"Let that Purple Rain Fall"

In the wake of Washington's most recent recruiting class, there are reasons to believe again. The horror of that 1-10 season two years ago is receding from view. Current Head Coach Tyrone Willingham has brought stability, and he just corralled some nice freshmen talent-- including heralded running backs Curtis Shaw, Brandon Johnson and the self-described ‘ultimate receiver', Anthony Boyles.

In talking with former players, there is relatively increased optimism among many. The consensus is that Athletic Director Todd Turner is much more credible and effective than his predecessor Barbara Hedges. And about 75% of the former players feel better regarding the presence of Willingham as head coach. Still, despite the valiant efforts of former Husky Greg Lewis to bring former Dawgs back into the fold, there still exists a chasm between many former Huskies and their alma mater.

Someone who desperately wants to see Washington return to dominance is former Consensus All-American Ron Holmes. As a stellar defensive tackle in Husky football history, he was to the 1980s what Steve Emtman was to the 1990s. Holmes played on UW teams that won both the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl, and later became a first round draft pick with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Toward the end of his NFL career, he played in a Super Bowl, alongside John Elway at Denver.

But Ronnie Holmes is back in the Northwest these days. And the man is downright heartsick regarding his Dawgs.

"It's something that has changed in football, especially at the University of Washington," he said. "We are so separated. I feel like there is a break in our lineage. It's funny, when I was at the U, we would always see the former Huskies coming around. We would be like, `Thereís Warren Moon! There ís so-and-so!' We constantly aspired to be great, to be like those guys. To be Dawgs. And I don't see those guys around much anymore. When Barbara Hedges was there (as Athletic Director), I used to tell her that we need to let those guys come back and be around the program. She wouldn't respond. When (Jim) Lambright was head coach, he would tell me that he suddenly didn't see the former players around as much. Those players were made to feel out of sorts, like they weren't welcome. It's a shame. We don't have any more pride in ownership at the University of Washington, and that's the sad part about all of this."

It was pointed out to Holmes that soon after Coach Willingham arrived at Washington in December 2004, he worked with Greg Lewis to revive the Legends Barbeque. Some former players have gathered once a year with the current players, trying to link past and present. Most notable was NFL Hall-of-Famer Warren Moon's connection with last year's starting quarterback, Isaiah Stanback. But Holmes looks at the big picture, sees a changed climate at Washington, and yearns for a return to continuity.

"I think (Willingham and Turner) should open things up and encourage guys to come in all the time," said Holmes. "Former Dawgs who live in the Seattle area and who still bleed purple and gold. They should get involved with the program and they should be allowed to get involved. Because, it's interesting, man. Think about it. Who best loves your program? A guy who comes from Utah? A guy who comes from California, like Neuheisel? Or a guy who has been here and bled and bled and shed the sweat and tears on that Husky Stadium field? Guys who have been through the good times and bad times, and yet they are still interested and willing to be around. Where are those guys at? The guys that throw the money down and keep the buildings coming, they're great and I love them. But money is different from passion. Where are the passion guys? I have to say, I am not seeing them around much. But I know they are out there.

"When guys get forgotten because they have been off the football field for ten years and didnít contribute $150,000 back to the U, that's a shame," said Holmes. "I think that the separation started to happen under Barbara Hedges when we became more `California' in our way of doing things. We abandoned who we were and went for flash and glamour. That's not who we are. I put that solely at the feet of Barbara Hedges, with no disrespect intended. But she became so disconnected. She had to have a California coach, and do everything in a California way. California this and California that. Well, we are not a California school. We are the Washington Huskies! It's the Purple Reign. Let that purple rain fall on us while we're out working hard on that field down by Lake Washington, and we're as happy as can be. We were known as those tough guys who didn't mind working in the rain. I want to see us return to who we are again."

This conversation had Holmes fired up. And like the Energizer Bunny, he kept on going and going. He turned his attention toward the recruitment of young athletes in the state of Washington.

