Ask Coach Baird

Recruiting is over. Sort of. Now it's time to see which kids actually make it into school, which ones really want to buy into Tyrone Willingham's system, and which kids will be early contributors. The baby-sitting time has begun, making sure that kids keep going to class, make grades, and do what is necessary to make it into Washington. That is when we really can be excited, but for now we can project in pencil. And now, onto the letters . . .

From Paul Coleman
: I just thought I'd let you know that I am taking your well published advice and not sweating the ones that get away…..Pope and Montgomery WHO ???... then again… The Dawgs DO need some offensive linemen and a good running back…. Soon… as in….HELP ! ! …. Are the Dawgs in some really deep doo doo….? Anyway… when a student/athlete does de-commit…. Do the coaches really get as "hacked off" as was reported in the media?...I would like to think that the coaches are too much of a class act to go off on some tirade with the kid …. Or am I being naïve??

A: I personally believe we already have 3 real good backs on the roster. I have always liked the way Kenny James reads holes, the burst of Rankin, and have watched Hasty for years and think he has a special gift as well. There are lots of good running backs but none better than the ones you already have in your program. Defections are part of the game. They happen to everyone. Although the fact that a coach reacts is only natural. If someone tells you something then listens to another school bad mouth you and changes the kid's mind, it is very disappointing. What kids don't understand is the process dictates that if you get a commitment to fill one spot, you shut down recruiting on the other kids you were considering. Once you do that, it is almost impossible to start it back up. That is why kids shouldn't make a commitment until they and their parents are absolutely sure. Tyrone Willingham is one of the only men of honor who respects a kid's right to make his decision without challenge. I will tell you there are schools in this conference who wait until a kid does commit then go into his home and fires away at the school he committed to. I think it is negative recruiting but it is part of the game.
From Jonathan Marsh
Dear Coach Baird,
: Your insights are great, and no question you have the "working knowledge". Do you think Coach Willingham and AD Turner may try to influence our President to open up some study programs more compatible with junior college coursework to better allow "not so stellar students" but great athletes to enroll? From your Dawg coaching experience, is there anything you can suggest to us Tyees and long-time season ticket holders, to influence adding some degree programs to make this happen? Oh yes, I'm in your camp in believing Coach Willingham will get the Dawgs to winning seasons by no later than 2007, and possibly 2006. Coach W is one hell of a good vision, well thought out, field general to get things timely done.

A: I believe Coach Willingham will present some of his tougher academic cases and because of the Student academic Services they will find success. The NCAA has academic standards and they are required for everyone. However, each school has its own academic standards and I do believe that Tyrone will have be able to work with the UW admissions. I hear that the UW is considering a major in Athletic Administration. That is a start. Oregon tied right into Nike and started just such a major years ago to compensate for their lack of a PE program to admit kids. I think Dr. Emmert is going to be a great help in bridging any admissions problems. They will find a way.
From Rick Maekawa
Coach Baird,
: It's difficult to be optimistic about our Huskies. The last 3 years have been such a horrific experience for all Husky Fans. Even though Coach Willingham is a great disciplined coach, I don't believe he is a great recruiter. His success rate in attracting blue chip players at Stanford and Notre Dame was just ho-hum. Washington is still not getting the blue chip players they would have gotten in the early nineties. This year for example, Tyler Mays and Steve Schilling the cream of the crop in recruits have chosen other schools. Pete Carroll is such an enthusiastic player's Coach and his success rate at USC has demonstrated his wining abilities. Ty has yet to exhibit his recruiting success rate. I applaud you for your ongoing positive attitude about this once proud football program. I just don't see U-Dub becoming an elite winning team in the near future with Ty. I would like to be proven wrong but the odds are on my side in this case.

A: This is not doomsday. The state of the program is obviously a rebuilding one. I think you are dead wrong with regard to Coach Willingham's ability to recruit. Sure Pete Carroll has it all going now and sure some kids defected. Neither really is the end of the world for the Huskies. . USC can only take so many and I know they are not negative recruiters. Cal, Oregon, and ASU however, have been negative in the past and I can't believe they have changed their ways to not be "pressure" recruiters. That is not to say that our chances of being a good team in the future are quite as bleak as the tone of your letter. We will be better next year, and the year after that, until we finally get back to and win a Rose Bowl. It will happen, and it will happen under Tyrone Willingham. I feel your frustration but encourage you to stay positive and believe he is going to turn this thing around. Remember he is not the one who tore it all down, he is merely the one chosen to build it back up.
From Scott Searing
Coach Baird,
: It just irks me that some of these fans are so infantile that they want to bolt when the going gets tough. If you can't afford season tickets than buy a 3 game pack! I transferred my Tyee tickets to east end zone tickets only because I wanted to be surrounded by family and friends at Husky Football games. This program goes almost 30 years without a losing season and the fans completely fill the stadium. They finally go through some tough times and some of these fans want to bail! Please leave now! and don't come back!...and to all of you LOYAL fans...thank you for hanging in there and supporting the DAWGS! We will be back! We just need to stay the course and be patient. Penn State went through a half dozen disappointing seasons and guess what...THEY'RE BACK! GO DAWGS!

