Ask Coach Baird

Hey fellow Dawgs. It's been a busy post-spring for me, but I was able to get to a few letters that showed up in my cyber mailbox. Thanks for writing, and now onto your letters...

From Mike
: I watched the defensive line this spring with interest, there seemed to be a lot of injuries and new faces. What is your assessment of the new guys and the outlook for the line's performance this upcoming season.

A: I too watched the defensive line closely because without (Erick) Lobos and (Donny) Mateaki, and (Dan) Milsten, I figured the youngsters would really get more reps and they could start to develop some depth. That is exactly what happened this spring . The experiment of moving Mike Mapu inside really looked good in that he has added considerable bulk and strength and now tips out at about 285. He looks like he could play inside, and of course (Manase) Hopoi and (Jordan) White-Frisbee already proved that they can play there. The move of Ty Eriks back to fullback opened the door for the young Dawgs to pounce on the opportunity. I really think (Greyson) Gunheim and (Caesar) Rayford have tremendous upsides and Ala has gotten bigger and stronger as well. Walt Winter sure looks like he can play somewhere and loves to compete and the return of (Jordan) Reffett only adds another big body to the inside. Don't underestimate Wilson Afoa either. He is a junkyard dog and is really scrappy and quick on the inside. Because of these moves I really believe there is more depth on the defensive line then there has been in years. Obviously, Randy Hart will work them all hard but let's give some credit to Keith Gilbertson for building depth on both sides of the ball. This depth could prove very important in the early games as the Huskies can throw lots of fresh bodies and keep the pressure on. The depth will also come in handy against Air Force because they will constantly be playing off low chop blocks.
From Aloha Mike
Dear Coach Baird,
: Your column has been missed. Hope your next one comes much sooner. How is Gilby doing after his hip replacement? I went to the spring game. The out come was disappointing. With the team split up the way it was it was difficult to have any continuity. Some kids seemed to shine, however; and this will bode well for the team. Who do you think turned heads this spring?

A: Gilby is doing well with his new hip and is golfing and walking regularly. Of course he is still in the rehab process. Like everyone else I was really impressed with the progress of the running backs and in particular Louis Rankin. There is lots of depth and all worked real hard to improve in the spring. It is obvious that they are placing great emphasis on holding onto the ball and I will predict a dramatic decrease in fumbles come fall. Coach (Tyrone) Willingham has made it very clear that if you drop the rock then you are liable to be standing next to him on the sidelines. The quarterbacks all seem to be responding well to the coaching change and I think their competition is excellent. Considering over a dozen lettermen missed spring practices, I thought there was tremendous development amongst the younger players. As for the spring game, I can only say that this coach knows what he is doing. He has a system and a plan for developing this team. I'm not surprised that he didn't show much in the spring game. Believe me, people scout each other's spring games even if it is not legal. With that in mind I felt it was very smart not to tip his hand and just keep it pretty vanilla. Remember, you win championships with a good defense, a solid kicking game, and the ability to run the football when you need to. I thought the emphasis on the running game was the most pronounced that I have seen in ten years. Sorry I missed you at the Longview stop but I have been helping my folks who have health issues.
From Raymond
Coach Baird,
: Thank you, for your superb insights and thoughtful articles concerning the daWgs!! Coach, you've indicated recently, that at this time Isaiah Stanback, coming out of the Spring practices, is the "number one" Qb; in light of a comment that was made by one of the assistant coaches (Off.-coordinator?) that come fall the coaching staff would "have only 3 Qb's on the roster", in your judgment which will be the Qb that will not be on the roster? Again Coach, thanks for your wisdom and wonderful work for/with Yours, in Purple and Gold. PS: How is Jeremiah Pharms doing?

A: Dear Raymond of Vacaville (home of David Illsley) - First of all I have talked with Jeremiah Pharms a couple of times and he is playing semi-pro football for Sam Adams' team and is one of the stars of the whole league. I am hoping he will get the opportunity to fulfill his dream of playing professionally simply because of his wife and children. By the way, it was only my opinion that Stanback had a good spring and there is no way I wanted it to sound like he had won the position. I thought Carl Bonnell had some really good practices in the spring and that Johnny DuRocher improved as soon as he quit pressing and trying to show he could play. I really respect the leadership and team commitment of (Casey) Paus but this position, as important as it is, will not be decided until well into fall camp and what they each do this summer will also be a factor. I really believe that the development of the receivers will make all these quarterbacks look better. It appears they will carry the competition well into fall but I would imagine the top two will be identified by the second fall scrimmage or about 10-12 practices into the year.
From Rich Mayekawa
Coach Baird,
: Do you honestly feel that the Huskies can recover from that horrendous season last year? Cal did it with their new Coach. How can a major program like U-Dub sink that low in one season? It appears that attitude, work ethic, team morale and leadership by the coaches and seniors affected the whole team last year. You are always so positive and optimistic about Washington even during all that stressful time with Gilby and Rick. So many Husky fans have been disappointed by the outcome of the last two years. Can UW regain the mystique, and winning program again under Ty? Lots of unanswered questions especially after the dismal Spring game last month. I am very concerned about the direction of Washington's Football Program and wonder if it will take another 5 to 10 years to become a national power house again. What are your thoughts Coach?