"We're a Washington-based school," said Holmes. "We're going to have to get the plums off the trees here at home, and shine those plums up! So we can know that those guys are blue-collar workers and they are the cats that come to work and bring their lunch pails. Then, let's get a guy from Texas, a guy from Oregon, a bunch of guys from California, to round out the class.

"But, oh my goodness!" he shouted. "We had a guy right here in the state of Washington, out of my old high school of Timberline by the name of Jonathan Stewart. He was one of the best prep running backs in the nation. I swear to God, I begged the coaches (Under former Coach Keith Gilbertson) to pay attention to Jonathan when he was coming up. I begged them to go get him. And now he's down at Oregon. We never had a prayer. You know why? By the time we finally turned our attention to him, he already felt shunned. I talked to Snoop. He felt shunned by the University of Washington. He was one of the top prep running backs in the nation. Anytime you're a kid from Lacey, Washington and the University of Miami has got your ear - come on, man! Seriously! We should have been on him from the start!

"If the recruiting process had been different, I'm telling you that we probably would have got him," he said. "If they had only told him early on that he belonged in a purple and gold uniform, we would have got him. It's not like the old days, when the University of Washington could throw their card in at the last minute and get whoever they want in-state. There are so many other options. Look at Boise State! Look at Oregon. Things have changed. Now we have got to rebuild the program from the ground up."

We went on to discuss the current incoming crop of Huskies. This recent class possesses several promising youngsters, but also a lot of question marks. A class best described as ‘not too bad.' Holmes concluded the interview by giving an overall view of the situation, and then reasons for patience and optimism.

"When I was growing up," said Holmes, "if you wanted to be in the Pac-10, there were only three or four teams you would consider as teams you would go to. And one of them was the University of Washington. We were on the rise. And it was because of who was at the helm. Here ís yet another pat on the back for Coach Don James. He was labeled the Dean of the Pac-10. That spoke volumes! Everyone would say to us that you had THE GUY, the Coach K of football, right in our own backyard.

"Now, we donít have that anymore," he said. "Coach Willingham is a nice person, and is a credible coach. But he doesn't have the label of a Coach James. A lot of that is earned over time, of course. Potentially, Willingham could get there. If they stick with him long enough, I think he can accomplish some wonderful things there. But he ís not at the same level as Coach James.

"Just now you said that this most recent recruiting class was not that bad," said Holmes. "God as my witness, the year I came to the University of Washington (in 1980), I was one of the least known players. We had several blue chippers like Mike Vindivich, but we sprinkled it in with blue collar guys who were willing to work. It was the hard-working guys that really made that class and other Husky classes. The Recruiting Coordinator was Dick Baird, and he did a great job in looking under every stone. It matters if those guys coming in are the blue collar guys. Hard-working guys!

"I have an example of a life lesson and why we need to be patient and to see how this class develops," said Holmes. "I have a brainy sixteen year old son named Jeffrey who plays basketball in Boston. He plays pretty good. He says that he want to play basketball at the University of South Carolina. I told him, `What about the University of Washington?' He said he would consider them or Stanford if he ever got a letter. I then asked him, `What about playing at Duke?' He said that Duke would never want him for a player.

"So I broke out one of my most prized possessions," Holmes said. "I showed Jeffrey my rejection letter I received from the University of Washington. It said that `We appreciate the film that your coaches sent in, but at this time we can't offer you a scholarship. Please keep in touch with us in the future, blah blah blah.'

"I hold that letter close to me," he said. "Because it taught me that rejection isn't always final. My son couldn't believe it when I told him that the University of Washington once rejected me. And as I told him, I eventually managed to stumble and fumble my way into the Husky Hall of Fame. I don't know how I did it, because at one time they gave me a rejection letter!

"But there is always someone who will give you another chance," he said, "if you keep working hard enough."
Ron Holmes encourages fans to say hello and talk football at ronh@morgantransfer.com. He also encourages UW Alumni to network with him and check out his website at www.morgantransfer.com
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnson1@verizon.net

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