve that goal.

This is exactly the kind of man you want running your football program.

I know – go ahead and say it. I'm a homer. I know my cup is always more full than empty. I know and you know that I'm going to be a Husky fan no matter what. I know that many Dawgman.com readers think I have no objectivity, that I am a blind follower, and that I don't care about that perception.

All of that could very well be true. But what else is true is that this new Husky coach is a good man. He demands respect and he is getting it from the most important group - the kids you all fuss and fret about. Tyrone Willingham is a no-nonsense leader who will turn this program around and he is doing it now. I have spent time with the man in his office, if that helps you feel any better about my opinion of him.

If it doesn't, oh well. This site is not about me, anyway. It's for you, the Husky fan.

But I will tell you that I attend practice as much as I can, which turns out to be about every other day, just to get a feel for the way he and his staff are doing things. So when I write about the program, it is not from a perspective that is from behind a desk, or on the phone from far away, or from my backside. It is from my own personal perceptions up close.

What can I share? First, I enjoy the enthusiasm, the smiles on the kids' faces, and the apparent commitment to organization and teaching. These coaches are evaluating every day and each practice reveals a few more pieces to solve the puzzle. Willingham is slowly putting the pieces together and has thus far shown the patience to build it the right way, rather than in a hurry.

In the long run, I believe that this will prove to be a great hire. I really believe this man is going to win some championships here at Washington and hope that he will be here for a long time.

It takes time and continuity to build a program. Especially when you inherit one that only won one game the year before. That situation won't be changed immediately but if you can get the kids you have to play better as a team, then they might just win some games this coming season. You build from that nucleus, and the stability of a staff that stays together as a unit.

The thing that is impressive to me is that practices have a certain tempo to them. Everything runs like a system should. No wasted minutes when they are on the field. Everyone is busy and you can hear the coaching going on.

This is not to say that practices, organization, and tempo were missing over the past few years. It's just that there is a renewed sense of urgency by the kids. They know that things have to change and they have to change right now. I can see it taking place. There is a new attitude and hopefully it will all translate into more wins than losses.

Washington went from two head coaches over 38 years to four head coaches in 12 years. Constant coaching turnover is a sure indication of losing. It also reflects an administration and alumni who don't really understand what it takes to build a consistent and winning program.

I think that has all changed now. I really believe that the current leadership at Washington realizes that they were really lucky to have had Willingham handed to them on a silver platter, and that they will give him the time and resources to get the thing done. I know they believe he will do it the right way and I think they are going to let him do it his way.

I also believe that they know the culture of football at Washington and that it just isn't one of the other sports. Football and basketball pay the bills. It's plain and simple. If they are successful then the other sports will also have a chance to likewise succeed simply because there will always be the necessary money to make them do so.

I think it's now obvious to those of you that refused to believe it, that Barbara Hedges never really understood football. It always appeared to me, her former employee, that she was trying to level the playing field with the other sports. The commitment was never really there because she didn't know anything about the sport. New AD Todd Turner and UW President Mark Emmert have changed that. They know they got a National Coach of the Year in Tyrone Willingham. They know they got a man with good values who has his system, his plan, his ideas about the game, and they trust him and his perceptions. They will stick with this coach.

And it's my opinion that with time, they will be proven right. He knows what he is doing and he has surrounded himself with an excellent group of people to help him achieve the rebuild.

I know this article is pretty typical of me. But before you totally disregard it, do remember that I did spend 45 years in the sport either playing or coaching it. I do believe that I know a little about how the sport is taught, what kind of players it takes to succeed, and what kind of organization it takes to be successful. I really believe all the coaches who have worked at Washington knew what they were doing. They knew the sport. They understood the mechanics of the sport and how to win games. I don't believe though, that any of the football coaches since Mike Lude left the program have ever had the necessary support to be successful.

I think Tyrone Willingham has that. I think he has their backing and I think they have his back. Any good coach will tell you he is only as good as his support system and that always starts at the top.

The folks that were against this hire forget that Willingham took over programs at Stanford and Notre Dame that were down and out, and he immediately made both competitive. Hopefully that trend will continue at Washington. He obviously inherited a little better talent under the Golden Dome but there is sufficient talent on this Husky team to make a run at a number of the opponents on this fall's coming schedule.

At a recent practice, close to 150 ex-players showed up to express their support for the new program. They were made to feel important again. They were welcomed. They mixed with the current team and from everyone I talked to, all were totally enthralled with the way things were being done. Willingham understands the big picture. He realizes the importance of all parts of his organization. He realizes the greatness of the Husky past and he intends to rebuild on that exact same foundation. He knows how the Huskies played football. He knows what coming down that tunnel is all about.

In ten seasons as a head coach Tyrone Willingham has won 65 games and lost 51. In 1995 he was the Pac-10 Coach of the year. He took Stanford to its first Rose Bowl in decades in 1999 and was again elected Pac-10 Coach of the year. In 2000 he was honored as the recipient of the Eddie Robinson Coach of Distinction Award and then in 2002 after taking Notre Dame to a 10-3 record in his first year was named the National Coach of the Year. That says more about his success than I ever could. I do think he'll win another coaching award while at Washington.

The Huskies' 2005 schedule essentially starts with 4 straight home games considering the opener against Air Force will be played in Seahawk Stadium. Should the Dawgs start out winning, say 3 out of 4 . . . .

History does have a tendency to repeat itself.

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