Talkin' Football with Jim Walden

Dawgman.com recently spoke with former Washington State Coach Jim Walden about a variety of topics concerning the Huskies and Cougars.

Johnson: Looking back at last year's Apple Cup, it was a thrilling win for the Cougs and a painful loss for the Huskies. It was also the two most pitiful teams in America. As radio color commentator for WSU, what was your experience of that game in the final minute of the fourth quarter?

Walden: As a football coach who is no longer on the field, you're thinking we haven't made a drive of any length all day. If you'll recall, the touchdown we scored was a 60-yard dash. So there was no sustained drive all day, and here we are down by 3 and we're 70 yards away with a minute and a half to go. So I'm thinking the odds aren't very good. But as a radio announcer, and someone who is supposed to keep positive thoughts, you try to say "okay we need to complete a couple of desperation passes, and we can win this."

So our quarterback Lopina hit a couple of passes and now we're up to midfield, which in itself was a bit of a shock. Then of all things, he drops back and throws a deep route. The free safety for Washington misjudged it. I'm sure the coaches would say flat-out that he not only misjudged it but should have been playing 5-6 yards deeper than a normal free safety. Well, we all know that didn't happen. We throw a take-off, which I didn't think we had in us. Goodness gracious, we complete it and we're suddenly at Washington's 12-yard line. So I'm thinking we better not screw this up. We've got a chance to tie this up and go into overtime. And the rest is history. We kick the field goal to tie it. Two overtimes later, the team that didn't do much all day long won the game. A joyous day for the Washington State Cougars and a dreadful ending to a Washington team that didn't deserve that—and I say that with no shame. I said it on the radio; the truth is that Washington and Tyrone Willingham in his last ballgame didn't deserve that, but it happened. But what's the old saying? You get what you deserve. So maybe the Cougs did deserve it.

Johnson: The old saying is that somedays you get the bear and somedays the bear gets you.

Walden: Exactly!

Johnson: But for the Huskies last year, the bear devoured us 12 games in a row. All that was left was some shards of bone and Willingham's whistle.

Walden: The bear is mad at you guys! But his little brother was busy beating up on the Cougars too!

Johnson: What were your thoughts on the deal that died that would have sent the Apple Cup to Qwest Field for six years starting in 2010?

Walden: Personally, I thought it was great idea monetarily. I understand through my sources that the news got out far sooner than it was supposed to. The deal wouldn't have bothered me. I heard (former UW athletic director) Mike Lude's proclamation that it would be a tragedy, and I like Mike Lude. But it's easy for Mike to say to say that. He didn't have the budget woes that they are facing today. He didn't have a 0-12 team over there as far as I can recall. But $9 million is a lot of money to not take with the idea that you're only going to miss 3 home Apple Cups in six years. The Cougars needed the $9 million for all the sports more than the emotional stand of staying three games in their own stadium.

And look at it both ways. With Washington, yes you're giving up three games at home, but you're also giving up three games in Pullman. And to pick up $9 million on top of that, was what had to be done. I'm sorry Washington thought they had to have more. Someone needs to tell the athletic director there that Texas and Oklahoma play in a neutral site every year. They're able to tell their season ticket holders that they're gonna split this stadium in half. You can bet your bottom dollar that Oklahoma doesn't let Texas have more tickets they do. So it was a bad deal that Washington pulled out of that. I will say that directly to the athletic director. He may not want to hear it, but I'm giving my personal opinion. It was a bad deal to pull out of any deal that pays both schools an additional $9 million over what they were gonna make over the next six years, for one game a year. Then on top of that, the audacity to turn it down, and then one month later cut the swimming program. It reeks of stupidity and was a bad deal. Publicly it makes you look kind of foolish.

They should have just told their season ticket holders first come first serve. It seems to work for Texas and Oklahoma. You can't have your cake and eat it too. I always learned that a deal is where both sides are happy. (Note: UW Athletic Director Scott Woodward recently addressed the decision to pull out by saying: "I knew there would be harsh resistance from a vocal part of our fan base that wanted tradition, and that's an important thing you weigh, financial considerations versus tradition. It's something I expected.")

Johnson: What did you think of Washington's hiring of Steve Sarkisian as head coach?

Walden: I was a little surprised at the hire. Not that I don't think he isn't and won't be a good coach, but he's got all that to prove. What do we know of him? Nothing. We know he was an assistant coach. He wasn't that for very long, and he was at a school where you just head them in the right direction for the most part. When you call recruits from USC, 99% of the guys come to the phone. When you call from Washington, sometimes they say I'll get back to you and sometimes they'll come to the phone. It's not the same as working at USC. I wish him well and hope he does well. I like to see the power in the Northwest more than seeing it in Oregon and in SoCal. I'm always pulling for Northwest teams, and I pull for Washington except when they play the Cougars. Sarkisian's got a lot of work to do, and learning to do. In about three years from now, he'll start to know what it takes to become a head coach because right now he only thinks he does. Because no one has had him in a class and told him. Take it from me that you learn how to be a head coach on the job. There is no pre-training. You can say all you want to and smile about it, but ultimately how many you won and lost takes precedence over what quarterbacks you've coached or whatever.

