With the UW Athletic Department and Willingham agreeing that a resignation effective December 7th is the best choice for the team, it clarifies one aspect of the future for the players and coaches. But other questions remain unanswered.
"They know there will be a change. That uncertainty is taken away from everybody; him, the players, and the coaches and everybody," said defensive coordinator Ed Donatell Wednesday. "We do know there is a definite moving on."
"If we weren't successful to a certain degree there was that potential for change," added running backs coach Steve Gervais. "At 0 and 7 it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand there was a good potential for that."
The players were stuck in a tough place where they didn't want to see their coach leave but understood things were not working out. With the constant losing and lack of competiveness, it was time to change course - even if it meant keeping Willingham around to finish the season first.
"In a way it does help: There's a new start next year, everything will be new," said outside linebacker Mason Foster. "Then again, it's tough because a lot of us got recruited by Willingham. He's a great coach, great person and it's one of those tough things you go through."
With players still searching for answers the pain of losing a head coach is taking its toll. "Yeah, I was just disappointed, it was real frustrating," said wide receiver Devin Aguilar. "I'm real close with coach Willingham, so to see the stuff he's going through kind of hurts me too."
"This is the guy who recruited you, leading you, and gave you an opportunity to succeed in life, get you away from the distractions at home, and gave you another chance, opportunity in life," said return man Jordan Polk. "You don't want to see the guy leave because he helped you get into a better place."
Willingham's termination still hasn't completely sunk in yet for some of the guys. Part of that has to do with the delivery of the message. One player - Ronnie Fouch - heard about it just minutes before Monday's press conference. Others heard about it via emai. Others found out from media reports and from other teammates.
"I think a lot of people would have preferred face to face but I guess it was a spur of the moment, and it was something that had to be done (at that time)," freshman receiver Jermaine Kearse told Dawgman.com this week. "It doesn't really bother me. We'll probably talk about it; we'll get the questions we want answered."
"It definitely caught me off guard, coach Willingham not going to be here next year, still hasn't really set in," added Foster. "It's tough he's not going to be here anymore, I love coach Willingham, one of the big reasons I came here. In the beginning it was kind of weird. When he's sitting there talking to you in meetings, you're like, ‘Man he's not going to be here next year, we're going to have somebody new talking to us up there with a different style of coaching'."
With the surreal nature of the situation, the assistant coaches have been trying to keep the players' spirits up and focused on football.
"At times like this there's guys hurting and guys down a little bit and it's our job to be strong and pick them up," said Donatell.
With morale already down as low as you could go, the loss of a coach probably seems like the final shot to the heart. Tuesday's practice mirrored the emotions surrounding Monday's sudden announcement. "I said on Tuesday it was a very kind of subdued practice," said Willingham. "I thought Wednesday was upbeat, better energy. I wouldn't say better focus because it's hard to tell sometimes when you are subdued what your real focus is. I thought it (focus) was good on Tuesday and I thought it was better on Wednesday."
One of the positives that Willingham has had on the University of Washington is that he assembled intelligent, well-rounded individuals. A lot the guys understand that when they made their decision on which college to attend they didn't commit to a coach, they committed to a school. They also realize that while football is a sport it also involves lots of money, making it a business.
"It's a business and everybody knows it's a business going in. I thank him for everything that (Willingham) has done for me," said Polk. "That's all you can do, thank him, and go on. Worry about the next game and then worry about the next season.
"When I committed here I committed to the school and not so much the coach. The coach recruited me which I was thankful for, but I came to play at the University of Washington and that's what I intend to do."
The players' commitment to the Washington will be key in the rebuilding process for the football program. A new coach is only a step in the process. The players will still have to work harder, get stronger, and make a change for the better. The relationships they formed with the new staff will be key in developing a new program. The same type of close relationships formed between this coaching staff and the players will need to happen with the future staff in order to be successful.
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