A: You voice the same concern that a lot of Husky fans have about the state of the program. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the Huskies won for about 30 straight years and nobody knows how to act when your team goes 1-10. Years ago if someone even suggested we would go 6-5, I would have just been pissed. However, if this year's team does, then I think I will be thrilled. That's where we are. In fairness to Gilby I don't think he was given a fair shot to turn this thing around. The confidence of everyone in the program - including the fans - was really very fragile and when it spun out of control they lost games that they could have won, some simply due to attitude. Personally I think the program had fallen into disarray and a lot had to do with the constant turn over in coaches. The complete change of philosophy that Coach (Rick) Neuheisel brought in with his system was enormous. Washington had always been a blue-collar team and won with toughness and hard work. That changed and they became more of a finesse-type team and recruited a different kind of kid. Coach Gilbertson tried to change it back but with the "interim" tag stamped on his forehead it was tough to get the kids to buy in. That's all over now. Coach Willingham now brings in his system and it, too, puts great emphasis on hard work and doing the little things the right way. I think he will turn this around a lot faster than many people think. They probably won't be as flashy but you will see a lot more of team and a lot less of self. It may take years to get it back but I sincerely believe that if they keep Coach Willingham for 10 years he will win 2 to 3 Rose Bowls and Washington will be back. I am sure of one thing, this man will put the bite back in the dog, thanks for the question.
From Allan Hamilton
Coach Baird,
: my question concerns the offensive line. How does the line shape up for this year? How has the transition been for Joe Toledo been from Tight End to Tackle? Do you see any of the red-shirt freshmen from last year making an impact or getting any meaningful playing time?

A: I really believe that football games are won up front. I think the O-line responded real well to Coach (Mike) Denbrock and it showed in their practice attitude. They like him and he is a refreshing change for them. There is depth for the first time in a long time and I think Keith Gilbertson should be given some of the credit for emphasizing linemen in his only real recruiting class. Consequently, there is depth in the offensive line, although there are no obvious stars at this point. (hard to be a star on a 1-10 team). I really believe that the Toledo move was the best thing for the kid and the program. He has bulked up and if he can stay healthy (which he hasn't been able to) he could be an NFL-type player. He certainly has the feet and quick steps to develop. I'm sure they will consider going "heavy" and playing him as a third tackle and/or unbalanced with him on the short side. Whatever his move - although it weakened the tight end spot - certainly strengthened the tackle spot, especially considering that Chad Macklin is ready to step into the void left by losing Khalif Barnes. They have a nice mix of senior veterans like (Tusi) Sa'au, (Brad) Vanneman, (Tui) Alaelefaleula, and (Brandon) Leyritz, to go with Toledo and a solid group of juniors like (Stanley) Daniels, (Clay) Walker and (Juan) Garcia. That gives them a solid group of older players to go with the promising youngsters like (Nathan) Flowers, Macklin, Ryan Bush, Jovon O'Connor, and Casey Bulyca. There is flexibility as well with a number of kids being able to play two or more positions. I would guess that they will try to bring in a whole line in this year's recruiting class and you might see them further supplement the depth by dipping into the JC ranks. Whatever happens, there is an emphasis on the "bigs" now and that is obvious by the numbers. I think they will be the surprise group on this year's team as I anticipate we will be seeing the best rushing attack in years. The two words are depth and development and both appear to be taking place. They also are improving blocking schemes with trapping and pulling to improve their angles. It's not necessarily a negative thing but over the past 5 years or so there has been so much pass blocking that the Huskies are really just starting to come off the ball as run blockers. I thought that was an improvement as well. That's just my own observations of course, but I did see great progress in the spring even though they were missing a number of kids.
From Vino Orsley
Coach Baird,
: Based on what you have seen, will the defense have an aggressive scheme? I know the corner play needs to be strong. Will we have the athletes to get it done?

