Coach's Corner

I attended the Spring Husky Coaches Clinic and was thoroughly impressed by the lectures, chalk talks, and of course, the Saturday Scrimmage. The clinic is designed to help the high school coaches as a give-back gesture. Although sparsely attended, those who did show were given a great inside look of what Tyrone Willingham football is all about.

Each of his assistants gave a fifty-minute position clinic dealing briefly with how they teach their respective position areas. The clinic is held every spring with high school coaches receiving clock hours for attendance.

Those who did attend were thoroughly impressed by the professionalism of Willingham's whole operation.

Husky coaches made it clear that the state of Washington was going to get their highest priority in recruiting. The clinic has some public relations mixed in, all the while providing a close-up look at Husky Football.

Staff wise, the Willingham coaching team has a wonderful mix of backgrounds and personalities. I was amused to see that they classify their own offense as a "multiple" offense, meaning it is a lot of different offenses rolled into one.

The clinic, offensively, centered around running the football first and it's obvious that Louis Rankin is making a serious bid to become the next great Husky tailback.

Rankin, who will wear number 9, is a blend of speed and shake, rattle and roll. He is a juke-runner who also has a definite burst that separates him from the other backs as well as defenders. He has very quick feet entering the hole and has a nice feel for when to turn it up. Thus far in the spring he has emerged as one of the real playmakers.

Injuries to Kenny James and the older backs have somewhat opened the door for Rankin and another true freshman, 275-pound Johnny Kirton, to jump into the mix with James, Sampson, Singleton, and the diverse James Sims.

With hard-blocking Ty Eriks now back in the fullback position - where he has always belonged - running back looks to have some real depth for the Huskies. Freshman Luke Kravitz and walkons Dan Foafoa and Mark Palaita give the Huskies plenty of extra fullback type blockers but it is the overall depth of the backs that appears to be one of the real strengths of this Husky football team.

Depth and the fact that fumbles are being eliminated are probably the story this spring in the backfield.

New running backs coach Trent Miles brings a wonderful attitude and a positive approach to what he is doing with the backs. His efforts are noticeable, and there is not doubt that Rankin appears to be clicking with him. He is separating himself as something special simply due to his speed alone.

I would assume that the Huskies will go to their strength next fall, and that means we will see a team that has a real running game for the first time in many years. Coach Miles is using his depth as an alternative against fumbling. Put the rock on the ground and somebody is liable to go by you on the depth chart.

A lot of what they are doing offensively is really good old fashioned smash mouth football. The offensive line is coming off the ball and they should now be able to amply mix power, counter, sweep, and iso-draws into the package. I will be real surprised if this Husky team does not rush for more yards than any Husky team of this past decade. It fits with Coach Willingham's desire to return to toughness as a key characteristic to Husky football.

The passing game, which was probably the worst in many years last fall, is still behind. That is understandable because of the transition in systems. The throwers all look better but the catchers still appear in the developmental stages. New receivers coach, Eric Yarber, might be the best coach the Huskies have had at that position in many years. He brings to the table the experience of working with collegiate players like Chad Johnson and pros like Terrell Owens. There has yet to be any receiver jump out this spring but I attribute that again to the transition and the fact that the kids are still learning, thus thinking. Things will come easier as time goes by.

The tight end position is likewise in a very precarious situation with no real depth and no obvious force. Let's move on, shall we?

The quarterback competition is exactly that, excellent competition. Isaiah Stanback has been the most productive in scrimmages but all four have shown improvement with Johnny DuRocher finally settling in and Carl Bonnell and Casey Paus both showing they are capable players. I would be surprised if Stanback does not emerge as one of the two primary quarterbacks. He is showing maturity, some of which can be attributed to the coaching of Tim Lappano. There have never been any doubts about Stanback's physical and athletic ability. He appears to be more comfortable with his new position coach, and he has added some zip on the ball.

At this stage of the spring, if I had to go out on a limb, I would go with a starting backfield of Stanback, Rankin, and Eriks. At a minimum, they are all in the primary depth.

The clinic itself gave a real technical look at the New Husky football program and each visiting coach received a drill book that had specific sections for all the position areas in addition to complete coverage of the kicking game.

Under Coach Willingham, there are really going to be three other "head" coaches. Defensively, it is interesting that Kent Baer has no real position group to coach. He roams from group to group, leaving Randy Hart handling the front four, Chris Tormey working with the three linebackers, and Steven Wilks handling the back-end four. Coach Baer floats and coaches the whole stopping unit, thus acting like a head coach for the defense. This allows him to be constantly evaluating all the players and to give input to the whole package.

It really makes a lot of sense to take this sort of approach because Coach Willingham is likewise a hands-on coach all over the field and can't be everywhere at once.

Coach Baer gave an excellent planning seminar on how to prepare a defensive game plan and the attending high school coaches were scrambling to try and figure out how to find the time to coach their own defense most effectively.

Likewise, Bob Simmons, the tight end coach and Special Teams "head" coach gave an interesting overview of organizing and setting up drills for all the special teams.

Coach Simmons, who once was the head coach at Oklahoma State, sets up the special teams just like another head coach. His part in the Clinic Drill Book actually gave an extremely thorough game plan with a complete outline and a 12 step approach to improving special teams. It detailed almost every specific situation that you need to consider when implementing a complete kicking game approach. Then when they practice it on the field he is the director. He is also benefitting tremendously from Coach Willingham's decision to hire ex-Notre Dame kicker Joey Hildbold as a GA specifically in charge of the kickers themselves. This young coach takes his role very seriously and I believe his hiring will pay dividends come fall when the specialists prove to be very steady and improved.

If you are going to play a run-oriented offense with a tough defense then the key to a conservative approach has always centered on a solid and effective kicking game. Coaches Simmons and Hildbold combine to bring the most detailed and systematic approach to the kicking game since Al Roberts coached Husky kicking in the mid 90's.

The blending of Tim Lappano and Eric Yarber from the Dennis Erickson school of offensive football with offensive line coach Mike Denbrock and backs coach Trent Miles, both from the Willingham school, is proving to be an excellent pairing. The offense has a long way to go but the structure is now in place and the kids are responding. I am sure from talking to the high school coaches that they were impressed as well.

This whole program is extremely well organized and Coach Willingham knows how he wants to do things, and has the patience and understanding to stick with his system.

Probably the highlight for me was getting to listen to Coach Willingham give a talk that lasted for close to an hour. He titled it, "The Most-Asked Questions in Coaching" and really gave an excellent philosophical presentation that was both humorous and educational. He is such a wonderful "sports educator" and really has his idea of what is the right way to do things and is getting the players to buy in.

I can't promise wins but I can promise that these Huskies will be well-organized and will be doing things the right way. This man is a very special individual and there is no doubt in my mind that sooner or later he will take the Huskies back to where they belong - in the upper echelon of the Pac-10. This coach will win a championship here and I won't be surprised to see him coaching here for well over a decade. This is a long term hire and the future of Husky football will be in this man's hands for many years to come.

I would like to add that I was particularly impressed with Husky Chaplain Mike Rohrbach's presentation and his guest speaker was none other than John Fiala, one of my all time favorite kids to coach. John was a Captain and linebacker for the Dawgs back when I was coaching and is one of the finest individuals I ever got to coach. He went as a 7th round draft choice to Miami but ended up playing six years for the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he ended up as their special team's captain. This put the frosting on the cake for the clinic as far as I was concerned.

And I ate it all up. Top Stories