Ask Coach Baird

Nice to get a win again, Dawgfans! The six game losing streak is over after a road win in Stanford Stadium. Now the Huskies get to try to make it a two-game winning streak with a win over Oregon State in Corvallis. The Beavers will be a more difficult test but it's doable. Here are some of your letters I've received recently….


From Bernard Rand
Coach Baird,
: Why don't the Huskies give another running back a chance to play and get experience? Louis Rankin had an amazing game against Stanford but up to the Arizona game, he was pretty quiet.

A: I think that he has run good enough to win with in both of the last two loses. He and Jake have played really will except for their turnovers. They are looking at the two young kids in games and that is probably about right. The two younger players Johnson and Shaw are not physically ready just yet, and look very tentative. Rankin is clearly the best option this year.
From Dan Stevenson
Coach Baird,
: I saw your article on Dawgman.com and I am one of those who really thought we would have been 6-1 at that time. My hopes were so sky high in August that I would have bet me life on a major bowl game. Needless to say I'm disappointed. I just don't know what to expect. I hate Oregon and always have so that was a really tough loss for me. Hopefully they will explode and we'll win out and get into a decent bowl game. I was really hoping the seniors would have a great year to make up for the last 3. It really breaks my heart for them!

A: know exactly how you feel. I actually believe they could have won every game they played this year. Unfortunately they have shown they can compete but not win. Maybe the win over Stanford will change all of that.
From Jim Edwards Husky Crew 69-70
Coach Baird,
: I have to start by saying Hi, since we go all the way back to Troop 144 and, as I was RHS '65, I remember #40. I am really amazed to see the intensity of the unrest among some fans and their apparent unwillingness to give Coach Willingham a chance to overcome the hole this program was in when he arrived, and I think that I have a different viewpoint because of our personal perspective. I was on campus for the '65-'69 football seasons (and, incidentally, would have to say that JO was fortunate that there were no chat rooms during that time) culminating with the now infamous 1969 season. When I graduated I took a job that sent us to the East Coast until we retired and returned to WA in 2004. We've had season tickets since 2004 and ordered the first two when we were still in NJ. Those two seasons, 1969 and 2004, are quite a set of bookends for what was a glorious period in Husky Football. Unfortunately, the information media was not what it is today so we really missed a lot those years, but that gives us the perspective of seeing the current program from 2004 to today without the baggage of all those who were here during the glory years. It's not that I was not a fan, I have my Big-W's and since 2004, I am a member of the HoF, so I did and do bleed purple; but, it was hard to follow the UW with any real intimacy when we didn't get the West Coast scores until the Monday morning papers. So much for the hello, now back to my reason for writing -- the situation as we see it.

When we returned to WA in 2004 the team was just plain bad and the program was in total disarray. When Coach Willingham was hired he had no time to build a 2005 recruiting class and was already behind for 2006, so, for his first two years he fielded a team with players recruited by multiple previous coaches. Prior to 2007, no more than 10% of the players on the field were his recruits, and this year, with approximately 25 RS and true freshmen contributing, we're probably approaching 40%. A telling statistic from the 'by-the-numbers' each week shows that we generally have a higher percent of seniors but fewer years of experience than our opponents, i.e., almost no Soph. and Jrs. Next year we will largely be a team of RS Soph. and true/RS Freshmen. Yes, they will finally be overwhelmingly Coach Willingham recruits, but they will still be young and relatively inexperienced. From our point of view, my wife and I have seen steady improvement from that disaster-year of 2004 and we believe that, as these and the incoming recruits gain experience, the future shows real promise. We also believe that one should not start to judge Coach Willingham's win-loss record until Jake's class starts their RS Junior year. In addition, those who would doubt his methods should consider the quality of young men he recruits and the emphasis in his program on developing them as citizens, students, and athletes, not to mention the commitment these student-athletes have made to a program that was in reality a vision, as opposed to the days when Coach James could almost pick from the best of the NW recruits. The majority of the young men recruited in 2006 and 2007, are just 7 games into their college careers (at the front-end of their learning curves) but they have played hard and toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the country. We're not there yet and, although we want to see them win as soon as possible and then keep winning, we think that we have to be realistic and look at the Willingham years starting with the fall of 2004, realize the dismal state of the program he inherited (as opposed to what Charlie Weis was able to do his first two years with the team that Tyrone had recruited/developed), give him the chance to bring the program all the way back and then see where we are. We lived and worked less than a mile from Rutgers stadium for 20 years and see many similarities to the quality of program that Coach Schiano inherited. It should be noted that Rutgers did not have a winning tradition, yet the critics expected the new coach to win immediately. The doubters were quite vocal about the poor records his first few years; but, now that his recruits are the ones making the plays, we have seen dramatic changes on and off the field. Given the winning tradition at the UW we can understand that losing is even harder on the Husky fans than on the long-suffering Rutgers fans. I would be the first to freak if the Husky Crew started losing to people that my crews dominated, but we have to be realistic about the state of the football program in 2004/5 and how far down it really was. It seems that we have just climbed out of a hole, and with our team back to level ground, we can now start to climb the mountain.