A: Based upon what I saw, the answer is yes. They will be more aggressive and they will blitz or stunt more. I really have a lot of respect for defensive coordinator Kent Baer and how he calls a game. He has been in the Pac-10 for years and knows the conference well and also knows how much Husky fans appreciate a good, solid attacking defense. He's watched many really good Husky defenses in the past and knows how the crowd responds to kids flying around. Besides the pressure, I think you will also see more emphasis on turnovers with the Dawgs ripping and stripping and picking and batting down balls, etc... The defense should be even better in the fall when they get all their players back. Specifically, (Joe) Lobendahn, (Dashon) Goldson, and (Scott) White all missed much of the spring as did linemen Mateaki, Milsten, and Lobos. Of course the infusion of the JC kids should help as well, particularly Chris Handy, who has already played and played well in Husky Stadium. I really believe that defensively the Huskies played well enough last year (with these same kids) - except the corners, of course - to win 5 or 6 games. To have almost everyone back is really an important plus. Look for this year's defense to carry this team. Of course I'm a defensive coach but I really believe they can win some games by being aggressive and getting the ball back. Watch them block some punts, as well as field goals and extra points because that's also part of an aggressive defense.
From Dean Robertson
Coach Baird,
: For the past several seasons, you were an admitted apologist for Gilby. I suspect that you understood that your stated position that Gilby was the right coach to return the Huskies to the prominence that we enjoyed under Don James was increasingly difficult to defend and certainly tended to undermine the credibility you enjoyed with Husky fans everywhere. My question (although it is likely moot, except for the depth to which our beloved program has fallen) is do you really believe that Gilby was the right coach to lead the Huskies back to the top of the PAC -10 or should he have been given a true "interim" title and a diligent search conducted for a coach with a less checkered track record? Please take into account the fact that we led Division One Football in turn-overs (not a statistic typically associated with disciplined head coaches) and our offense was more anemic (and predictable) than any in the last 30 years. Thanks Dick and I trust that all is well.

A: First of all, Gilby is a friend of mine and friendship is important to me. Consequently, your "credibility" comment is offensive to me. I don't do this to be recognized as "credible" or approved by the readers. I love Husky football because it was a big part of my life for a long time. I also believe that the only approach I take to anything is staying positive. That's always who I've been. I am positive about the new program and really believe that Coach Willingham has a system, a plan and an educational approach to accomplish success in what he is doing. He is moving forward and not looking backward. I also don't think it's necessary to "fix the blame for the demise of the program." There were lots of errors over the past ten years or so that have contributed to the demise. That is precisely why continuity of coaching is so critical to long-range success. You don't constantly change coaches and expect to win. Fix the problems not the blame. That means in all aspects of the program but especially in how you think. Winning consistently takes lots of attention to detail. The new administration, from the President of the University and on down through the athletic administration, is new, professional, and I think, better. The new coaching staff is really good. This football team is improving from the inside out and I really don't care who is coaching it, but I certainly can see the changes. See you at the Arizona games as we play there twice this year.
From Tom Wilkins
Coach Baird,
: I was interested in seeing references in several recent columns stating that much of next year's football team will be staying in Seattle this summer and holding their own workouts. This is encouraging from several stand points. I remember reading that there was almost no player participation last summer. Any change from last year is good, I think we can all agree to that. Also, I recall reading in the local papers during the Cougars 10 win seasons that they stayed together over the summer break. There were several articles where the players talked about how that time together helped them to bond as a team. How important do you think it is for teams to have this type of commitment to working out as a group over the summer? Surely athletes can stay in shape on their own. But it would seem to be a sign of team unity and dedication to a common goal, and all of that other coach speak kind of thing, when the team itself puts pressure on its members to stay here, be accountable to each other and work hard to improve as a unit. Do you think this is a critical component of success or not?

A: , I think football is a year-round sport. At the college level it is a job. You don't take time off from conditioning and weight training. You keep your body tuned and that takes a constant commitment. That's why it's so important to keep kids in town for the summer. Keep them in their routine. Continue to hang out together. Work out together and bond. Bond with each other through hard work and continue to keep working towards your degree. Face it, if your scholarship kids pick up 10 credits every summer that's almost a year's worth of credits and they have a much better chance of graduating. I completely agree with your premise that summer is just as important as spring ball, winter drills, bowl practices, and the regular season. Teams that stay together in the summer have a much better chance of staying together during the season.
From Robert Cunningham
Coach Baird,
: A follow up question to your JC article. Is Willingham aware of this JC problem? Is he going to address it? Thanks in advance.

A: I know Coach Willingham already understands the transfer problems of admission at Washington. He is very astute but I don't see it deterring him at all from going after and getting some of the best players at the JC level. I don't think there is any doubt that an infusion of 4-5 JC's could really help the program. One thing for sure is that he has the support of President (Mark) Emmert and that should help. Tyrone faced the same admissions problems at Notre Dame and Stanford so he understands Washington's academic standards. columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.

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