Enthusiastically it's a good hire. But I thought the University of Washington would go after someone like Glen Mason or someone of that stature with a ton of stuff on his resume. I thought they would go get a proven winner and they didn't. They went and got a nice young assistant, and I hope he does well.

Johnson: From your experience, what did you learn on the job as a first-year coach?

Walden: Dealing with the media. Learning to deal with the whole team instead of just five QBs or outside linebackers. You could probably get a great quote from (former UW coach) Jim Lambright about that very thing. But when you're on the other end of the field, you don't know what the coordinators and assistants are saying and doing with their players. You're not just with a group of players, you're overseeing the whole team. Believe me, that's a learning process. Because different sides of the ball think differently than guys on the other side. As a head coach, you're trying to get into the minds of your whole team. You've got staff to work with. You've got practice schedules to set. Neither side of the ball ever thinks you're giving them enough time. Your special teams coach is on you constantly because he wants ten more minutes. And plus…. You've got to go talk to a media that wants to know about your third team guard and second team quarterback. These are things you never had to deal with before, and now you've got to deal with all of it. It is overwhelming the first couple of years, until you get centralized. Johnson: Recently columnist Jim Moore was openly critical of Cougar coach Paul Wulff and his lack of discipline toward his players. What are your thoughts?

Walden: Well safety Xavier Hicks got picked up for a suspended license. That's a real stretch for Jim Moore to take the program to task for being picked up for that, because what does it have to do with football? Give me a break.

Johnson: There have been other problems than that. There were—

Walden: I know the other problems. For the other two kids the charges have already been dropped. My sources told me that they broke a lock, which they shouldn't have done, and took two old bikes in a lost and found under the dorms. They fixed them up and took them. It's hard to punish guys for stealing something that nobody owns. They broke the lock, which entered the area of breaking and entering, but the prosecutors dropped those charges quick.

Johnson: So you're saying that you're comfortable with the level of discipline that Wulff is showing at WSU?

Walden: Let's not get carried away here Derek. Jim Moore should know better than that. If you've got 85 guys and 5 of them get out of line in a year, you're way above the line. Paul Wulff is doing fine. I couldn't keep my three own kids out of trouble at home, let alone with 85. Let's not get carried away here.

Johnson: What are your thoughts on the Huskies and Cougs this year?

Walden: Washington is overscheduled again. They aren't going to beat LSU. You and I both know that. You beat Idaho and get your losing streak off your back. Then you're going to get beat by USC. You're following that with a road game at Notre Dame. So you're already 1-3 with the rest of the season to go. If the Huskies can win 3 games and be competitive in the other 9 games, they're on the right track. Let's double this up since I'm speaking about the Cougars too. It's basically the same thing for them. Paul Wulff has a one year head start compared to Sarkisian in knowing what to expect from his guys and having his program implemented. If the Huskies win 4 games, Sarkisian should be the Pac-10 Coach of the Year. If the Cougs win 5, Wulff should be the Coach of the Year.

Johnson: With the tough times that the country is going through right now, it seems like college football is needed now more than it has been in many years. What are your thoughts? Walden: The nation needs a lot of things positive, things to rally around. And nothing rallies people more than college football. They need the enthusiasm. But it's getting harder for them to buy the tickets. I think that needs to be addressed by the athletic departments across the country. You can't keep raising ticket prices, like you can't keep raising taxes, and expect people to keep coming because they don't have the money to afford them. That brings me back to the $9 million—it was a hard time in the economy for Washington to walk away from that kind of money.

But to get back to your question, I think the people in Alabama need Alabama and Auburn. The people in Georgia need Georgia and Georgia Tech. The people in Nebraska need Nebraska. And in this state, the people need the Cougars and the Huskies and the enthusiasm. Hopefully both teams will be more competitive and prideful than they were a year ago. They need to get the fans rallied up. It's tough out there. It's scary out there. I'm scared for my kids who are grown up out there. I see the unemployment numbers. And I pick up the paper and see that we're adding taxes for this and that, and I'm wondering how we're going to pay for this.

Johnson: Even if the Huskies and Cougars aren't Rose Bowl bound, just being competitive and winning a few ball games could really lift people's spirits. I know you went through the same thing as us last year. It was so difficult to watch the Huskies go 0-12, as I'm sure it was to see the Cougs go 2-11.

Walden: None of us like to see someone we love hurt. If I love Husky football, it kills me to sit there and watch somebody beat my team up. The same can be said about Washington State. It's hard to watch your favorite team get thumped. It affects people going to the games. A lot of people just can't go. It don't mean they're not Huskies or Cougars, it's just too painful to watch. It's like watching your grandkid get whipped with a stick—you just can't watch it. There were times last year where it was really bad. But there is that instinctive feeling of saying: "I love them too much to watch them get flogged."

But like I said, nothing rallies people more than college football. The enthusiasm is really needed. I'd love to see both of these teams improve and get going in the right direction.


Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnsonbooks@comcast.net

Husky Football in the Don James Era available at www.derekjohnsonbooks.com

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