Ask Coach Baird

Happy New Year Dawg fans! I hope you all had safe and enjoyable holidays. Now we enter the final days of recruiting, as Tyrone Willingham attempts to add a bit more beef and balance to this recruiting class. More depth on the lines would be nice to get into the program. And now, onto the letters . . . .


From G Weishaar
Coach Baird,
: Read your article on loyalty. I agree 100%. At what point does the loyalty between the head coach and his staff cease when it pertains to wins and losses? Was it true that one of the reasons that Willingham was fired by Notre Dame that he refused to terminate some of his staff?

A: With regard to loyalty, it is a two way street, like you say. It is not to be confused with blind loyalty. When a head coach gets fired so does his staff. When you need a job, your loyalty to your family comes first. ND has its own unique personality and coaching there is much different than most other schools. If in fact Coach was let go there because he was loyal to his assistants and their families, then I admire him even more.
From Josh Shaver in Alaska
Coach Baird,
: With Yarber leaving, what do you think of the dawgs bringing in a former player like a Mario Bailey or Chris Chandler into coaching to try to infuse some of the husky history into the program?

A: I think that would be an excellent idea. Either of the guys you mentioned would be great and I would hope Mario gets a look, at least. Whatever, I can tell you Coach Willingham will not rush it. One thing about coach, is he will analyze every angle when it comes to picking coaches. He will bring in whoever he thinks works well with kids and is a good recruiter. When all the pro teams get done firing their coaches there are always some good position coaches available. Personally, I think Mario Bailey would make an excellent college coach. He has been coaching at the high school level and that helps in recruiting that age of kid. He would also really want to be there and would be a great link with the past. Not having coached at the college level would really hurt his chances though.
From CJM
Coach Baird,
: In the Bible, the Pharisees bring a woman, caught in the act of adultery, to Jesus, reminding Jesus that, according to Mosaic Law, she should be stoned to death, and Jesus, as you know, responds by stating that among them whoever is perfect should cast the first stone. That adage doesn't apply to Dawgman.com members because, with the exception of logic, common sense, grammatical correctness, punctuation, and spelling, most Dawgman.com members are perfect. As a consequence, they expect perfection from Washington coaches, and, whenever imperfection appears to have gone too far, are prepared to cast stones immediately. This behavior has gone to such an extreme that even when a certain imperfection had not existed, members will inculcate some form of imagined imperfection, repeating the mantra until, indeed, it must be true, e.g., Jim Owens was a racist, pure and simple. Among the more maligned has been Keith Gilbertson who, from my perspective, is a good man and was a good coach and a good recruiter. Posts on Dawgman.com, however, make Gilbertson sound incompetent, which is nonsense. You were there, somewhat on the inside. Gilbertson was in a very awkward position; the hand he was dealt wasn't the best. Did Gilbertson even have a chance? If you're willing to thoughtfully discuss the subject, I'd love to hear your take in depth.

A: Obviously, I am not going to take on the Bible and even begin to consider throwing the first stone. I am however, a personal friend of Keith Gilbertson, and as such, will always defend him as a football coach, father, and friend. I think Gilbs got a raw deal at Washington. I think he got thrown under the bus by Barbara Hedges and that the current administration left him there with little or no encouragement. He was abandoned by everyone. With regard to his coaching, I honestly think he has an excellent offensive mind and thoroughly understands the X's and O's of the game. He was an excellent Offensive line position coach, he fully understands the BIG picture of the game of football, and he is, and always was, and always will be just another ball coach. That is precisely how he looks at himself. A Ball Coach. Nothing more, nothing less. I think his only recruiting class was excellent from the numbers standpoint, and had good balance. Gilbs is who he is, and came across to recruits that way. Honest, glib, quick to laugh, and very much a real guy. I think sometimes the internet gives people a false sense of boldness and they feel the need to judge, ridicule, and belittle others because no one is there in person to put them in their place. Some even anoint themselves experts and spew their rhetoric as some sort of authority – in real life it's pretty funny to think about that, but some folks even pay money for that type of drivel It's all an invisible shield. The bottom line is - everyone has the right to their opinion but many tend to dwell on the negatives. Keith Gilbertson never really had a chance to be successful. I'm not into fixing the blame for losing on anyone. Having actually coached with him, I can tell you from a unique perspective that Keith Gilbertson was nothing short of brilliant when we won the National Championship. I leave him alone nowadays because he is deeply engrossed in doing what he does. Being a ball coach. The stage is bigger, the players make millions, but the game stays the same. Keith Gilbertson is one of the finest football coaches ever produced in the state of Washington, and is doing it right now for Mike Holmgren.
From Dan Stevenson
Coach Baird,
: I see the Huskies have already received 22 commits(I'm sure they will lose some who have a last minute change of heart)but they still have lots of offers out there to some talented athletes. What will happen if they offer too many without knowing who will actually sign a LOI and who won't?