Are we missing something or is the present discontent perhaps a case of some fans remembering the James years and just wanting their suffering to end quickly?

A: Jim, a refreshing view for me because I generally agree with you on every point. Team is team. If you are a true team player or team fan then you understand the importance of continuity. That is precisely why staying the course is probably the best chance for rebuilding a consistent winner at Washington. I definitely remember you and was always proud of you and your team at UW Crew. Thanks for still burning Purple and Gold.
From Jon
Coach Baird,
: No question your recruiting and coaching experience gives you many insights into the team's heart and effort, including reasons why players leave, whether their choice or coach driven, and its impact on the team. JR Hasty left the team and come back, Derek Kosub has left the team, etc… I think last year's Stanford game is a case of "no team desire" due to coach's bye bye notice to several players; though the seniors put some fire in the Dawgs for the following Apple Cup. From a team viewpoint, if coaches asked these players to leave, how does this affect the team's heart? Do coaches have talks with the remaining team members as to what and why? Could the play of our Dawgs at this coming Oregon State game give us a clear hint as to "team buy-in" of coaches' actions – if coach did give the bye bye notice. My gut feeling is Coach Willingham is upfront honest about "earning the scholarship" and sudden bye bye notices isn't in his arsenal. I also think coaches recruit players they feel will buy into the coaching philosophy and put the effort in. Thanks and Go Dawgs.

A: think you are pretty close in your observations. Attrition is always a part of the roster game. Players are always leaving the program and you wish them well. However, I have a real problem with those who leave during the season simply because they know they will be left on scholarship and go to school for free for the rest of the semester. Maybe if the rules said when you quit the checks quit coming, I would feel differently, and maybe more would at least stick it out to the end of the season. As far as Coach Willingham's philosophy of having kids on a four year academic plan with the fifth year optional, I can see his point. When I was a kid we all only had four years of scholarship because we all played freshman ball and therefore only had 3 years of varsity eligibility. It is tough on those kids who need the last year to finish their degrees but they do know his policy and it does hold them accountable to doing things the right way if they want to continue on aid. Although it sort of sounds like, my way or the highway, it does make college a four year experience as it is intended to be. He may rethink how he implements it but playing on a team for a scholarship is a privilege.
From Steve in Boise
Coach Baird,
: In reading your "psychology of losing" piece, I thought it to be another great insight into our appalling situation. Like you, I have tired of reading the rantings and ragings in the forums - it won't change a thing this year. For the sake of stability in the program I don't want to see Willingham fired before his 5 year contract is up, but I am adamant about defensive staff changes after this season. I'm not advocating any one person to become our new defensive coordinator (even though Jim Mora sounds very tantalizing) but we need a defensive coordinator who understands how to design schemes for Pac-10 play. Our present situation isn't about "these kids can't tackle" of "we lack talent" for which I call BULLCRAP - it is about putting these kids in the right positional schemes so as to have an opportunity to succeed. I have no doubt in my mind that a coach like Dennis Erickson could take this same team to 6-2 rather than 2-6 simply by simplifying the defense. "Make 'em want to quit. BE A NIGHTMARE" - Gary Pinkel (Sports Illustrated -10/29)

Unfortunately, because of Willingham's steadfast loyalty to his coaches & Turner's acceptance of 2 to 5 wins a season year in and year out as improvement, I would be very surprised if changes are made at the end of the season to improve the defense unless Dr. Emmert steps in and directs Turner to demand of Willingham to make said changes - which in turn weakens Turner's tenuous position. Regardless, I was in Palo Alto last Saturday exhorting the Dawgs by screaming myself hoarse in maximum support. BTW, even if we go 2-11 or 7-6 or anything in between, we WILL be renewing our Tyee season tickets next year in support of the team & university. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

A: Hang in there like you're doing and you will be rewarded, someday. I hope! I agree that the defense has been really bad this last month. I don't think anyone realized how much Jason Wells would be missed. Unfortunately, it hasn't just been his replacement, Darrin Harris, but everyone on the back end is struggling. I think though that the young talent is starting to develop and hopefully that will bode well for the future. The linebacker play needs to get better and the front has to get more pressure on the quarterback. Of course, playing a complete game would help as well as in spurts this defense has played pretty good against just about everyone.

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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