Coach a Non-Factor for Dawgs on Life Support

For lots of Husky fans, the upcoming game with UCLA and their coach, Rick Neuheisel, represents a chance to purge some old demons as many still hold him personally responsible for the demise and fall of UW football. Unfortunately, this mess is not entirely his fault, although he got it headed in the wrong direction.

His return to Husky Stadium will be almost meaningless to this team of Huskies as most were only in junior high school when he was the UW head coach.

No question about it, Neuheisel changed the culture of Husky Football from a blue collar, hit-you-in-the mouth type team to a fluffy, finesse-oriented fun loving program. Out went the old school style of Jim Lambright (which had most of its roots in the Don James era) and in came a player-friendly environment. The team played softball and had picnics and played music throughout the stretching periods. They even got to listen to their head sets and often traveled in sweats.

The Huskies changed.

All the changes were well received by a team coming out of a highly disciplined system where players were constantly being held responsible for both demeanor and toughness. There had been way more hitting done in practice the previous 25 years, and when Washington converted to a pass-happy offense the running game disappeared. When Washington quit running the ball they were no longer able to stop the run either. Two coaches later, they still haven't learned how to effectively run the ball or how to stop the run. You are what you practice, and the Huskies have gone through lots of changes and have never really gotten it back. Under Neuheisel, practices were shorter, rules were flexible and star status was created. Incoming freshmen were told they were going to play and start, and they did. The old redshirt system of taking all your incoming kids and having them "earn" their positions gradually declined.

Right off the bat Neuheisel had to play his recruits and often at the expense of veteran players. Kids like Dane Looker and Joe Jarzynka, two outstanding players under Lambright, were benched in favor of the new kids on the block. If you were one of Neuheisel's chosen few the rules were also different, and that upset some of the older kids.

The emphasis had changed from the players to the coach. Neuheisel was now the face of the franchise and that is exactly why he had been hired. Former UW AD Barbara Hedges thought he was cute and his personality had overwhelmed her and her "search committee". It was not Neuheisel's fault that he was offered one of the biggest contracts in college football to come to Seattle, and who can blame him for getting out of Boulder right before the sheriffs of the NCAA swooped in on Colorado for many and varied rules violations (over 60, to be precise).

If Neuheisel's new employers didn't care, why should he? He'd been given a get out of jail free card, which his boss honored for four years until he finally lied one too many times and she could no longer forgive him.

He had circumvented rules while at Colorado and been forgiven with a million dollar contract. He continued to push the envelope on rules at Washington, including using a booster's boat in recruiting even though Washington had been told a decade before it was illegal.

He essentially followed his own interpretation of the rules, so what was the big deal about betting on a college March Madness pool? Everyone did it so why shouldn't he? Neuheisel didn't break rules, he merely bent them to new levels. OK, maybe he walked the edge, but he wasn't really a cheater; he was just more creative than the rest. Besides, he took Lambright's kids and instantly turned them a winner, just like he had done at Colorado. Buffalo fans tried to warn Washington, but Hedges had gotten her Prince and a Rose Bowl victory confirmed her brilliant hire.

Neuheisel was magnetic: he was glib, he was entertaining and he was charismatic. What was not to like about this narcissistic leader of young men? All it took was five minutes and he'd convert you to his point of view before you knew what hit you. He loved to recruit and was famous for pushing the envelope, but talent evaluation was not his strong suit. He simply loved the chase.

Character was ignored as a recruiting criteria and he disbanded the practice of giving physicals, thereby signing lots of damaged goods. He loved the high profile kid and spent many hours personally recruiting kids like Reggie Bush and Lorenzo Booker, only to lose them and others at the last minute while he waited.

Neuheisel let recruiting in the state of Washington get away and never really captured the respect and cooperation of the state's high school coaches. He was constantly caught looking at other jobs when he was the coach at Washington and had UCLA offered him their coaching position he most certainly would have taken it.

So now Neuheisel comes back to town with the Bruins, who happen to play for his alma mater. Their up and down season has been a clear disappointment, and like the Huskies they have been forced to try and win with a backup quarterback. His team is not very good, but neither is their opponent. Ironically the winner Saturday night will be determined by who can run the ball and who can stop the run the best.

If it pours the Huskies probably have a chance simply because they practice in it more.

Washington showed some definite improvements in their failed attempt to get their first win of the season last Saturday against ASU. Now at 0-9, the Huskies are currently ranked as the worst team in America. They might as well beat UCLA and set themselves up for the Apple Cup against the next worst team in the country. Both Washington teams could then enter the game with one win each, setting up a game for the ages.

Right now the Huskies need to put everything they have into beating the Bruins: Keep throwing the book at them on offense and load up the box and stop the run on defense. The Husky linebackers probably had one of their best games against the Sun Devils and Tripper Johnson continues to get better with each game. They still need to create plays to give themselves any chance of winning. The blocked kick against ASU was the highlight for me. It showed a different attitude. They need to continue to be aggressive and creative in order to get their first win of 2008.

Continuous losing has taken its toll on all of us. The team, the coaches, the administration, the fans, the media and everyone else involved with Husky football need a win and maybe Neuheisel's Bruins will cooperate. Any win will be a great win at this point. This group of players needs to do this for themselves. Their coaches will soon be gone, just like the other 40 or 50 before them in the past 10 years. Washington will simply start over for the fifth time during that same decade.

Right now, starting over again represents hope for Husky football: Hope that all this losing will stop and Washington will rise up from the dead and become a contender again. Oh course it would help if USC gets busted and put on probation but what would help more right now is to win this next game. Baby steps. Win a game. Why not do it now?

It doesn't matter who the coach of UCLA is. All that matters is winning a football game. Top Stories