Decision underscores gap between Turner, 'Net

SEATTLE - Four years ago, the Washington Athletic Department was a sinking ship, according to President Mark Emmert. Tuesday, with the AD bailed out, and a lot of people pulling on the oars, the school has decided the services of the captain of that ship are no longer required. Apparently the department's compass is pointed in a different direction.

"For me, it's a question of fit - and for Todd (Turner) as well," Emmert said Tuesday morning during a small media gathering in Gerberding Hall. "We concluded that it was going to be better for the University and the program to make a change."

Turner was not available for comment, but did have a statement that was made available through the school's official athletics website, GoHuskies.com. "After conferring with President Emmert over the last few weeks, it was determined that a change in leadership in the athletics program would be in the best interests of the University," Turner said. "It is with great sadness, but with a sense of pride in what has been accomplished during my tenure as AD, that I have resigned my position effective at the end of January, 2008.

"When I was hired in 2004, the President's primary charge to me was to create a culture of integrity in athletics and to reconnect the athletics program to the mainstream mission of the University. This is something the staff in athletics and I have worked at every day. I do believe we have made great progress."

"In many ways, it was in great disarray," Emmert said of the athletic department the way Turner found it over three years ago. "Todd should get a lot of credit for turning that around."

Reading between the lines - Emmert was thrilled with certain aspects of Turner's job performance, but clearly not enamored with other things. "I have great respect for Todd," Emmert said. "I consider him a good friend. The challenge with all these high-profile jobs is finding the right fit with the program, the university, the community and with the philosophical direction that you want to go as a program. That has all worked well with Todd for the past three years, but now there's some things that we need to focus our attention on."

Turner was hired on to be Washington's 15th Athletic Director on June 19th, 2004, and immediately had to deal with NCAA violations and sanctions handed down in the wake of the firings of Head Football Coach Rick Neuheisel and Head Softball Coach Teresa Wilson. Less than six months on the job, he had to deal with the resignation of Head Football Coach Keith Gilbertson. And a year after the hiring of current Head Football Coach Tyrone Willingham, Turner had to deal with some public repercussions. In trying to mend a Husky fanbase divided over the future of Willingham and his program, Turner alienated a lot of supporters who also happen to be heavy users of the internet as a source of information.

In his 'Top Dawg Blog', he talked openly about how internet criticism - because it is nameless and faceless - has no credibility. He also talked about how the athletic department was more than open to reasoned criticism by those he could interact with, instead of 'mean-spirited, uninformed personal venting'. By taking on the web, Turner unwittingly put himself right in the cross-hairs of those that didn't take kindly to his 100-percent positive approach.

As a result, sites like 'FireToddTurnerNow.com' and 'HuskyHalfBrains.com' - a nod to a comment Turner made specifically at those that use the internet and post on message boards - have popped up denouncing Turner. He added more fuel to the fire recently when trying to solicit support for his embattled head football coach.

"I'm not surprised, frankly, that there are a lot of people interested in the topic (of Willingham's job status)," Turner said, less than a week ago. "In some ways, it's disappointing and a commentary in some ways of what we do in higher education and what we do in athletics today that we would be so concerned about one measure of excellence and success (presumably, the win-loss record) when the quality of the experience for your students should be primary, and we think our students are getting an exceptional experience here and that will improve even as the record inproves, which will happen."

Even though Emmert wouldn't pin-point specific issues, he repeatedly underlined how the athletic director 'interfaces' with the Husky community as one of his chief responsibilities. He mentioned integrity, support of the athletic programs, interfacing with community and competitiveness of programs were the key components to the position of athletic director.

"There are things that are much more important than winning," Emmert said. "The integrity of the university is vastly more important than winning. But our athletic programs, just like any of our academic programs, have to succeed in very, very competitive worlds. Our faculty are the world's best when they go out and compete for research funding. We expect that of them. That's not something we just like. That's what we expect. We have the same expectations for our athletic programs. We want to provide a world-class experience with great integrity and we're successful on the field and we convey that and work well with the world around us. You want to have all of those things at the same time - it's a full package and that's what we're going to continue to pursue.

"Finding one person who fits all those roles all the time is very difficult, and the environment of any organization changes over time," Emmert added. He added that there would not be a set timeline for announcing Turner's successor, although if they can expedite the search and still find the right candidate, they will do that.

"I'll sit down with the coaches and staff and our academic/athletic advisory committee and all the appropriate groups and sit down and talk about the kind of attributes and characteristics we want in a next athletic director and then go out and find one," Emmert said.

Emmert has spoken with Willingham, letting him know that the decision not to retain Turner has no bearing on his future on Montlake. "He wants to make sure that everything is being done to support his program and I reassured him that that was the case," Emmert said. "This had nothing to do with my support for him."

Emmert also had some words for those 'nameless, faceless' folks that are probably toasting this decision from their cyber-rooftops; not so fast, my friends. This was not a 'tip of the hat' in your direction, even if you might take it that way.

"I don't do that," he said, matter-of-factly. "I think that would be incredibly inappropriate."

It is clear the climate surrounding Graves is much, much different than when Turner came aboard. "Early on, he (Turner) was asked to focus on doing all the things I had asked him to - managing the integrity issues, the basic structure issues and frankly, some competancy issues," Emmert said. "Those things had to be addressed and he did that extremely well.

"The institution has made great progress to the point where we have the integrity and quality that we want - and will always have. That should be a given. That should be at the core of who we are and what we are about. The complexity of the circumstances surrounding athletics were enormous, and he has managed many, many of those things extremely well. But circumstances change over time. Clearly the athletic department has been evolving and I'm pleased for that."

So what to make of this new evolution for Washington athletics? Emmert will ultimately make the choice for the new AD, since it's a position that reports directly to the President. Ironically enough, Emmert has hired three new Deans for the University in the past three weeks.

"If I was letting go a Dean, you all wouldn't be here," he said with a smile. And he's right. The Athletic Director at the University of Washington is probably the third most-visible entity on campus, right after the head football and men's basketball coaches. Emmert would agree.

But today's announcement underscores a harsh reality Turner never quite got his arms around; 'interfacing with the world' is going to be high on Emmert's list of things expected from his new AD.


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