I was going over the roster the day Tyrone Willingham was hired and realized that he had a very difficult job on his hands. It was going to take anyone four to five years to clean up this mess. The logistics were also difficult because he had so few seniors graduating before his first season.
His first class was destined to be tiny and it was going to take a few years to clear the dead wood out of the program. Weak classes and stunted development brought on by coaching changes had brought the program to its knee's. The only answer to getting it turned around was to recruit well over the next four years and weed out as many of the non productive players as possible.
The first two years were absolutely crucial because the new coach not only had to be succesful getting some contributors in he also had to deal with the lack of balance that had been created by his predecessors.
When Steve Spurrier took over at South Carolina the first thing he did was look at film and start pulling scholarships. The initial reaction wasn't pretty but after about six weeks people forgot about it. Willingham on the other hand decided the best way to handle it was to graduate players early who were not contributing to make room for new recruits. The process was slower, but it allowed Willingham to prune the roster without totally screwing kids who were trying to earn a degree at UW.
Willingham's plan had legs, but it would only work if he didn't have many misses in his first two classes. Willinghams first class was one he couldn't miss on if he wanted to be succesful long term at Washington. Even though it was tiny there were a couple of jewels in the in state class he had to have. He didn't get them and this class may go down as being the worst in Washington history for various reasons.
Only six players remain from that first class. The bleeding started immediately when three JC defensive backs were unable to qualify that fall. The loss of those three defensive backs crippled the 2005 defense which simply ran out of players in the defensive backfield.
The criticism Willingham gets on this class is that he didn't hit the ground recruiting when he was initially hired. He waited till January to get started. Most of us gave him a mulligan at the time, but in hindsight no mulligan was deserved.
The two players that were in state must haves that season, RB Jonathan Stewart, and LB Anthony Felder chose Oregon, and California. He did end up with the next two best in Savannah, and Hasty but we already know the end of that unfortunate story.
The six players who remain are all solid contributors who play or start each week. The problem is that there simply aren't enough of them. UW will only have five players left from the class in 2009.
- DE Daniel Teo Nesheim Jr
- DE Darion Jones Jr
- P Ryan Perkins Jr
- LB Chris Stevens Sr
- OT Ben Ossai Jr
- OG Morgan Rosborough Jr
Willingham's second class at Washington was another disaster despite picking up the one player that could be the savior of the program. Only 12 players remain from this class. Three of the HS players quit the team, or were unable to qualify. Six of the transfers didn't make it in or struggled to stay eligible. You can't strike out on half of your second class an expect to turn things around.
Willingham did get his difference maker for the offense in Jake Locker but he whiffed on Taylor Mays, and Steve Schilling. Mays has become the best safety in America and is favorably compared to Ronnie Lott, and Kenny Easley. Schilling had the ability to start from day one. Only a case of summer mono kept that from happening to him at Michigan.
Mays was an extremely hard loss to take because his father and uncle played for Washington, were life long residents of the area, and were still Husky supporters. The loss of Schilling was troublesome because rumors abounded that UW didn't recruit him as hard as other schools did. It was also at that time that rumors of friction between Willingham and the Bellevue HS program started to come out. Insiders at Bellevue didn't appreciate a few negative comments that were made about Hasty, and Savannah by the UW staff after their first season at UW.
One thing Willingham hasn't achieved since he has been at Washington is a full 85 man roster on schloarship. the team always seems to be 5-10 guys short every year. Rick Neuheisel used to recruit more than he needed knowing that chances were good the numbers would work out in the end. If they didn't he wasn't afraid of having to grey shirt a kid if needed. Willingham never took that route and he has never had a full roster to work with during his tenure.
- QB Jake Locker So
- FB Paul Homer Jr
- WR D'Andre Goodwin So
- OG Ryan Tolar So
- C Matt Sedillo So
- Snapper Danny Morovick Jr
- DT Cameron Elisara So
- DE Deshon Matthews So
- LB Donald Butler Jr
- LB Matt Houston So
- CB Matt Mosley So
- S Jason Wells Jr
Willingham's previous two classes have fared much better. If you were going to assign letter grades to the classes based on the ratings from the recruiting services, and who still remains on the squad, this is what it would look like.
- 2005 F (5 Players)
- 2006 D (12 Players)
- 2007 B minus (24 players)
- 2008 A minus ( 23 players)
The current UW football team only has an average of 2.12 years of experience across the board. Our previous two opponents Oregon (2.86) and BYU (2.66) had quite an advantage in this area. Oklahoma comes in with a whopping (2.96) average this week.
64 of the current scholarship players are Willingham recruits. Only Juan Garcia remains from the Neuhesiel era. Nine of the seniors are from Gilbertson's only recruiting class.
- Willingham 67
- Willingham recruits waiting to qualify 3
- Gilbertson 9
- Neuheisel 1
By my count that is 80 players currently on scholarship including Craig Noble, Dominique Blackman, and Demetrius Bronson who didn't get in this fall and will have to wait till winter to enroll.
Curtis Shaw left the team for personal reasons. JR Hasty left this summer. EJ Savannah's departure was announced yesterday. Jordan Murchison left the team after spring practice.
- Seniors (15)
- Juniors (9)
- Sophomores (15)
- Redshirts (15)
- Freshman (25)
- Frosh not currently qualified (3)
Washington will have around 20-22 slots to fill this winter depending on attrition and it is imperative that the program has another strong recruiting class. Willingham currently has six commits for this class. He got the QB he needed in California's Keith Price, and he snagged Deandre Coleman who is the top recruit in the state this year. He grabbed Kevin Pinkard a CB from Texas, and a couple of in state sleepers in LB Andrew Pulu, and WR/CB Aaron Grymes. S Nathan Fellner who is a Husky legacy from Fresno also jumped into the boat.
Whoever the coach ends up being in 2009 needs to hit California hard because this simply isn't a banner year for talent in state. There are still a couple of quality in state players left on the board but for the most part this class will have a strong California flavor.
The state of Washington's 2010 recruiting class will be one of the best ever led by QB Jake Heaps. UW only has nine spots open currently for that year. I am sure attrition and a probable coaching change will double the size of that class.
The bottom line in college football is that you usually win with your 3rd, 4th, and 5th year players. With only seventeen 4th and 5th year players on the roster in 2009 the Washington program will continue to keep getting younger overall before it starts getting older.