The first thing you do when you come in as the new football coach of a struggling football program is look to the JUCO ranks for immediate help. Steve Sarkisian is doing exactly that in his first month on the job but the key is not falling into the trap Willingham did during his first two years.
The goal is finding kids who can qualify at UW and start immediately. There are plenty of JC players who could start for UW next year but getting qualified is a completely different matter as Sarkisian and his staff is about to learn. UW is one of the toughest schools in the country to get qualified for if you are a JC transfer.
In California if you have an AA degree you can get into Cal with no problem because of special admission rules. The state of Washington doesn't have JC football programs anymore or automatic admission for those with AA degree's so it is impossible to find qualifiers from the in state system.
You might remember that we used to stash kids at places like Walla Walla CC, Yakima CC, Olympic CC and Shoreline CC but those programs all died out by the mid 1990's.
UW also doesn't offer a PE major which also puts that at a major disadvantage when it comes to recruiting JC kids. WSU on the other hand does have that major so it is much easier for a JC kid to qualify at WSU because the PE credits can transfer.
Willingham's JC / Transfer Gambles
Willingham recruited some JUCO and transfer talent his first two years at UW that could have turned around his tenure at Washington if they had ever got into school. They didn't and those gambles that didn't pay off were one of the key reasons he was fired this fall.
CB Freeman...He never played a down at UW but was able to qualify at Arizona. He didn't last long for the Wildcats and transfered to Montana where he was arrested on a home invasion charge and is now in jail.
CB Handy...He had problems at Nevada but followed Tormey to Washington but was never able to qualify. He and Freeman not getting in left the secondary very short handed Willingham's first two years which ultimately cost UW the chance for a winning record.
RB Houston...Willingham recruited him at Notre Dame but he went to Texas and played as a frosh. He was asked to leave and showed up at UW. A hijacked taxi after a night at Ricks in Lake City ended his career at UW. He could have made an impact if he had stayed out of trouble. He dominated in practice during his RS year.
OT Mason...He never was able to put on weight and left the program early. He projected well but never made any advances conditioning wise in UW's system.
OT Jefferson...They said he was ready for the pro's but he never qualified. He could have helped out quite a bit of he had gotten in but nobody ever expected him to qualify. You have to wonder why he wasted a spot on a kid who had little chance to get in.
LB Atkins...He was in and out eligibility wise the minute he hit campus. He showed up out of shape and never played. He came in as a MLB but UW wanted him to put on weight and move to DE. The weight he put on was not solid and neither were his academics.
CB Murchison...A string of legal problems and injuries forced him to leave early. He had good athleticism but the injuries kept him off the field. He arrived injured and left injured with some legal bills.
S Palmer...He would have been a difference maker but he never made it in. He surfaced at Ole Miss as an All SEC LB.
CB Davenport...The UCLA transfer was injured most of the time he was at UW. He flashed good potential and was probably our best CB last year if he could have stayed healthy.
Willingham did have few success stories. One was Jason Wells who started his first two years at safety till he went down with a knee injury. He has one year left to play after redshirting last year to build his knee back up.
WR Marcel Reese was another player who had a some success at UW. He never met his true potential but caught on with the Raiders in the NFL. The problem with Reese was conditioning more than anything else.
P Jared Ballman started two years but was extremely inconsistent as a senior.
DS Danny Morovick has snapped all three years and done a pretty good job. tough to really call him a transfer since he spent a year going to a JC and not playing. He spent his time going to class and going to snapping camps.
So what you have here is 14 transfers in four years with most coming the first two years and only three really panning out for any meaningful playing time.
2009 JUCO Needs
The Huskies would like to bring in up to two JC offensive lineman, a tight end, a defensive lineman, a cornerback, a punter, and possibly a place kicker in the 2009 class.
There are solid reason kids go to JC's.
1. They weren't able to qualify academically the first time around. This is where the risk comes in. The rule of thumb is that if you can't get them qualified by Winter Quarter at UW you don't take a chance on them to qualify for Spring, Summer or Fall. Because Sarkisian only took over the program less than a month ago most of those prime Winter qualifiers are gone.
2. They decided to hone their craft and put on some size so they could get a better offer the second time around. Kids like S Jason Wells and Snapper Danny Morovick fell into the second category. Both were qualified when they went the JC route and the extra year of experience helped them get offers from big time programs.
Sarkisian needs to avoid the pitfalls that Willingham made. If he recruits a JC player he needs to make sure they qualify and most importantly have the talent to start or contribute immediately.