Reading the reports (on Dawgman.com, of course - Where else?), one gets the feeling that almost every kid comes away with a positive impression of the head coach. Some even claim that he was indeed the highlight of their visit. It is a common theme and one that I am sure plays out in the homes as well.
Why? Because he is a straight up and honest man, that's why. Kids can often sense someone who is trying to BS them. They see the salesman, the persuader, the institutional pimp as it were.
I should know, because I speak from personal experience. I was one.
This man, though, shows his integrity. He is a true sports-educator and someone who cares about them as people, as students, and then as players. He preaches a correct way of doing things. He is all about team, all about commitment, all about taking life seriously and all about winning both on the field and off.
Willingham is a private individual, except where it comes to family and team. To him they are one in the same and he is definitely the patriarch. He is reserved, thinks before he speaks, and very stoic in his demeanor and approach to the game.
He is also very consistent and the kids know where he stands on everything, particularly their studies.
Consequently, many in the alumni, media, and fan base mistaken it for being aloof, hard to talk to, and removed. The truth is, he makes his family, and that includes his players, the highest priority. Those in the family understand this and therefore the demands he puts on them to behave correctly are accepted as sincere and in their best interest.
I know some are thinking, "So why are kids choosing to leave the program then?" Easy. Because they are players who hadn't bought into his program. It happens, and it's not their fault. They were recruited to another system, to other expectations, by other coaches for a different kind of program. Coach Willingham has high expectations and demands that his players act and do things the right way.
I promise you that all his players will really begin to fully appreciate him when they graduate, move on in life, raise families, and become productive members of society.
This happened to the men who played for the legendary Husky coaches, Jim Owens and Don James. Those that stuck it out endured the system, learned the lessons of perseverance and dedication to cause, all speak glowingly of their experiences in football. The lessons of football are just as important as any other classroom these Huskies attend. They will carry it with them for their whole lives. Coach Willingham is a teacher and not just the game of football.
At the root of it all, kids want direction. They may not say it, but they want discipline. They want to follow an example that is unwavering and consistent. This is what Tyrone Willingham is all about. You go to class, you sit in the front, and you show up on time for everything, you are accountable.
And that is not just because Coach Willingham says so, it's because that is the correct way to do things.
Once a recruit and his parents meet and visit with Coach Willingham this becomes very obvious. He is consistent. You know what he expects from you - to graduate and to be a good man. These things become clear to recruits. Winning will follow once he gathers enough kids who are buying into his system.
There is (another) cultural change taking place at Washington. He is looking for tough guys who want to work hard. He demands their accountability.
If I was the Husky recruiting coordinator, Chris Tormey (and I'm not because he is obviously a lot better looking), then I would sell everyone on Coach Willingham. Here is the coach with the highest graduation rate of anyone in the profession. Here is a coach that insists on looking professional, dressing right and acting right. And he will be the exactly same after you sign as he was during the recruiting process. Here is a coach that will make you a success in both school and on the field. Here is a coach that was "the coach of the year" at two different schools, including being the "national coach of the year", when he was at Notre Dame. Here is a coach that is as well respected as any man in the game. He has been voted one of the most influential African-Americans in our country.
At a time when Washington's stock is weak, it is important to have a product that is well respected, dependable, and a consistent performer. That product is the head coach. Sell him. He is the best reason why any kid should choose the Huskies. He is the best reason why any parent should send their son to play for the Huskies. He will teach your kid respect. Respect for himself, for family, and for the game.
College kids are, well, kids. They are becoming men and by the time they graduate after spending years under his guidance, they will be much better for the experience. Parents that have met Tyrone know this.
And once Willingham gets enough of his type of players, tough and disciplined and speedy, the fortunes will turn around at Washington.
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