Tyrone the Citizen moves on

BERKELEY, Calif. - Leaving the program he recently characterized as 'downtrodden', Tyrone Willingham nearly got out of Dodge unscathed. With an unprecedented 0-12 season now in the books and a million-dollar buyout in his back pocket for the effort, Willingham began to climb the stairs that lead to the opponent's locker room in Memorial Stadium. But he got caught.

The Seattle media nearly missed their last chance to catch Willingham in all his post-game glory. Not that there was much to miss. In fact, it didn't sound like his Washington team heard his message at all.

"I didn't really hear what he was saying," cornerback Quinton Richardson said afterward. You didn't miss much, Quinton.

Although that's not to say he didn't have his moments. Before the Apple Cup, Willingham apparently urged his team on pre-game by telling them that they were going to be the 'hitees'. And he was right. And who can forget those spellbinding tales of the Alamo, street-sweepers and three frogs on a log. To quote ESPN - Instant Classics.

This Saturday, after his Huskies had been beaten 48-7 by California in a game where the term 'charitable' could be used to describe Jeff Tedford's mercy-killing, Willingham brought up an oldie, but goodie. Mostly just old, though.

"I learned a valuable lesson from my junior high school basketball coach. He said, 'Those that usually complain about the way the ball bounces are the ones that drop the ball.'"

Exactly. Couldn't have said it better, coach. Let's break that nugget down, shall we?

If we start from the end of that little pearl of wisdom, there the notion of dropping the ball. Tyrone Willingham dropped the ball at Washington like no other before him; his 11-37 record should stand for a long time when talking about futility and Husky football. And their effort against the Bears was a perfect snapshot for how Willingham teams have fared against strong competition.

Cal's Jahvid Best took their second play from scrimmage and darted past Washington defenders for a 60-yard jaunt into the end zone. It took Cal three more plays for another score. By their fifth drive Best had three scores, the Bears were up 24-0 and the Huskies hadn't put together one first down.

For the game, Best carried 19 times for 311 yards and four scores. Tedford took Best out of the game with eleven minutes left in the third quarter. If he had wanted it, Best could have taken Ruben Mayes' Pac-10 single-game rushing record of 357 yards and turned it into his own personal punchline. He could have have 500 yards if he had wanted to.

UNCLE.

"We played a good football team today, a team who we were concerned about the explosiveness of their backs and we did not find a way to contain them and therefore they exploded on us," Willingham said.

Perhaps you imploded on yourself, coach? Or you became the 'hitees'? Not that anyone expected the Huskies to show up in the first place. This game, played two weeks after the Apple Cup, just had the feel of the 2001 Miami game that got re-scheduled due to 9/11.

"You had some guys that were ready to get on the bus, but for the most part I think we played pretty well emotionally," freshman tight end Kavario Middleton said after the game.

Can't blame the players for following the coach's lead, even if Willingham's emtional EKG has been a flat line ever since taking the Washington job four years ago.

"I become a normal citizen today," he announced to the media from the stairs leading back up to the locker room. He didn't say much else. He didn't say if he was in line for any coaching opportunities. He didn't say if he was going to be the next head coach at New Mexico State, for instance. He wouldn't address his own insinuations about Washington being a 'downtrodden' program. "Next question," he said.

It certainly wasn't worth asking about the game they just lost, their 14th in a row.

"It can't get any worse," said senior linebacker Trenton Tuiasosopo, who may come back after being granted a sixth year. "You have to keep pushing. We have to get back to work and get back at it. We have to take care of our own. The coaching staff that's going to be here will direct us."

Yes they will. But that staff will be minus Tyrone Willingham, a newly minted citizen. Anyone interested in his next endeavor?

Didn't think so.

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