There is nothing that sports fan love/hate to do more than wonder how things would have played out differently if a few things would have happened in a different way. I recently did a piece about overall Pac-12 What Ifs, but I thought taking a look at some more just about Washington would be interesting.
Please include any more that you can think of in the comments.
What if Washington fired Tyrone Willingham in 2007 and hired Jim Mora?
The Huskies foolishly gave Willingham another year, and he led them to an 0-12 campaign, but many believe that Mora, then an assistant with the Seahawks would have jumped on the job if offered in late 07. One thing is probably for sure, if Washington could have pulled this off - Mora would not be coaching at UCLA right now. Aside from that, I think Washington under Mora would have won some games in 2008 and then done just a little bit better than they did every season under Steve Sarkisian, but nothing too spectacular with Oregon and Stanford holding down the North.
What if Washington wasn't sanctioned in 1992 and Don James stayed?
Let's say Washington never get's investigated, or punished for the vague discrepancies levied at them in the early-90s and Don James doesn't retire going into 1993. If this doesn't happen, with James sitting at age 60, they get him for a little less than 10 more years. With James still around, I think the Huskies have a little bit more bite than they did under Jim Lambright and win at least a couple more Pac-10 championships while also avoiding falling apart in the long run like they did in the mid-2000s.
What if Reggie Bush went to Washington?
Bush was a key component to USC taking it to the next level (and their eventual collapse), but for much of his recruitment, it appeared that Rick Neuheisel and Washington had an excellent chance at landing him. Had Bush stuck with his initial leader and gone to Washington, it likely would mean that the Huskies wouldn't have been quite as bad as they were from 2003 to 2005 (They won just five Pac-10 games in those five years), but it would have affected the Trojans much more.
What if Steve Emtman came back for his senior season?
Obviously there is no second guessing Emtman's decision to head to the NFL Draft after his junior season and become the top pick in the 1992 draft, but players back in his time, even elite players, didn't leave school early that often, so Emtman coming back for his senior season wasn't impossible. One can dream if Emtman had come back for his senior season and that dream easily could have been back-to-back national championships and a real shot at the Heisman Trophy.
What if Mark Brunell didn't get hurt going into 1991?
It's hard to say that anything could have been better than Billy Joe Hobert's undefeated run as starting quarterback, but obviously Brunell was the better quarterback in the long run and Hobert's antics played a big part in the Huskies falling apart in 1992. If Brunell had stayed healthy, and kept his outrageous speed that he lost with the injury, I have to think that he might have been able to hold onto the starting job outright in 91 and 92. I think the team's overall successes would have been similar with Brunell full-time in 1991, but with an even-more dangerous offense and they would have had a much better chance of repeating in 1992 with Brunell as I think the Hobert fiasco never happens.
What if there had been a playoff in 2000?
Based on the final BCS standings of the regular season, the Huskies would have been the fourth seed in a four-team playoff in 2000, had there been one. With that format the Huskies would get Oklahoma in the first round, who I think they would have beaten, and then Miami in the championship. I loved the 2000 team's ability to grind out wins against almost anyone, but the BCS Championship that year was played in Miami, rematches tend to favor the team that lost the first game and that Miami roster was ridiculous, so I believe the Hurricanes would have won with a more tested Ken Dorsey.
What if Rick Neuheisel didn't get himself fired?
Neuheisel was heading into a make-or-break year in 2003 with a roster that was finally entirely recruited by him, but he never got to coach that team. The 2003 team was talented (#17 preseason), led by Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams, and even though history has shown that Neuheisel was a good, not great coach at best, I think the Huskies would have done better than 6-6 if he had stayed in 2003, his presence probably being enough to get them to 8-4 in the regular season.
Now the bigger, question, I'm sure Neuheisel would have survived at 9-4 or 8-5, but in the long run, I think he would started having losing seasons in the mid-2000s and been fired, though he would have left the program in a much healthier state than Gilbertson or Willingham did.
What if Washington did a coaching search instead of appointing Jim Lambright in 1993 or 1994?
Obviously 1993 was touch with the Huskies with how abruptly James left, so that's why I opened up 1994 as well after a good, but not great opening season from Lambright. Either way, it would have been very interesting to see who the Huskies could have hired back then, given that the coaching market was much, much different. I honestly don't know who would have been on the radar at the time to hire, so maybe this one would be good for someone in comments to elaborate.
What if Washington kept Jim Lambright on after 1998?
This is a tricky one, Lambright was truly struggling and Neuheisel instantly turned the program around, but you have to wonder if keeping Lambright would have been better in the long run. Had Barbara Hedges hung onto Lambright, the most immediate advantage I think would have happened is Lambright giving the Huskies a better shot at a number of under-the-radar guys like Marcus Trufant, Rien Long, Nate Burleson and Taylor Stubblefield. I think this would have been enough to get the Huskies to run the table and win a national championship in 2000, but after that I think he would have slowly faded much like he did in 98, but I still think he would have left the Huskies in a much better place than Neuheisel, Gilbertson or Willingham.
What if Washington did a coaching search instead of appointing Keith Gilbertson in 2003?
A similar situation to when the Huskies appointed Lambright after James left, but the Huskies did have much more time here and a coaching landscape where coaches were much more frequently jumping all over the place. In hindsight, the Huskies definitely should have done a coaching search instead of appointing Gilbertson, but I don't know if the results would have been that much better in the short or long term. I'm mainly not that confident that it would have not been much better as the list of coaches that I would see them going after includes Jeff Tedford, Norm Chow, Dan Hawkins, Pat Hill and Ralph Friedgien.