Now the Healing Can Begin

Finally we know there is going to be a change. Speculation can end about the fate of Tyrone Willingham and hopefully the cloud of negativity over this program will lift. Washington football now enters another transition phase and the speculation will move toward who the next coach will be, rather than when to fire Coach Willingham.

Coach tried to take himself out of the equation before the Notre Dame game and now is doing it again to try and settle the firestorm burning around the program. He doesn't want to be a distraction anymore and maybe his staying to the end of the season will allow his kids to rally and maybe even win some games. Those who wanted him fired can now go back to supporting the team and hope can return to the Husky nation.

With five games remaining the Huskies still could win three or four games and finish with a sense of pride and accomplishment. The sooner the better, although the next one, against USC, appears the hardest.

There has been a terrible atmosphere surrounding this program even before the season started and it only got worse with every loss. It became personal and vindictive and brought out the passion of the fans, even though it got vicious at times. Now it can end. A solution has been agreed upon and the rampant speculation can at least move in a different direction.

Tyrone Willingham accepted a buy-out and will be gone at the end of the season. He does so reluctantly because he is not a quitter and he is committed to the kids he brought into this school. He is not the kind of person who would quit on anything.

I like Coach Willingham and so do most of the kids on the team. Contrary to what many people think, he was a good recruiter and many of the kids came to Washington because they and their families believed in the man. He is a straight shooter and a man of high integrity. He knows 95 percent of college players never make it professionally so his emphasis was on graduation and character development. He has turned boys into men, and I am positive his players hold him in high regard.

He just didn't win.

I think this will help them in recruiting and I believe they can get a number of kids to move their visits into January and encourage them to wait. That way they will have a chance to meet the new coach before making their final decision.

The coaches would be wise to set up visitations for the best 20 kids in-state and even re-consider any who have already committed elsewhere. In-state kids know more about the Huskies and realize the benefits of staying at home and tapping into the Husky network. Their parents and friends can also be a part of their Husky experience and in the long run if you're going to live in this state, playing here is your best possible option.

The assistants need to keep making their calls and trying to set up those January visits. When change happens it needs to be well-orchestrated, otherwise you end up with a class like Coach Willingham had his first year.

The transition period from the old staff to the new staff never flows smoothly, but because everyone knows it is taking place it doesn't have to be as bad as it was from Keith Gilbertson to Tyrone Willingham. Gilby had a terrible recruiting coordinator at the time who didn't even know the names of his recruits, so there was little carryover.

Chuck Heater, who was Rick Neuheisel's recruiting coordinator, stayed on until the transition class was finished for the 2003-04 season and that really helped Gilbertson. Neuheisel had hired a number of Coach Lambright's staff and that helped that transition.

They were reluctant to talk with me, much less seek my opinion. It probably cost them Nate Burleson, Rien Long and Marcus Trufant, all who were strongly considering Washington and were scheduled to visit but never heard from Washington during the transition. Neuheisel did succeed in keeping most of the kids who had already committed to Lambright and they made up the majority of that class.

They can't let that happen this time, and certainly Chris Tormey is in the best position to help facilitate a smooth transition. He can, and will hold this class together. I think numbers will be important as much for practice purposes, as well as maintaining balance.

Washington needs to bring in at least 20 scholarship kids this year and redshirt at least 17-18 of those. They also need to bring in at least a dozen 'encouraged' walk-ons and look for transfers who are proven college players. That means an overall increase of nearly 40-plus kids. Quantity produces quality. Take a chance on some of the in-state kids who appear to have large frames, like 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, and project them for three or four years down the road. Paul Wulff did that last year at Washington State with players like Andrei Lintz and Cory Mackay, who originally committed to Washington.

If the Huskies concentrate on in-state kids first, they should beat the Cougars both on the field and in recruiting.

They need to oversign with this incoming class, rather than undersign. Grayshirt; stash them in junior colleges; bring them in mid-year; do whatever it takes to get this team to 125 players or more. That's how they can change this around. Do it through recruiting by convincing all the kids to wait at least until January to make their visits and their decisions.

Once that's done, they can concentrate on winning some games. The 800-pound gorilla is no longer in the room. The word to the team should be this: relax, have fun and play as hard as you can. It's really time to bring the fun back to Husky football.

It's also time for the fan base to rally around this group of kids and make it a positive rather than negative. The only way to make it fun and positive is to win. These kids deserve some wins and even if it doesn't happen against USC it will happen this year.

This whole saga has been difficult and frankly demeaning. The tendency of people to vent has often turned degrading and personal, but now all that negativity can dissipate. It is time to begin again. It is time for hope rather than despair. It's time for true Husky fans to embrace and support these kids.

It's time to win a game.


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