Khalif Barnes (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)
At one point during this afternoon's press conference announcing
Washington head coach Keith Gilbertson's resignation from the
university, the question was asked how the football team reacted to
"Well, once the cheers stopped…" Gilbertson responded, spinning the
difficult question into a brief moment of laughter. "They lifted Mr.
(Todd) Turner on their shoulders."
That one line summed up the character and class of Gilbertson, a man
who grew up dreaming of one day coaching at the U-Dub only to be dealt
a poor hand when finally given the opportunity. On undoubtedly one of
the toughest days of his coaching life, the Snohomish native sat in
front of the local media, wearing his heart on his sleeve, and spoke
endlessly about "wanting to do what was best for the University of
"I'm not angry at the University of Washington," said Gilbertson. "I
love this place."
At the football program's current state, falling to new depths after
Saturday's blowout loss to Oregon dropped the Huskies to 1-7 on the
year and 0-5 in Pac-10 play, what was best for the university was to
move forward with a different man in charge of the football program.
And while Gilbertson claimed to be okay with the news –"as long as it
was best for the university" - it hit several members of the team
hard, particularly the upperclassmen.
"Everybody looked like they were down (when we got the news)," said
Charles Frederick, injured by a nagging hamstring injury for most of
the season. "It was silent. You could probably hear a pin drop in
Frederick wasn't alone with his observation.
"It's a hard one to take because coach Gilbertson was the guy that
recruited me," said fifth-year senior fullback Zach Tuiasosopo, who is
out for the year after breaking his leg in the third game of the
season at Notre Dame. "I've been with him for five years now and he's
played a major factor in the football player I've become today. The
feeling right now, you can't explain it. I don't think it's really
sank in, because I don't want it to."
The news wasn't any easier for junior linebacker Joe Lobendahn.
"It hurts," said the fourth-year player from Hawaii. "I've already
built a relationship with all the coaching staff and especially coach
Gilby, being a captain. I'm very overwhelmed right now. This was my
second head coach and after this season it's going to be my third, and
my fifth position coach. It sucks. I don't even know what to say
Senior cornerback Derrick Johnson, who like Tuiasosopo is a fifth-year
player that came to the UW in the Rose Bowl season of 2000 only to
watch the program fall on times, said he felt the move didn't need to
be made during the season.
"It would have saved a bit of all this commotion," said Johnson. "I
think they could have waited. I'm a little disappointed, but it's a
part of the business and if you're not winning games than something is
going to happen.
"It's very hard. I'm on my fourth position coach. It's hard for a
lot of players because you come here for certain coaches because you
believe in them and that's why you came. Then you are getting
switched around and have to get new coaches, it's hard."
Johnson, not afraid to speak his mind, also says finding a new coach
as soon as possible will be important to recruiting and the future of
While many outside of the university continue to question Gilbertson's
abilities as a head coach, others will always wonder if the situation
would have been different had Gilby had more talent on the roster and
been able to coach distraction-free during his two-year tenure.
"It wasn't fair how he got the job," said Khalif Barnes, arguably the
team's best player at weak tackle, and out for the season with a wrist
injury. "For anybody to get the job like that wasn't fair. To be
handed the role of leading a team under those circumstances, I don't
think anybody could have led the team. There were so many
distractions that it was almost impossible."
Heading into the final three-games of Gilbertson's reign as head coach
at the UW, all sides agree that they are going to try their best to
concentrate on the task at hand.
"I think the focus is still going to be to try to win a game and stick
together and ride it out," said Johnson. "Coach Gilbertson is our
coach for the next three games and he's my coach for the rest of my
career at the University of Washington. I'm going to support him and
we're going to go out and play."
Once the final horn blares at the conclusion of the Apple Cup,
Gilbertson will go his own way. He says he'll go empty out his
office, and be there to help out answering any questions that might
arise during the hiring process of a new head coach.
Where will he go from there?
"I'm a football coach," he said. "It's all I know and all I've done.