Coach's Corner

For Washington fans, I would think it's best to forget the Apple Cup and move on. Move on to a new beginning. Move on to a new system, a new coach, a new year, a new era, a new schedule, and hopefully a new attitude. Boy is it ever time for a change in Husky football!

But we can thank our creative scheduling and the almighty television dollar for making us wait two more weeks before finally taking that last shot through the heart to make sure the Tyrone Willingham era is dead. That is what this whole season has been like; a creeping death killing our beloved Huskies one game at a time. Losing to lowly Washington State was not the last straw but simply another disappointing effort by a team that is clearly better than their won-loss record. Not much better, but you would have to think there had to be at least a couple of wins they left on the board – like the Apple Cup.

As usual the Huskies played well enough to win, but didn't. This has been so difficult to watch because I wanted so badly for Tyrone Willingham to succeed. I wanted him to be the coach to end the revolving door and resurrect the program, but after four years it is obvious I was wrong.

For lots of reasons it just hasn't worked out. Losing Saturday in Pullman to the worst team they have played in nearly three decades pretty much speaks for itself. There can be no question about it; Scott Woodward's firing of the coach was the right decision, except maybe the timing. I wished he'd have waited until the end of the season because when you fire the coach mid-season you essentially cut the heart out of a team. The players lose confidence and the coaches coach out of paranoia. You don't win games with a fired coach, especially if you leave him on the sidelines. What adds to the hurt is wondering why it wasn't done after last season when they had their chance. That's hindsight, I know.

This is the second time in five years that Washington has fired their coach in mid-season; ripped his guts out but left him on the sidelines. Both times the decision to do so was a disaster, as both teams went rudderless the rest of the way and didn't win another game. At least when they fired Jim Lambright, they lied about keeping him then knifed him in the back after the season ended. That way the players still played hard enough to win the Apple Cup and even make a bowl game.

Colorado Head Coach Rick Neuheisel was available for the right price, so the decision was easy. The deal was essentially done behind the scenes before they even fired Lambright.

This time every chance was given to Willingham, even to win after he was already fired. But already coaching a team with a fragile ego that often played uninspired, once he was terminated they were really cooked.

When you win games it is because of the players; when you lose games it is on the coaches. When you lose lots of games? It is on everyone. Start with the administration, the school's admissions policies, the support systems, and finally everyone who is part of the team (All the coaches, all the players (even the ones not playing), the trainers, managers, film crew, all the office assistants, student coaches, everyone). They all are directly involved in this losing.

Believe me, it hurts and perplexes all of them more than it does any of us. That, unfortunately, is just how it is. Husky football has been a failure for many reasons and its just not bad players and poor coaching.

Can you even imagine what coaching this team has been like? What about when they meet California? For mercy sakes, let it be over now. California was the last win this program has had and that was over a year ago. Thirteen games, to be exact. Do you think the Bears are going to show any mercy? Heck no they won't, they are not going to forget last year. They have motivation to win and win big: They will put up whatever they want to and even if the Huskies play them tough for a half, they will be able to count on the Huskies collapsing in the second half.

That has been one of the most glaring weakness in his program; the failure to perform in the second half or late in games when everything is on the line.

Whatever Willingham has done during halftimes, nothing has worked. His Huskies have consistently fallen apart in the final halves and in many cases - like last Saturday - were ahead after the first two quarters.

Honorable: A man of integrity: Unwavering: A quality sports educator: All of those qualities could be used to describe Coach Willingham, but the record is clear; he will have coached the worst team in the history of the school, and of the conference. It has been so sad to watch, but hopefully it will lead to a new beginning.

Who knows what direction they are heading, but Jeff Tedford would be a great choice for Washington's next coach. Let California have the game if UW can have their coach. That would be a good trade.

There is hope however, because there is a solid base of players left in this program. The next coach can and will change this thing around because of that depth. The next coach will find lots of players left on the shelf.

Let's take the defense, for example. Washington had always been known as a defensive-minded program; at least it was in previous decades. That has not been the case for the Willingham era but there are enough defensive players coming back in the program that will make Washington a winner next year. Forget about scoring and think about stopping others from scoring. That is how you turn it around right away.

Look at the defensive front. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim is an All-American in waiting. He is the MVP and best player on this football team. He could have played for any of our teams over the past 25 years and will be even better next year because he'll be 6-foot-4, 275-pounds and even faster. You build your defense around Te'o-Nesheim and up the middle with the linebackers and safeties, three of whom didn't even play this year.

The next step is to immediately go and get EJ Savannah back and plug him in with Mason Foster and Donald Butler. Mason would be in the middle, with Savannah and Butler on the outside. Chris Tormey knows those three would be an incredible combination and they should all have their best seasons next year. Tormey also has a group of young redshirt and true freshmen linebackers ready to help, so there will be depth at linebacker.

Jason Wells and Victor Aiyewa will both return from injury to strengthen the safety position, and both are big thumper types. Wells, who was a real leader on the back end the year before, was really missed this year; probably as much on the defense as Jake Locker was on offense.

Wells, Aiyewa, Johri Fogerson and Nate Williams are four seasoned veterans at safety and makes Washington bigger on the back end. Williams was really good as a nickel back his first year and the four of them should be interchangeable. You give them lots of man-to-man work, and with a great year in the weight room all of these kids will look more like the safeties from USC and Oklahoma.

Then I would take wide receiver Alvin Logan and move him to safety/whip/corner/linebacker and further enhance the middle of the defense. He is a perfect defender in the making and if he too continues to grow in the weight room it would be a great move for him. Freshman Greg Walker has shown some positive potential in practice and Tripper Johnson got a lot of playing time so that's also a lot of special teamers besides defensive depth.

Corner will still be the biggest concern, but again there are a lot of bodies to work with. The staff invested a lot of playing time in redshirt freshman Quinton Richardson, and while he struggled coming down the stretch, his kickoff return against the Cougars showed what a good athlete he is. He will only get better, as will Vonzell McDowell, who came back after his tough freshman season when he probably wasn't ready to play. Matt Mosley also impressed at times before getting hurt, and there are four or five youngsters - including Marquis Persley, Adam Long, Anthony Gobern and Justin Glenn.

Considering there were only six total defensive backs in spring ball two years ago, the coaches have really re-stocked the depth on the back end. Now if they can all learn to tackle better, the Huskies will already be ahead of where they currently find themselves.

The defensive front really got better during the course of the season and there are no less than four true freshman who will all be bench pressing over 400 pounds by next fall. Alameda Ta'amu, Everrette Thompson and Senio Kelemete all received their baptism under fire, and together with Craig Noble represent the best four defensive linemen to come to Washington in years. Those freshmen are really special, and in a couple of years they will be a force.

The next defensive staff will inherit them, along with older players like Cameron Elisara, Darrion Jones, DeShon Matthews, Nick Wood and Tyrone Duncan, all of whom also got valuable playing experience.

As you can tell, the cupboard is not being left bare by the outgoing staff. There has been some valuable playing time and development among all the defenders this year, and they are just beginning.

On offense they will have Locker back. End of discussion. He will be great with a new coach and a new approach. He will have veteran receivers now and lots of backs who have gotten valuable experience during this season. There is also ample depth developed along the offensive line and tight end Kavario Middleton could develop into a monster.

On special teams, UW should go recruit the best JC punter they can find and hope Erik Folk lives up to his name and develops as a solid and dependable kicker.

The future is the brightest thing, and it's time to focus on that – even if there is one more game left.


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