Coach's Corner

As he approaches the end of his career in the NFL, it is pretty easy to state that Seattle's own Corey Dillon may well have been the very best running back we will ever see wearing the Purple and Gold. Certainly for his single season, there has never been another one like him.

As he looks to sign his last contract, I'm hoping he gets one more chance at a championship ring. He is still a durable back so he could actually last a couple of more years. Whatever may come, I take great pride in what he has accomplished and the man he has become.

As a product of Franklin HS, Corey was one of my longest recruits, if not the longest recruitment of a single kid I can ever remember. It literally took me 5 years to get him for the one season he played for us. During that one season, 1996, all he did was rush for 1,695 yards and 24 touchdowns and he didn't even start the first 3-4 games. He was a man/child running back, pound for pound the best contract runner I've ever seen. Corey Dillon was a war-daddy! He was one of the toughest inside runners ever in the NFL and certainly he has taken a pounding during his playing career.

He was a work horse back for us who carried the ball over 30 times in six games that season. In his 301 carries he only lost 29 yards. He literally ran over, around and through you. His shoulders were always down at contact and he seemed to skid off of tackles, always sliding and slithering for that extra yard. He turned more losses into 1 and 2 yard gains than any back we've ever had.

He literally carried our team on his shoulders that season after our offensive coordinator at the time, Scott Linehan, now head coach of the Rams, switched the emphasis of the offense from Brock Huard's arm to Corey Dillon's legs. Once Scott saw what Corey did against Notre Dame in a 54-20 loss, he saddled him up and we won the next six games, including demolishing UCLA, Oregon, and USC with 52, 54, and 48 rushing attempts each. The Duck and the Trojan games were both played on the road and I vividly remember walking off the field after both games looking at their defensive linemen, all on one knee and looking completely devastated. They had been run over and they knew it. We ended up 9-3 that season and tied for the Pac-10 Championship with a 7-1 record.

Corey immediately applied for the Draft and rightfully so. He had already proven that he could work at that level and if it weren't for his "reputation" he would certainly have been a first round pick. He was taken, in part, because of Al Roberts, who had been his running back coach with us. Al had come back to the college ranks because Coach Lambright wanted to have a kicking game coordinator. Up until that time, we all split up kicking game responsibilities with each of us handling different aspects of the game.

Al and I had played together for the old Seattle Rangers in 1969 making a hundred dollars a game and all the beer we could drink. We were both locals and believed we should always take care of the local players first. Corey was a Seattle kid, and Al and I both took a personal interest in always being there for him. I had told Al that despite what everyone else said about him, we would never have any problem with Corey. I was right, because he was as solid for us as any kid on our team that year. He kept his mouth shut and went to class and did everything we asked of him. Coach Lambright made both Al and I responsible for anything off the field. Corey was a great team player and absolutely did everything we asked. Al went back to the NFL after that season with the Cincinnati Bengals - who just coincidently happened to take Corey with their 2nd round pick.

He had showed up for us in better shape than most of our veterans and proved it the first day in all of our conditioning tests. Corey had been doing 200 push ups and 200 sit ups a day for years. His core strength was tremendous and I quietly knew he was going to eventually replace Rashaan Shehee, the incumbent starter and the last Husky back to gain a 1000 yards in a season.

Think about that one of a second. Dillon and Shehee were the last 1,000 yard gainers at Washington and they played over a decade ago. They had completely different running styles and because of the system, Dillon had to come in and prove he was better. By the time we got near the end of the season he put on the best 1-half performance ever in Husky Stadium and probably college football when he rushed for 222 yards and 3 TD's in 16 carries against San Jose State - all in less than a half of work.

It was obvious to me that first half against the Spartans that Corey was playing in the wrong league. I knew at half time that Corey Dillon was gone to the pros. He had proved himself not only the starter but probably the best Husky ever including Hugh McElhenny, Joe Steele, Jacque Robinson, Greg Lewis, and Napoleon Kaufman. I will bet you that each one of those guys will probably tell you the same thing if you ask them who the best Husky runner they have ever seen was.

Believe me, I had a made a personal commitment to help Corey and he and I will always have a bond of both friendship and respect. I knew he was a warrior and I knew he had rough edges. I knew more about him than he wanted me to know and probably more than anyone recruiting him simply because, I too, was a product of the City. His mother and I knew a lot the same people and his coach, Joe Slye and I were friends as well. Corey maintained contact with me every time he came home to Seattle when he was playing JC ball.

As a non-qualifier out of high school, Corey took a complicated way of getting back to the Huskies, going to no less than three different junior colleges.

Immediately after high school, because we couldn't get him into school, he headed north to Everett JC to play baseball. Yes, baseball! He missed football though and would show up periodically just to visit. We had a deal and he trusted me. If he could get his AA degree, I would hold a scholarship and we would find a way to get him into school.

We stayed in touch and he promised to come and see me and update me on his progress. He went from Everett to Garden City CC in Kansas where he played both ways as a runner and a safety. He was asked to move on due to another "problem situation". He next touched down at Snow College in Utah and became the best JC runner in the country. The recruitment turned tricky then but at no time did I feel we were ever going to lose him. It was more of getting him qualified academically. He was automatically eligible at three other schools, but needed more credits to be admitted to Washington.

It (his recruitment) became a little sticky when explaining to his "people" that we had stayed with him for years but, now that he was ready, we still had to get him to go the extra mile just to get into Washington. We arranged tutors and support and with the help of Dr. Charles Mitchell at Seattle Central CC, we brought Corey home to finish is JC degree. It went right down to the wire but he did everything we asked and reported to camp ready to compete.

The rest is history. And now it is someone else's turn to produce the Huskies' first 1,000 yard rusher since Dillon and Shehee.

Louis Rankin is really more like Shehee than Dillon. He uses his speed to burst thru holes and has the high end speed to out run defenders for the goal line. But the system that is in place is more of a running mentality now at Washington. If the Huskies are going to have a winning season this year they are going to do it with an attacking defense, a good running game, and by being solid in the kicking game.

Every one wants to put it all on Jake Locker just like we tried to do with Brock Huard. It didn't take any genius to see that Brock could throw a perfect ball, but Washington had never really been a finesse team. We had been a smash mouth, hit you in the face team for decades. Once Linehan saw what he had in Dillon, we pounded people. I see the exact same thing happening with this year's team. They are built to run. Their huge line is built to push people around and the quarterback is a runner first and passer second. Washington could become one of the best rushing teams in the conference this year, and what a refreshing change that would be.

That is how they will keep games close and give themselves a chance to win. They will run more than they throw and that will be precisely why they will win. Or lose if the rushing game remains problematic.

That is also what I think of when someone talks about Corey Dillon. That was when the Huskies were the tough guys of the Pac-10. That was when they would give a back 30 plus carries a game and dare the other team to stop him. Corey was tough. That is the best way to describe him as a warrior. He was certainly one of the toughest backs ever to play in a Husky uniform. He belongs in the Husky Hall of Fame, and I don't care if he only played one season or not. He always wanted to be a Husky and when it finally happened, he became one of the best Huskies ever. Top Stories