Why Not Embrace Hope?

So ends the worst five-year stretch in the history of Husky football: So ends the worst season in football history for the school, the conference, and all the fans. Hopefully, this last season was the end of the downward spiral that has culminated an 18-year run from 12-0 to 0-12.

Can you even believe it is finally over? This was one of the longest and hardest seasons to watch in my 55 years of being in the sport of football. I can't even imagine how difficult it has been for the players and coaches. I know how hard it has been to be a fan and to cover this team on radio and here on Dawgman.com.

Bring on Coach Sarkisian: I'm ready to drink the Kool-aid. Anything will be better than this last year. I was going to wait before writing this column so that I could meet and greet the new coach - but heck with it! I believe in him already after following his appointment on TV, radio, and in all the media. He is the HOPE!

Losing every game made it an awfully long season in the first place, but after adding three byes it felt like following the Detroit Lions. I agree with byes because they do help you heal, but I'm not sure about three byes. I think it gave them too much time to think about losing. I would think most teams and coaches would prefer to get right back out there and win as soon as you can. One bye, OK. Two? Maybe. But three? Come on; you were merely stretching out the agony.

I do know firing a coach in mid-season and leaving him on the sidelines doesn't work. We've done that twice now and haven't won a single game because of it.

I wanted to believe that Coach Willingham was good for the kids. I thought they respected him, knew he had their best interests in mind, and realized he has been a good role model. He just couldn't lead them to victory; Not even once in a whole season. They just didn't win, and couldn't win, and a lot of it goes squarely on Willingham's plate.

It appears the change to Steve Sarkisian is being well-received: He will be more fan and media friendly. Opening practices was a no-brainer; sort of like the move Rick Neuheisel made his first day when he brought back the gold helmets.

I want to think they have a great hire and I know coach Sarkisian will do a better job coaching in Husky Stadium then he did as a player. That is my only connection to him in that we did face him when he was the quarterback at BYU in 1996. I know we used blitzes out of our Tuff package on defense and they didn't know where our kids were coming from. Our Tuff was the old Chicago Bears' 46 defense and Randy Hart, our defensive coordinator at the time, had designed a plan where we literally attacked their protection schemes. They wanted to protect their quarterback, and we were going to bring one more defender than they had blockers. We didn't care if it was a sack and I'm sure we got eight or nine: We just wanted to hit him and think we did a bunch of times - probably in double-digits.

We had played at BYU the year before and held them to two yards rushing and had 13 sacks, so we had a good idea how to attack Norm Chow's offense. I was happy Coach Sarkisian remarked on that experience because he knows how special Husky football is, especially when it is played in Husky Stadium.

Everything about the hire looks good to me: But then again I have great loyalty anyway, so you know I'm going to support the coach no matter who they picked. I do think it was an excellent choice primarily because he is familiar with the conference and west coast recruiting, and also because he comes from the best program in the conference - if not the nation. USC understands the big picture. Football should, and will have its priorities.

We lost that at Washington years ago, but it sure feels like it is returning. It really hasn't been like that since Mike Lude and Don James were forced out in the early 90's. Since then the philosophy of the department has been that football was the cash cow, but it was really no more important than the other 20 sports.

Being from the Pac-10 is critical for Coach Sarkisian in that he already has a book on the rest of the teams. Almost everyone else will return their same head coach and system, reducing the learning curve at least from the schematic and coaching standpoint. Understanding southern California from a recruiting standpoint is equally as valuable. I'm sure coach knows there is plenty of talent within 300 miles of the USC campus and that Washington used to be a major player in the greater Los Angeles area. In fact, next to the state of Washington itself, that has been the most important recruiting base for the Huskies.

Coach Sarkisian already realizes you don't go into that area expecting to beat USC and UCLA on kids, but there are plenty left over after the local schools get their share. Dominate the in-state and Northwest - which I include to be Alaska, British Columbia and Montana - and you will have a base. Now most will have to be redshirted and developed, but there will always be at least a dozen Northwest kids who can play each year. Typically Washington can get 8-10 of those kids; then you can supplement the rest of your class with recruits from southern California, northern California and Hawaii, in that order.

Coming from BYU, I'm also positive coach realizes the value in redshirting. It's a lot easier to win with 22-year olds than it is with 18-year olds. I'll bet he redshirts more than the past three coaches and I'll bet he won't be afraid to sign a Morman kid and let him go on his mission after his freshman year. I would hope the University helps to allow him to enter some transfers via junior colleges or other schools.

Like most other Husky fans, I watched, listened to, and read everything I could about Coach Sarkisian once I knew he would be hired. And the more I know, it's really like a breath of fresh air. Heck, my father is even feeling better. There is hope. If the stock market rebounds, I'll have hit a home run. Who wants to win some football games? There is finally something to look forward to besides losing the next game.

Coach Sarkisian says we will start winning again. Where do I sign up?

I'm convinced this current group of players was good enough to have won at least four or five games this season. It didn't happen because they were too afraid of losing to allow themselves to win: It didn't happen because they lost their best player, along with about 8-10 other injuries: It didn't happen because they didn't have a strong enough senior class: It didn't happen because of a lame duck coaching situation: It didn't happen because the schedule was insane so they never gained any confidence: It didn't happen because they lost every second half with poor performances and an obvious lack of adjustments.

Whatever the reasons, it's over now and the timing of the announced change was perfect for a holiday pick-me-up. I'm especially excited for the players as I know what they have been through and realize the change offers them the most hope to regain their confience.

I'm worried and concerned for the assistants and their families and hoped that at least a few of them would be retained, at least to ease the transition and maintain recruiting. I won a national championship with Randy Hart and Chris Tormey: We've gone to battle together many, many times. We will always be brothers. They understand how it works, but it's still sad to see.

I know all coaches realize they are the ones blamed for this mess, even though they are merely joining another 30 or 40 ex-Washington coaches before them who have also been fired. . This program has chewed up and spit out a number of really good coaches over the past four firings: Many are currently coaching in the NFL and at places like Texas and UCLA, so they weren't all bad. Most of this staff will be coaching again next year, just not at Washington. I have personally talked with each and almost to a man they could not express the difficulty of coaching this last year.

The truth is, Scott Woodward went out and got one of the best young minds on the west coast. I know many fans wanted a big name head coach but many of the best coaches in the country came to their schools as coordinators from other successful programs. Look at Jeff Tedford at California, or Bob Stoops at Oklahoma.

I got my taped phone message from Coach Sarkisian as soon as I got back into town: I'm sure it was sent to all season ticket-holders. My wife and I played it a number of times and said, "He really gets it". Of course we will continue our support and renew our tickets: Of course we will wish him the best: Of course we will renew our hope in winning.

Why not get positive again? Why not have hope again? Why not believe we can win again? Why not expect to go to a bowl game?

I know I have been ridiculed because I always pick the Huskies to win. I know I've tried to support the coaches because I know how hard the job really is. I could care less about my credibility or my reputation as a prognosticator.

As both a player and a coach for over 40 years, I never went into a game thinking I was going to lose. I saw no reason to change my thinking just because this team was so bad. I admit, I really didn't believe they could've beaten some of the teams they played this year, but I still tried to have hope.

After Coach Willingham was officially fired, that hope slowly died with the rest of the season. Now I want to believe Coach Sarkisian represents a new hope for the future and I am excited to see his era begin. It is most definitely a new beginning. He has restored my hope, so why not embrace it? I think it gives us something to look forward to. The Huskies are going to win again and they will have a winning season and go to a bowl and then win the Rose Bowl the following year.

I like that script. Sign me up.


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