A: A commitment is merely a verbal agreement. It means nothing until you have the signed paper in hand, then it becomes binding. You simply have to shake hands and look the kid in the eye and put it on his character not to leave you hanging. He is taking the same chance and that is why kids jump on the offer from the school they like the best. It's nice to be wanted and all that goes with recruiting but there also comes a time when you have to fish or cut bait. I think you are right to worry about losing kids coming down the stretch especially when you program has been losing because that will be used against you. It is a bit of a crap shoot because people have the right to change their minds, and they often do. It happened on signing date one year, when I got my ass chewed out by Lambo because we had accepted a commitment from a kid in Georgia once (OT Geoff Shalda) and at the last minute he decided we were too far away. He was one of 2 linemen we really thought we had (also lost OT Steve York), so we ended up with only 1 that year. It really hurt our balance for that class but likewise impacted our overall depth for years to come. And so it goes.
From John Young
Coach Baird,
: I subscribe to Dawgman for only two reasons; the first being, to enjoy reading your comments and assessments of the Husky football program. The other, is following the year long recruiting cycle of high school athletes. Even though I understand how a formal scholarship is offered to an athlete, I'm confused as to how the process really works after this offer. For example, UW has offered several linemen as have other universities. But there must be a limit to how many UW will actually accept. Do we take them all if they accept the scholarships, or do we limit the number taken? If we need only 3 offensive linemen, and three verbal their commitment, are the other offers withdrawn? If the UW has, as an example, 22 commitments at this time of the year, how many other offers have we made that are still out there knowing we can only accept 25? Do the coaches accept only those athletes that fill a need, or accept the best athlete on the board? Is the system a first come first served? I still have more questions regarding the recruiting process, so I won't overload you this time around. Keep up the good work.

A: Some very good questions and the answers are all "yes". Yes, you do offer more than you have spots for. Yes, you take them on a first come, first serve basis. Yes, you do pull back offers when you fill up at each position as one of the real keys is to have balance in each class. This was not followed under the Neuheisel era and Washington came up short in many position areas while having a glut at the others. Seven (count them - 7) wide receivers in one signing class is what happens when you do that. Worse, not one of whom I think will play at the next level. The 25 limit rule does not go into effect until the next fall - at which time they can only have 25 new scholarship players attending fall camp. If you are over the 25 limit then you have to push a player or two into "grey shirting", or not starting until mid year. When one of your seniors graduates mid-year, you may replace him in your overall 85 count. Initials or those who are initially entering your school are indeed limited to 25 per year but can be counted back or forward when dealing with mid year transfers and mid-year graduates. That means that you can count back to the previous year if you haven't used your full 25 the year before. That is how schools can sign more than 25 recruits in one class. It is obvious that Washington suffers from a lack of depth overall and I expect that they will use this year's recruiting to address that glaring problem. I can honestly tell you that the talent level has been down the past 5 years and that is precisely why they have been losing. I took every starter this year and tried to imagine if they could have started for our 1998 team. I came up with about 3-4 total players and one of them was the punter and another was the snapper. The staff I was on got fired with that kind of talent, so hopefully it puts in perspective for you what a difficult task Coach Willingham and his staff have been faced with.
From Tony Forte
Coach Baird,
: In your opinion: - regarding Junior college FB recruiting, what are the prospects for UW finally joining the rest of the world and offering a PE major so it'd be easier for JC kids to enroll? Failing that, what do you think about a creative "sports management" or "recreation science" major to get the kids here? Why do our JC recruits tend to report in overweight and out of shape? I know this happened with Tipoti, Mt. Pele and Reece. What gives? Is it a problem unique to JC guys?

