His unwavering 'my way or the highway' methods may have worked if accompanied with wins, but ultimately he turned more people off than perhaps any coach at Washington before him.
He has turned a cold shoulder to boosters, media, and fans alike for long enough. He has turned off diehard Huskies that had followed the Huskies across the country for over two decades. How do you lose fans like these? How do you take guys that lived and died on Saturdays with the Huskies and make them so apathetic that they don't care to even watch the games on television anymore? These are not casual fans I'm talking about. These are guys that once travelled every week during football season and donated their own money to the program and school they love. They were not fair-weathered fans - they were made to feel unwelcome.
Pride or no pride, the time has come to remove Tyrone Willingham as the head coach of the University of Washington.
Many will say that his time should've come after the Hawai'i loss last year. Regardless, it's kind of water under the bridge now. Washington was unable to fire him at that time due to many circumstances that have already been beaten to death on the message boards. Suffice it to say, after Notre Dame's firing of him after three years and the resulting beating that the Fighting Irish took in the national media was enough to make the Huskies shy away from a similar fate. Also, the meddling of former Athletic Director Todd Turner into the situation made it nearly impossible for President Mark Emmert to do anything other than keep Willingham for Year Four.
Well, Year Four is unfolding, and it's about as ugly as any football season in recent history. Willingham has reduced the program to a shadow of its former self.
Going to places like Norman, Okla., and Lincoln, Neb., and getting beat - even by a few touchdowns - is understandable on occasion. Going to Eugene and Tucson and getting your doors blown off should never be accepted. Or expected. If you expect those things to happen, that is akin to admitting that you have the wrong guy at the helm.
The fan base is nearly fractured beyond repair. The fracture didn't begin with Willingham, but it widened considerably under his regime. There are some fans that will support any coach at Washington, and there are some fans that will only tolerate a winner. These are the fans that argue the most vociferously with one another because they are the most visible. The vast majority of fans are probably in the middle, but Willingham never engaged those fans. He didn't seem to care what you thought of him, as long as he could control everything. He never went out of his way to promote anything other than his own rigidity. It was pretty clear that this program was all about Tyrone, and Turner had no problems with that. For a program who needed to feel good about itself and a fan base that needed something to be proud of and happy about after the Rick Neuheisel fiasco, it was a horribly mismanaged approach. It may have worked if he'd have won, or even had shown an aptitude for coaching competitive football.
Neither one happened during his time here.
Over the next few weeks - or even days - human nature tells us that you will begin to witness more and more unhappiness peeking from behind the iron curtain. It's inevitable. The more you try to control things in an unhappy environment, the more things tend to leak out. The growing unhappiness that accompanies losing and frustration will soon permeate through public channels. And no one can stop it, not in this lost season. If the team were 3-2, perhaps the tide of discontent could be stemmed.
But not after an 0-5 start. The lid will get blown and very shortly. The control-freak nature of the head coach has his team afraid to play with any kind of emotion. When you speak to the players, it is blatantly obvious that they are afraid to say anything lest Tyrone put their careers to sleep in his doghouse. Several players are willing to talk off the record, but those comments obviously can't be published. But the number of players in that camp is growing like crazy.
Former players are not exactly welcome around the program. Steve Emtman is allowed exactly one sideline pass per season. Steve Emtman!!!! Perhaps the greatest football player in school history. Do you think he feels welcome around the program now? Another kid who toiled for five seasons for the Huskies now lives in Arizona and asked for a sideline pass for the Washington-Arizona State game. He was told quite coldly, "nope." No reason given, just "nope." Another former player who was told he would not be given a sideline pass for a Husky game was invited by an opposition coach to see the game from his sideline. Think about that for a second. Let it sink in.
In the off-season, at least two former Huskies wanted to come and work out at the Washington facilities before their NFL seasons began. What a great opportunity to welcome back a couple of former UW players that had made it to the next level, show them around campus and expose them to your football team. Let your younger guys look up to them and see how they work and what got them to the professional ranks.
Instead, they were told that they were not welcome and that they would be a distraction.
For a guy in Willingham that is supposedly conducting himself with class and dignity, this sure seems like a disconnect. This stuff has been going on long enough. There is no reason to treat former Huskies that way. None. Treat them with class and dignity.
And we haven't even started to address the product on the field. The fourth year is the season where a coach is playing with almost exclusively his own guys, in his fully implemented system, and teaching in his environment with none of the former regime looking over his shoulder. The result after the first five games in 2008 speaks for itself. This Washington football team is ill prepared, emotionless, and obviously overmatched at every turn.
Some will point to the difficult scheduling that Willingham has endured in his tenure. OK, I'll give that point some merit, but only in the non-conference arena. If you schedule powerhouses and lose, that should be acceptable. However, it should never be acceptable for the Washington football team to finish ninth or tenth in the conference race.
The Huskies have won exactly six Pac-10 football games over Willingham's tenure. Six. That is where the bread is buttered - and frankly, the bread has turned into toast burned so badly, the kitchen is about to become a smoking hole in the ground.
The Washington football program is broken; but it is not beyond repair.
Dr. Emmert and new Athletic Director Scott Woodward can take the first step by immediately pulling the plug on the Tyrone Willingham era.
Some will say that it won't do any good and that it will have negative repercussions for the next coach coming in. I think any negative effects would be outweighed by the removal of Willingham sitting in his office, still trying to control everyone and everything around him, and still trying to motivate a team that is no longer listening to him.
The time is now. Tyrone Willingham is not going to step down. He is not going to quit. He must be relieved of his duties with cause. It's time for the school to admit that a mistake was made and to start fixing it right now.
Pride or no pride, time has come
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