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One year later, and Husky football continues to nosedive
Note – I wrote this column for the Lake Stevens Journal almost one year ago today. We’re running it again in next Wednesday's Journal for a couple reasons – it’s one of the pieces we submitted to the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association annual contest (which we’ll be attending Thursday in Yakima), and because you could pretty much sub in the word “Stanford” for Arizona and the story is still the same a year later. Tyrone Willingham is the State of Washington’s highest paid public employee, and he has taken a terrible team and made it worse. There must be some accountability. – KH
After the University of Washington’s stupefyingly awful 48-41 loss to hapless Arizona Saturday I think we should start this week’s column with a bad joke I head on KJR 950’s post game coverage: What’s the difference between Mike Vick and Ty Willingham? Nothing. They’re both Dawg killers.
Perfect for talk radio, maybe, but not the most tasteful lede for Your Hometown Newspaper Since 1960. Just the same, after last week’s Homecoming debacle at Montlake, it’s time to be blunt.
For Dawg fans, it’s an especially frustrating situation because quarterback Jake Locker is a once-in-a-lifetime prospect. The 19-year-old Ferndale phenom is already the best quarterback in the stacked Pac-10 Conference. Locker is on pace to pass for 23 TD’s, rush for 14 and to set the all-time Husky season QB rushing record. Further, Jake will – barring injury – become the first Husky 1,000 yard rusher in over a decade, all in his freshman campaign.
On Saturday, Locker busted through an experienced and talented Arizona defense with a scary combination of speed and power. Several times, he outraced fleet defensive backs to the corner, only to forearm-shiver 250-lb line backers to the turf. Jake scrambled, powered, pushed and bullied his way to first down after first down, running through would-be tacklers like a rabid mustang. When Locker wasn’t charging forward, he was throwing darts to receivers, including a school-record 98-yard TD pass to Marcel Reece on his was to over 300 yards passing. On the day, Jake accounted for four touchdowns and led the Huskies to 41 points. Sure, he was involved in four turnovers, but if you can’t win at home on Homecoming against a bottom division foe after scoring six touchdowns, then the problem probably doesn’t lie under center.
The point here is not that the outlook is bleak (it is). The point here is that the savior has arrived, but that the coaching staff is dangerously close to wasting the eligibility of the best local recruit in recent memory. Jake Locker is a once in a lifetime athlete, and a hell of a person as well. After turning in one of the 20 best quarterbacking performances in the history of college football (statistically), Locker did not place the blame for the loss anywhere but himself. The teenager from Whatcom County instead said that he’d “rather have five yards passing and four interceptions” with a victory than suffer a defeat while breaking personal records. This is the type of guy you build a program – if not a legacy around.
It’s hard to remember now, but historically, Husky football is not a joke. Seattle supports the Dawgs unlike any other franchise. We’ve (I say “we” as a proud Husky myself) have at least one (maybe two, depending who you ask) National Championships under our belts, and we’re blessed with one of the most stunning home field advantages in the world. Try being a visitor on a sunny September afternoon – walking through the visitor’s tunnel to be greeted by a roaring 75,000-strong crowd and a squadron of F-15’s streaking over Lake Washington and across the field during the National Anthem.
I’m hoping we can get back to a 1991-like feeling sooner than later, but Don James is gone and our options are few. One has to wonder why Dennis Erickson can take ASU to 8-0 in a couple of months, and we are still wallowing in last place, without a conference victory.
The Ty era is shaping up to be no better than the Neuheisel or Gilberston eras. Willingham is now 4-23 in Pac-10 play as a Husky. Three players have quit in the last two weeks. The Husky D has had the worst three-week period in the history of the program – a history that dates over a hundred years. And now, the head coach is starting to point the finger at the student athletes, or “young men” as he so sternly and repeatedly labels them, sounding less like a coach and more like an angry step dad.
To lose is bad enough, but this an academic institution, so the game must be taken with a sense of proportion. I get angry when the million-dollar coaches turn the blame towards the teenage student-athletes. I don’t know if I can hear another coach-speak cliché like “We just don’t have enough bullets in the gun” from Willingham without buying a Cougar sweatshirt. Hey Ty - those ‘bullets’ are student athletes – and if these ‘bullets’ aren’t strong enough for you, blame yourself, you recruited them. I’d also note that these same ‘bullets’ were strong enough to play number one ranked Ohio State to a tie at halftime and to almost defeat perennial power and recruiting giant USC.
To be blunt, as mentioned above, it’s time to let Willingham go. In Seahawks’ Assistant Head Coach Jim Mora the UW has a perfect (and willing) candidate to take over and add immediate credibility to the ailing program. Mora, you’ll remember, was fired by the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons after publicly stating that he would gladly leave the professional ranks to coach the Huskies – his alma mater. In acting now, the UW could salvage the sinking ship and still take a shot a top high school recruits who’ve yet to sign - an NFL coach and a superstar QB are enticing attractions to potential players.