A: I am not a real big proponent of JC recruiting even though it is obvious that Jeff Tedford succeeded in turning around the California team by using such recruiting. California has a JC system that is built right into their overall higher education and therefore accepts credits from within their own system. Washington has no intention of bringing back PE and I see no move attempt by the UW admissions to lower their standards. This is interesting because WSU enjoys more liberal admissions and regularly replaces their skill players with JC transfers, yet they are in the exact same state system. I think you will see Washington continue to take JC's but at a much lower rate than the past two years. I think it is obvious they have struggled to get their JC kids admitted, therefore will concentrate more on high school talent. The plus side of this is that you have a kid for 4-5 years instead of the 2 years of development. This is particularly meaningful when you are trying to do a change over in philosophy. With regard to conditioning, I think that both the JC and high school kids confuse big with better. They all think they are too small and immediately try to put on weight and inevitably it is bad weight that needs to be taken off then put on again as good weight. Size is good, fat is bad. For the 16 years I was involved in recruiting, we rarely brought in JC's and if we did sign one, we would literally walk him through the admissions process. I think Corey Dillon was one of my best recruits ever and I can't even begin to tell you how hard it was to get him admitted. It was worth it even if he only played one year for us. Here is the difficult reality - Why would a kid take extra classes and go to school at the JC longer just to get into Washington when he could probably get immediately admitted at WSU, Cal, OSU, or the Arizona schools? Even USC can get them in but Washington, UCLA, and Stanford are all in the same boat. That is precisely why those three schools rarely sign JC's.
From Dean Robertson
Coach Baird,
: After watching Boise State several times this year, including the win over OU in the Fiesta Bowl, I wondered about its recruiting, specifically the quality and nat'l reputation of BSU's recruits. Do you think that BSU's recruits are more highly ranked than those recruited by Gilby,RN and TY? Are they more athletic than the Huskies or are they simply better players? Do you know whether Gilby, RN or Ty bothered to recruit any of BSU's players? The BSU players obviously performed at a very high level in the Fiesta Bowl, despite the disparity with OU's 4 to 5 -star talent. Its players were cranked, the offense was exciting and its defense appeared to be quite creative as well. BSU performs very differently than UW and is much more consistent. Could it be that BSU's system is superior to UW's? Or do you think that it boils down to BSU simply recruiting better players than we have over the last several years?

A: Boise State has been consistently winning with players passed over by bigger conferences for many years now. They obviously didn't beat USC on any of their kids but I don't know that they went head to head with the Huskies on a single player. I do know that they played in the most entertaining and exciting game of all the bowls. I also know that they are on the Huskies schedule for next year and that means the Dawgs play both them and The Ohio State University in their pre-league schedule along with Syracuse on the road. Yikes! BSU is undefeated and beat a talented Oklahoma team in the process. They recruit their kind of kid for their kind of system and it obviously works. We did exactly the same thing when I was at Washington. We didn't pay attention to any of the guru's and put little weight on their evaluations and "star" indications. I used their lists to send questionnaires to kids I didn't already have on our computer but essentially that was the extent of using anyone else's evaluations other than our own. I think they operate very much below the radar and one of these days will finally be known for something besides their blue field. I tip my hat to their program but have known for years that it was sort of a hidden jewel. I would be careful about comparing any program against another simply because each system has its own culture. Football is football but each environment presents a new and different challenge. Look at what happened to Dan Hawkins. After being extremely successful at Boise State, he goes to Colorado and falls on his face with the mess left him by Gary Barnett who also inherited a mess. It still goes back to the "team" thing and how strong a group of kids can be together as opposed to great individuals. Boise State is a very good football team and it would be a great win for Coach Willingham and his Husky team next fall.

Dawgman.com 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 Dawgman.com 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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