Willingham gets his man

Back in Jacksonville, NC, Jerome Willingham came home, raving about a quarterback he'd seen play that night. Jacksonville had hosted Fayetteville that night, and Jerome's brother Tyrone was Jacksonville's QB. But on this night, he was raving about Charlie Baggett. That didn't go over well with big brother.

"That night, he (Baggett) threw some passes and did some things that hadn't been seen in Jacksonville," Willingham recalled. "That night, they wiped us across the field pretty good."

Move forward nearly 40 years. On Wednesday, it was Tyrone Willingham himself raving about Charlie Baggett after Baggett had been named to replace Eric Yarber as washington's wide receivers coach. The two, who also roomed together at Michigan State, clearly have a fondness for one another, but Willingham was very quick to point out that this simply wasn't a hire out of the buddy system.

"I never hire a friend first," Willingham said, also noting that the two have never worked on a staff together before. "What was first looked at was his ability to help our program and be a dynamic person within the structure of what we do. There was no question in my mind he met all the criteria without question, so then it became easy because he is a friend, he's a person I respect and have looked up to over the years."

Baggett, who come from Nick Saban's staff at Miami, had an opportunity to move with Saban to Alabama, but felt that it was important that he try and get to the point where he was fully vested in their retirement package. "I had been in 10 years and I need 15, so that's what I thought I wanted to do," he said.

But at some point throughout the process of trying to land with another NFL team, Baggett had Willingham in the back of his mind. "I had five interviews with NFL teams, and I think after the fourth one, I called Ty up and told him that I was tired of screwing around with these pro teams and that I wanted to work with him. You guys don't know how good I feel about this."

It was the end of a drawn-out process for Willingham, one that was rewarded with the man he wanted all along. "Any position you hire is a position of importance," he said. "We wanted a coach with a broad base, a broad background, the experience, talent and skill level to deal with talent and skill. There was no question in my mind when Charlie became available, it was a wise move on my part to purue him for as long as possible. I was very patient, but the patience has been well rewarded in the hiring of an excellent man, and excellent teacher, an excellent coach and an excellent team member."

Baggett admitted Wednesday that he doesn't have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Washington football, but he does have at least one relative in the greater-Seattle area and he's known throughout the professional ranks as a man that can get his hands dirty and produce results from the get-go. For instance, even though Chris Chambers had been in Miami six years, it was his first year under Baggett that put Chambers in the pro bowl, the first Dolphin wideout to be named in over ten years. In his previous stint with Minnesota, he coached Cris Carter and Randy Moss, among others - and those two made a combined four Pro Bowl appearances. Nate Burleson - now with the Seattle Seahawks - broke out in his second season in Minnesota under Baggett with a 1,000-yard season.

Overall, in 10 seasons coaching in the NFL, Baggett had at least one receiver catch over 1,000 yards nine times. That's production. Whether it was Chambers at Miami, Moss and Carter at Minnesota or Antonio Freeman and Bill Schroeder at Green Bay, Baggett gets the most out of his players. So how does he do it?

"I describe myself as Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde," he said. "I think nowadays, you have to relate to the players, get down to their level. You have to do whatever that is to get the best out of them, and sometimes that requires getting in their tails. I can do both. I'm a little bit low-key, but I can go the other way too. Like Ty, he can get fiery too, but he's usually pretty low-key. The bottom line in coaching is, can you get the best out of your players, and whatever that takes, that's what you have to do."

Baggett officially starts his new position Thursday, and will jump right in with both feet. "I've already been up with Tim Lappano, watching some cut-ups of the players here," he said. "I'm very impressed. You have some talent here, and Ty has recruited some players here. A lot of the core will be seniors next year. They do have experience, and coach Yarber did a great job of preparing these guys and coaching them. There are some things we can do and I'm excited about that. And there are three kids coming in that are supposedly very good, so I'm excited about working with this group."

Even though Baggett has been out of the college game for a while, his resume shows that he knows how to recruit. While at Michigan State, he was responsible for recruiting players like Daryl Turner, Mark Ingram, Andre Rison, Lorenzo White, Plaxico Burress, Muhsin Muhammad, Derrick Mason and Courtney Hawkins to East Lansing. But recruiting isn't the only thing he'll be getting up to speed on.

"The biggest challenge will be the rules," he said. "You can't afford to make a mistake. I'll be on top of that. I'm going to read the NCAA manual and take the test so I can go out on the road. But the one thing I'm really looking forward to is coaching and teaching these guys on how to get to the next level."

Dawgman.com Top Stories