What's right with Husky football

This was not going to be an instant fix. The remake of Husky football is a process that will take Coach Willingham more than one season to accomplish. Coming off only two wins in 2005, it seems hard to see what is good with the football team at Washington. Combining it with the 1-10 season the previous year, good is certainly not the word to describe the state of the program.

However, when you stop to consider everything besides the win- loss record, you start to see a completely different picture.

Looking at the big picture, one would have to think that things are changing for the better and with those changes will also come the wins.

Let's face it, though. Winning is the only measurement for what the fans consider success. If you are a coach or an administrator however, there are other things that begin to tell you that things are being done the right way.

Like school, for instance.

Whether you want to accept it or not, any kind of football below the professional level is really part of the educational process. I know some on the outside and even some on upper campus look down their noses at sports in general, but I doubt if there was ever a player who will tell you that they didn't learn just as much in their sport as they ever learned in a classroom.

Sport is education. I will debate that with anyone. I have always considered myself a sports-educator first and a coach second. The sport of football is not outside the educational process. Quite the contrary; it is actually a tremendous learning experience. It can be one of the best social learning classes there is. It can also be one of the best personal learning experiences a young man will ever go through. The concepts of being a teammate, of being part of a group, the learning and understanding of group dynamics, of cooperation, and of commitment and communication, are all so important to the overall development of a student-athlete. You don't get that in any classroom and you certainly don't get the emotional involvement either.

I know this sounds philosophical, but the truth is, the Washington Huskies are winning. Unfortunately they are winning off the field, so no one really cares. It's only when athletes are losing off the field that the media or fans tend to take notice.

How many Washington kids have you seen in the media over the last two years because of run-ins with the law? How many have flunked out? How many have gone sideways with the rules of society for fighting or abuse? How many have not made academic progress? These are the things that bring so much negative attention to sports. These things are not happening under Coach Tyrone Willingham's watch. His players are clean-shaven, polite, straightforward and respectful. They are taught to be.

They are regularly giving back to children without much attention. They have behavioral expectations and most importantly, they have educational expectations. Just this past year, Coach Willingham invoked a "Blitz the Sound" project. As part of the project, every single Husky player visited schools and learning centers throughout the Puget Sound area. They worked with kids, played with kids and otherwise spent a whole day just interacting and giving back. They didn't do it for media attention. They did it because they chose to become involved. They did it because the program has class.

That's another thing that is right about Husky football…Class.

This Husky team goes to class. They go to study-table. They go to tutorial. They are not late for meetings. They show up on time for counselors, advisors, and for their coaches. They stay in Seattle during the summer and they get their credits in order to earn their degrees. And, most importantly they are graduating or are on track to graduate. It's old school stuff, but it is good stuff.

The players all attend voluntary workouts. They comply with regular workout schedules. They look the same, like a team should. They wear ties and sports jackets when they travel and they hold themselves to a high standard. Oh sure, some of them lost their cool a little at the end of the Apple Cup, but they were taunted into that and were immediately chastised by their coach for not maintaining their composure. Their day will come and when it does they will be just as controlled in victory as they are in defeat.

This is not to say that things were not always like this at Washington. It is only stressed more now, and again it goes back to expectations. They are expected to act properly. They are expected to be courteous. They are expected to attend class and they are expected to graduate.

Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times wrote an interesting and positive story about the number of Huskies who graduated this past spring. 14 out of 21 from the 2002 signing class already have accomplished their goal of graduating with a degree. Eleven of those players still have their final year of eligibility to play this coming fall. That means they graduated on time. That is probably as good as any public school in America. It ranks the Huskies for the second straight year as the best Pac-10 school behind only Stanford for graduating their players. They have a chance to increase their graduation percentage to over 80 percent. On top of it all, the majority of those graduating are minority students. That says a lot for the program.

In a day and age where schools like Cincinnati graduate none of their players in basketball, that is a very significant mark. In this very conference it is an impressive percentage.

Even Stanford's rate is flawed because nobody flunks out on the Farm. They won't let you fail at Stanford because you can drop a class the day of the final. At Stanford close to 90 percent of all grades given are A's and B's. There is no curve there. Their system perpetuates their reputation.

At Washington, grades are highly competitive and these Huskies are proving to be winners. A big part of their academic success is directly related to their support system. The Huskies have one of the finest student-athlete academic support systems in America. Started and pioneered in the 70's by Gertrude Peoples - a woman who has given her life to Husky football - it was one of the first specifically-designed support systems of its kind in the country.

The SAS Program is now under the guidance of Kim Durand, who has proven to be one of the best in the conference and certainly one of the best hires by Todd Turner.

Durand came to the Huskies after stops at Kansas, Oregon, and UCLA. She came because she believes in Tyrone Willingham and what he stands for. She came because of Gertrude Peoples. She runs a counseling and tutorial center complete with academic advisors and a computer center. She says it all works because of Coach Willingham's leadership. He is unwavering in his commitment to schooling. He is considered to be one of the best coaches there is when it comes to academics. His players don't have a choice. They all go to class and they are all expected to get their degrees on time.

Tyrone Willingham has the best graduation rate of any head coach in Division-1. All of his first-year players have mandatory study table and one-on-one tutorial sessions. He emphasizes finishing your degree in four years. He accepts no excuses from his players. He sits them down for games if they are not in good academic standing or miss their appointments. He holds them accountable. Academics are their most important priority.

He personally attends classes just to check on attendance. He runs with them for punishment. He makes a commitment to their parents that their sons will return home with a degree. He sets their expectations for them. They are obviously buying in.

This can and will eventually translate into wins on the football field. People who are winners off the field usually end up being winners on it. Once these Huskies start believing they can win on the field it will happen. There is so much going right in Washington football that eventually they will believe in themselves and become winners on the field as well as off.


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