I have been avidly following Husky football since the early 1960's. I have seen great times, good times, and bad times. The current run which started with the dismissal of Rick Neuheisel is about as bad as anything we all have seen. If you go back before my time, the middle 50's were pretty bad until Owens arrived. Once again in the late 60's things really slid with the social unrest which was sweeping the country at the time. Somehow we all survived and brighter days were just around the corner which resulted in Rose Bowls.
Taking us to the present I have never seen a single coach in state history who has been more under fire than Tyrone Willingham. Ty has been on the job three years and has produced a very mediocre 11-25 record. Last years team while competitive in every single game finished a disappointing 4-9. The sad reality of coaching is that no matter what accomplishments you achieve on or off the field winners win, and losers are fired. Nobody is more aware of this than Ty Willingham.
When Ty came in he inherited a team that was far from competitive in every game. The program had fallen to what I believe to be its lowest level talent, and spirit wise in the modern era. I stated at the time that it would take five full years to get the program back on its feet, and I still believe it today. His first recruiting class was marred by lack of time, lack of work by his predecessor, and the reality of a very small class since there was little room at the inn. To be successful with that class Ty had to get verbals from Stewart, and Felder who both ended up at Oregon and Cal respectively. I don't think any incoming coach had much of a chance with those kids.
That being said I still thought there was the potential of bowl games while rebuilding. The last two Willingham teams had bowl potential. The first was derailed by an injury to Isaiah Stanback, and last years team was held back by the worst defense we have seen at Husky Stadium in modern times. You can make a reasonable argument that Jake Lockers 45% completion ratio was another reason for the failure, but UW scored more than enough points last year to win almost every game they played if the defense wasn't at a historically low level.
Tyrone enters the 2008 season with the best recruiting class in the Pac Ten, the eight best in the country, and probably the best recruiting class UW has had since Don James retired. I find it to be remarkable that a coach who has his back up against the proverbial wall could put together such a class even with the abundance of in state talent this year. We all knew this would be a cornerstone recruiting class, and all of us figured after the Arizona game that it was going to go completely down the tubes. Most of us thought that the hiring of of Jim Mora would be the only way to save it.
While I was in Hawaii something interesting happened. As we got off the plane and checked my smart phone I was surprised to learn that Kavario Middleton, and Jermaine Kearse had verballed to Washington. Only the week before most of us assumed those two kids were headed out of state. Why would they stay home to play for a coach that was about to be fired and who had a 11-25 record while at UW? The answer was clear, they liked Willingham, their coach liked Willingham, and they both felt by committing that they could help him save his job. They would still come if he was dismissed, but make no mistake about it, they liked Coach Willingham, and the way they were recruited.
The next day I met Kim Grinolds, and Chris Fetters at the hotel pool for a little catch up, and Husky chat. We all assumed at that point Ty was likely out the door, but we all had to admit that the commitments of Kearse, and Middleton couldn't have come at a better time for Willingham.
The Huskies of course lost another game they should have won in Hawaii. The Huskies started impressively but blew a 21 point lead. That my friends was all about coaching. Hawaii went off the BCS to be thrashed by Georgia, and the Huskies headed home for another holiday at home. It appeared to most at the time that Willingham had coached his last game for the Huskies.
We have all read the different versions of what happened after that, in fact there are websites devoted to it thanks to my good friend Race Bannon. So there is really no reason to re account that tale. The bottom line was Willingham was coming back for at least one more year, and Todd Turner was forced out as the UW athletic director. Predictably soon after that DC Kent Baer was let go after a 13 year run with Willingham. Ever since Baer was fired we have had a lot of silence coming out of Montlake. Ty is not talking to the media until a new DC is announced. He has spent his time interviewing assistant coaches, and assembling a stellar recruiting class which has exceeded all of our expectations.
What type of Tyrone Willingham are we going to see after the hiring of Ed Donatell is announced, and Washington unveils its 2008 recruiting class on Febrauary 6th? Will Ty be as elusive as ever, or is he going to step up to the plate and start promoting the program to the public? Is he going to open up practices this Spring and actually answer questions directly during press conferences? Will this experience make him more open, and trusting, or is it going to make him more determined to keep doing it the way he has been doing it the past three years which has resulted in a disenfranchised fan base?