A: Don't worry about those who leave. They will be back when the going gets better. The Penn State analogy is an excellent one and I think Dawg fans should remember that Texas was in the dumps a decade ago and so was Oklahoma. Just 5 years ago USC was losing and everyone knows how bad WSU, OSU, Stanford and Cal and the Arizona teams have been at times over the past 25 years. It took us about 10-15 years to build it up then about 10 to bring it down. We need to hang in there and realize they are trying to get back and that sooner or later Coach Willingham will accomplish that. He knows what he is doing. The current kids on the Husky team have nothing but admiration for the man and the direction he is giving them. We didn't just instantly become good under Coach James. It was a process. It took time and it will take time this go around as well.
From Veronica Skeels
Coach Baird,
: I believe the offensive and defensive lines are the keys to success for any college football team. If you look at the best Husky teams since the two-platoon system was implemented, and the lines were great and featured many of the team's best players. I think building good offensive and defensive lines is once again the key to restoring the Huskies place among the nation's powerhouse programs. Who do you project to be the starters and major relievers on the offensive and defensive lines in 2006?

A: I totally agree with your notion that it all starts up front. I firmly believe that the teams with the best linemen usually win the most games. I think we were known for years as a school that traditionally turned out NFL linemen that went on and played for 10 years or so. The list is long and many have played in Super Bowls such as Ray Pinney, Blair Bush, Lincoln Kennedy, Bern Brostek, Benji Olson, and of course Olin Kruetz is a pro bowl center. Unfortunately, Larry Triplett, Tank Johnson, and Khalif Barnes are the only ones out of the last era and that is reflective of the teams the Huskies have produced over the past 5 years or so (and Tripplett was left over from Lambright). I think there is a renewed emphasis on linemen and believe OL Coach Mike Denbrock will help to gradually change that. Believe me there have been no Malamala's, Kennedys, or even Kyle Benns or Chad Wards over the past 5 years. I think Joe Toledo has a chance to be drafted this year but even he never played the position until last year. I really think you hit the nail on the head here because if you want to look at the demise of the Husky football program, it is probably tied directly to their failure to recruit and develop quality linemen.
From Paul in Reno
Coach Baird,
: I'm baffled by some of the PAC-10 commit lists. OSU has started calling themselves "Linebacker U," and I guess they should with eight LB commits. WSU took a ton of offensive players, including 8 receivers. UCLA has 14 linemen, 8 on D and 6 on O. Arizona shows 5 DEs. The Husky classes over the years have shown better balance, generally, as you seem to support. But one year Neuheisel took 5 or 6 WRs, and, if memory serves, one year in your tenure under Lambo you had about 6 or 8 safeties (including "athletes"). I know there may well be position changes in store for many of these players, but these still don't look like "balanced" classes. Are there other ways to play the recruiting game? Are some teams recruiting to specific urgent needs with high school players? Are they taking the "best player available" and hoping the numbers balance out from year to year? What gives? One another topic, what's the problem with recruiting a TE this year? Does the current offensive scheme not use the TE position enough to attract interest from prospects? Does Rob Lewis or one of the younger guys in the program show a lot of promise? Will Johnnie Kirton stay at that position, or was that a one-season patch job? And whatever happened to Ben Bandel, a promising TE who disappeared after 2004? The Dawgs have sent a lot of TEs to the NFL in years past, and we've often had two great ones at a time. Where are they now?

A: Recruiting by need is often a mistake many schools continue to make. Of course the days when a coach stayed at a school 10 to 20 years appear to be over. Consequently, some schools recruit to fill position needs. The problem with that is they will create other position openings by not bringing in youngsters across the board. I just believe that if you always maintain a semblance of balance then you always have 4-5 deep at each position. Of the schools you mentioned, only the one loading up on linemen makes sense. As far as tight end goes, I'm a little perplexed that the Huskies seem to be standing put at that position. They obviously need to add another big, tall, receiver at that position. Kirton was impressive with his hands but very average with his pads. If he could improve his blocking then he could probably play at the next level. Lewis struggles with bigger defensive ends as well but I personally believe he improved as much as anybody on the team last year. Plus, they have a freshman waiting in the wings so I think it is well stocked for this year. I also think they have some tall kids at other positions that may get a look. Caesar Rayford looks the part. Should they not get one this year, they will still be OK for a year or so and could pick up two next year. Again, it is a position that you often play two at so it does require a little more depth. The walk-on program has produced Gottlieb. He made pushes over the past year and may be able to help with added strength and size.
From Peter Kwan
Coach Baird,
: This class looks like the Husky classes of old that had full compliments of lineman and then just enough skill position and defensive players to provide balance across the board. The JC pickups really fill in some holes in the class depth across the board. However, how many of these JC's really will qualify? I really hope they all do, but our history in retaining these guys has been spotty at best.

A: Balance is the key to successful recruiting and I don't put a lot of stock in star ratings. I had thought that Gilby brought in a good class his first year but like you said, not all ended up enrolling and that is obviously the key to JC recruiting. I think the staff has done a solid job recruiting. Now all we need is those JC kids to make it into school, and 2 more similar classes. Loading up on linemen was a good move. 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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