A couple of days ago a poster on Dawgman reminded me that I was once what was labeled a Posi-Dawg rather than being a Nega-Dawg. The phrases were coined by JE Cornell who was unabashedly Pro-Willingham until he found himself banned from practices earlier this season for writing something nice about the team and the coaches on Dawgman.
For the record I was never really a Posi-Dawg or a Willingham fan. I was surprised when he was hired. He never even made my top ten for potential coaches. I thought he did a good job at Stanford and had been let go too soon at Notre Dame. While his hiring did not excite me I felt at the least he would provide a stable 4-5 year bridge until they brought a new coach in if he proved not to be successful.
I started this blog because a lot of people were being way too negative about Willingham and the program the minute he was hired. I felt he deserved at least a couple of years of support to see if he could get this thing turned around. I decided to go with a gloves off Willingham policy his first two seasons at Washington. Only in the third season would I turn a completely critical eye toward the program and the coaches overall performance.
I admit I gave Willingham a mulligan for his first recruiting season. I felt that the only way any coach was going to salvage that class was to sign Felder (California) , and Stewart (Oregon). Those were the two in state kids you had to have in addition to Savannah, and Hasty. What Willingham did was put off active recruiting and the formation of his coaching staff till after January 1st.
You can say that he had little chance at Felder, and Stewart but he didn't hit the road immediately to recruit like every Husky head coach had done before him when they were hired.
Jim Owens went to his interview with a suitcase and told them he was never going to leave. He hit the ground running the day after he was hired. Don James basically did the same thing. He was on a plane to recruit the day he was hired. Tyrone went to Hawaii to coach in an all star game and stayed a couple extra days to golf.
His second class was led by Jake Locker but the loss of Steve Schilling (Michigan), Taylor Mays (USC) completely took the luster off his recruiting ability. The man that sold himself on his recruiting ability to Mark Emmert and Todd Turner came in with a class ranked in the mid 40's which simply is not acceptable at a place like Washington. Once again it was marred by JC's he was really counting on not getting into school.
The loss in year two to Stanford was when I knew things weren't going to work out for Willingham at Washington. Stanford was as bad as WSU is this year and UW didn't simply lose the game because they were out of QB's. They lost because they were outplayed, out coached, and most importantly out motivated. A win over WSU took a little bit of the sting out of the Stanford loss but the opportunity to go to a bowl game in Ty's second season had been blown.
The decision the previous Monday to surprise fourth years seniors with terminations at the end of the year caught many including the players by surprise. The reason he said he was doing it was so the players could run out on the field one last time as graduating Huskies. What it did was take the wind out of senior leadership on the team which was the main reason for the upset. The announcement was poorly timed regardless of the shallow intentions.
I started year three with a critical eye and watched as Washington lost close game after close game. Moral victories were not cutting it anymore and after the loss to Arizona I decided in my own mind that Washington needed to cut Willingham loose and start things over by hiring someone such as Jim Mora Jr..
Honestly I expected a lot more out of Tyrone Willingham off the field. He just didn't seem to understand the culture at Washington and that was because he and his boss Todd Turner were trying to erase that legacy and culture. The "W" on the helmet began to mean Willingham and not Washington.
Tyrone described his current situation as acidic last week when speaking to Bob Davie before the game. I think it is an apt description but never once did he seem to look inward and acknowledge that he was mostly responsible for that acidity.
Decisions like eliminating fans from the team hotel on the road, eliminating the 5th quarter, not participating in Husky Huddles had estranged him from the one group that could have made things easier for him and that was the Husky fan base.
Tyrone kept boosters, fans, students, and former players at arms length. He even went as far as to not let former Huskies use the on campus facilities to work out and mingle with the team in the off season.
It seemed Tyrone would have been perfectly content playing in an empty stadium on Saturday's. He never seemed to understand that all Husky fans really wanted to do was embrace and love him. He rejected that embrace and love on a daily basis and in the end it became his ultimate downfall.
It wasn't all about winning and losing as he told the media last night. It was more about building the team around the team. He failed miserably where every other Husky head coach had been successful. Husky football is a religion in the Northwest and every single Husky coach before him had reached out to and appreciated the fan base. Willingham behaved like an outsider from day by his own choice and went out the same way yesterday.
Tyrone says he is going to write a book about his experiences as a head football coach. That and the phrase acidic were the first salvo's in what will end up being an attack on Washington. I am sure he will be able to pull out a couple of very choice e-mails and point to them as reasons why he was not successful at either school. There are always extreme idiots out there and you can bet that those types of letters will become public.
What Willingham will avoid talking about is the myth that he is a molder of men and a man of his word. Only two weeks ago he was trying to run off one of the freshman he recruited last season. I thought the agreement was for four years and you had to earn your fifth? Do you really mold someone by trying to yank their scholarship in the first semester of school because you don't think the kid is Pac Ten material? Who was responsible for making the offer in the first place?
Another thing he probably will avoid is the discussion on two talented players who ended up in his permanent dog house. JR Hasty and EJ Savannah were the top two recruits in his first ill fated recruiting class. Neither of these kids were angels and neither of them are currently on the roster. Both of these kids had the talent to be difference makers but for some reason Ty wasn't able or willing to get them over the hump socially. It seems Ty helps some kids in need and ignores others.
Over the next few weeks stories will start leaking out from former players. Last night we saw the beginning of that on the Dawgman message boards when players such as Cody Ellis voiced their opinions. What these stories will show is a completely different perception of Tyrone as a molder of men. With Willingham you were either in or you are out. The sad tale about his tenure at Washington is there were just too many players on the out for the program to succeed.
A writer from Seattle Metropolitan Magazine interviewed me the first week of the season. He was researching a story on Rick Neuhesiel and his return to Husky Stadium as head coach at UCLA. He wanted my impressions on Rick during his tenure at UW. He also wanted to know if Husky fans were going to boo Rick when he leads UCLA on to the field at Montlake in November. He wanted to know why Husky fans hate Rick Neuheisel.
I took him by surprise when I told him that they were more likely to boo Willingham and applaud Neuheisel. Rick was far from perfect in his tenure at UW. We all know what he did and didn't do while he was here so I don't want to rehash the negative. I told him that most fans don't hate Rick even though he had his flaws in judgment while at UW.
I will personally tell you that Rick Neuheisel took the field to win for UW every single time he trotted out as head coach at Washington. He was a great game day coach. Most importantly he didn't exclude anyone. He was extremely welcoming to the fan base. Husky legends had access to the program. Everyone was welcome.
Friday nights before a game on the road the team hotel was exciting when Rick was around. KJR would be on the lobby doing a remote as hundreds of Husky fans hung out together with the team before the big game. Coaches and players mingled with family, friends, and fans before heading upstairs to begin preparations. Rick got it, he made everyone feel like they were part of the team. He understood the tradition that had been in place for decades.
Willingham never got that and it is a big reason he was fired on Monday. All Tyrone really needed was 3-4 more wins in his tenure to have gone to two bowl games in his first three years. He didn't get those very important wins because he was not able to properly motivate and coach his players. Most importantly he never energized or involved the fan base. If Willingham had utilized the energy around him his team probably would have won those games and we would not be discussing his replacement.
I have no idea who will be the next coach at Washington but lets hope he embodies the best attributes of Owens, James, Lambright, and Neuheisel. Let's hope he doesn't forget the fans.