I was talking to a long time Pac Ten assistant coach last night about the problems at Washington and he had a few interesting comments that I will share with you even though I can't disclose his identity for obvious reasons.
"Washington under Willingham isn't very aggressive which makes them a lot easier to recruit against. It is almost as if they are waiting for the kids to come to them. Even when they do there seems to be a disconnect in communications. Washington seldom competes head to head with the the three California schools for talent. Losing Yarber to ASU hurt because he was the most aggressive guy they had plus he had great connections in LA."
"You aren't going to win conference titles when you are beating Idaho and Nevada for players. The recruiting improved the last two years but they are still two-three years away and that is if they didn't blow out the current class with first year injuries by playing them too early."
He said that he recruited a number of players on the Washington roster and is surprised by the lack of physical development in the upper classes at UW. He said it seems that Washington is just going through the motions in it's strength training programs. If you were to line up the offensive lines for every school in the league side by side and judge them using the eye test UW would be 9th or 10th.
"The true judge of offensive line strength isn't in the biceps it is the lower body. Compare Oregon's line to Washington's below the belt. The difference is astonishing."
He said that they should have recognized that Jake Locker could use some help with his throwing motion. He finds it hard to believe that they didn't bring in a big time QB coach last season to help with that development.
"Tim Lappano is a very good coach but he had Dennis Erikson helping him out with the development of quarterbacks in the past. He doesn't really have anyone to help him at Washington in that regard. I can understand that you want to have total control over your prized pupil but it isn't working. Lappano can coach QB's but Jake needs more help because of the offense he played in HS. I think Tim would be fine with a kid like Jake Heaps (we all would) because he is a pretty finished product coming out of HS."
While the coach respects Willingham the person, the tales of his motivational speaches are a conference wide joke, and a complete guide on how not to address your team.
"There is no fire in those kids and it has been that way ever since Rick Neuheisel left."
"Three Frogs on a log? He really said that? Wow!"
He thinks the staff has done a good job of evaluating talent in recent years while recruiting but they haven't put them in the right places when they got to UW.
"When the state of Washington has a great class it is tough to beat the Huskies on most of those players. Sure their are exceptions here and their but unless the program is in turmoil it doesn't matter who the coach is because the best players will stay home to play in front of their families."
"Losing Taylor Mays really set the program back. If Willingham could have gotten him he would have had a difference maker the equal to Jake Locker on defense. Those type of players don't come along every year in Washington. That poor second year class with the exception of Locker is really hurting him."
"Take Johnnie Kirton for example. Nobody in the Pac Ten offered him as a RB. It was fine to put him at RB for the RS year if that is what it took to get him in the school. He was never going to be a good TE because his hands are suspect and he does not like to block. He had good speed coming in and that would have been best utilized at DE. Take a good look at his body. He hasn't been physically developed well."
"We recruit some of the players Washington is going after. Some we get , some we don't. One thing that does surprise me is where they end up playing once they get there. We had them projected differently."
The coach says everyone in the league respects Willingham.
"You are going to read lots of things about the guy that are less than flattering. All programs and coaches have that in common but it really begins to tip over when you start losing. Everything gets blown out of proportion when you lose and everyone forgets your positive contributions."
He thinks that college football has evolved so quickly over the past decade that the game simply has passed Willingham by.
"It seems he's lost touch with the kids. Maybe Stanford was a special situation for him where everything seemed to work because of the type of kid who gravitates there. Kid's are different these days and I think the internet has a lot to do with it. As coaches we have to continually evolve or our careers are over."
He says work ethic is everything these days. "To be succesful in this league and college football in general you have to out work your opponents. We just don't see them that much on the recruiting trail and that is where it all starts. It is really surprising because Washington used to be everywhere on the road."
"Coach James moved into his office during his third year when he had to get things turned around. Sure times are different and when Coach James was at Washington he was making around $40,000 when he started as a base. When you are making over a million per year it takes away some of the urgency. A couple of good years and you are set financially for life."
"Washington is a top 15-20 job. It always has been. They pay top dollar and they will get a good coach in there who will turn everything around in a couple of years. Washington is a school where you can compete and win national championships. Coaches around the country know that, and Seattle is a great place to live, and sell to recruits."
"Washington is the sleeping giant of the Pac Ten. If they bring in a top coach they will be back among the top three in the conference in a couple of years. Look at what Jim Harbaugh has done at Stanford? Don't tell me that Stanford has more talent on their current roster than Washington. It isn't even close."
"I think they have some good young talent on the roster. If they can turn around the strength program and get a good head man they should be able to turn it around with a kid like Jake Locker at the helm. If you can coach him up he has the potential to be another Tebow."
"I know it isn't a popular decision with the fans to keep Coach Willingham on after he resigned but it is actually perceived as a classy move by members of the coaching community. If you are looking at taking the Washington job this gives you a good look into the window of how you will be treated in the future. Nobody likes to see anyone fired because we all know it could be one of us next."
"I can see Coach Willingham getting another head coaching job. If that doesn't happen he has enough contacts in the NFL so if he wants to keep working there will be a place for him. The one thing the local (Seattle) fan doesn't understand is how well respected nationally he is. I think in the right situation he can do very well if he makes the adjustments we all need to do to survive in this profession. Very few of us retire without getting fired. It is the nature of the job."