Interim AD Scott Woodward has given us some clues by saying that he has been talking to Willingham on almost a daily basis concerning those type of issues. Everyone should agree that Willingham is a good man with a lot of natural charisma. The problem is a lot of us don't get to see that. In the Northwest we are used to entertaining coaches. We feel comfortable with guys like Jim Owens, Don James, Jim Lambright, and even Rick Neuheisel. All these guys had one thing in common. They communicated well, they all did their best to sell the program, and they most importantly made everyone feel like they were part of the machine.
How many of you out there feel like you are currently part of the machine?
I think that right there is the most important area Willingham needs to concentrate on the most between now and Spring football. He of course will be in Olympia with Emmert, and Woodward in February trying to raise funds to remodel the stadium. I think that time is going to be critical for him and his tenure at UW. Not only does he have to win to keep his job, he has to prove to his bosses that he can sell the program at a very critical juncture to the zoo that resides at the Capitol in Olympia.
Willingham also needs to reach out to the fan base and bring everyone back together. Easier said than done at this juncture, but it is far from impossible. All he has to do is use the tools available to make that happen. That means hitting the air waves for frank discussions with Softy and the Honks on a regular basis. It means calling up Art Thiel so you can have a series of chats. It means sparring with Jim Moore in a friendly way. It could mean meeting Bob Condotta, and Molly Yanity for lunch just to shoot the breeze. It means getting airtime on the local TV stations. It means doing something for the fans and media that will give them meaningful look at the team this Spring. It means more than anything opening up in a way he never has before to do the job in a completely different way. Dale Carnegie would call it "How to Win Friends and Influence People". It may sound corny, but it really works, and that is what needs to be done to turn this thing around.
Support Your Local Gunfighters
Whether anyone likes it or not Tyrone is going to be our coach for at least one more season. I think it would be a good idea for the fan base to try to unite behind him, the program and the team. I know what I am saying is unpopular, but if we are ever going to move forward we all need to start pulling together in the same direction.
Now is the time to buck up and start caring again. Now is the time to start emailing your state representatives or calling them on the phone to tell them how you support the use of public funds to help remodel Husky Stadium. The University can't get this accomplished without the support of the public. Husky fans need to get vocal, they need to be heard, and most importantly we need to show up, and be heard now! Don't wait another minute, contact your state representatives and make your feelings known!
This is one of those issues where your voice really does matter. Frank Chopp made this comment this past week.
"In fact since then, no House member, and nobody else for that matter in terms of the Legislature, has come to me and asked to support the project. That's sends a pretty strong message."
Make sure whenever you send a message to your legislator that you also copy Mr. Chopp to let him no that you indeed care, and you do want it done! Frank is a consummate demigod type politician, make sure he knows how you feel. He will pay attention to you!
Click on the link below to find who your state representatives are, and take the time it takes to send them an email. It only will take you a couple of minutes, but every email you send is going to make it a lot easier for the University to get the job done.
Find Your State Representative
While you are at it send emails to the writers, and editors at the Seattle Times, Seattle PI, and News Tribune. Make sure these people know how you feel. Don't let the anti sports/anti stadium people dominate the discussion. Let your opinions be known!
It is time for all Husky fans to unite and become a viable part of the machine once again. It is time for us to shake off our apathy, and petty concerns so we can insure that our children, and children's, children have the same opportunity we have had in our lifetimes, and that is to spend memorable afternoons in the Fall on the shores of Lake Washington rooting for our beloved Huskies.
The wins are going to eventually come Husky fans. Don't listen to the the baloney that the University feels more comfortable with a mediocre coach, and a mediocre football program. President Emmert knows that the only way to self fund the entire athletic program now, and in the future is to have a successful football program. If Tyrone is the man to get this accomplished it is fine with me, if he isn't that will become very apparent at the end of next season and changes will be made.
In the meantime lets all unite and rebuild Husky Stadium into the greatest football stadium in the country! This investment will keep paying out well beyond your lifetime, but time is short, if we don't act now, and the stadium is not remodeled the team may have to move downtown which would destroy the program.