Huskies taking a page from Gators' playbook?

Tyrone Willingham (Max Waugh/Dawgman.com)

SEATTLE - It was during a 2003 visit to Seattle when new UW assistant coach Brian White starting looking closer at the University of Washington and the Emerald City as a place he might want to eventually coach. He was asked by then-Washington Assistant Coach Chuck Heater if he would be interested in helping the UW coaching staff host a clinic on the run game.

"Those are policies and practices that go on all the time," Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said Tuesday as the media met up with coaches and players signifying the beginning of spring football at Montlake.

He was referring to the continual flow of information that takes places between coaches and staffs behind the scenes. During some periods of time - like during the season, for instance - that 'flow' amounts to barely a trickle. But during times such as spring football, it's not uncommon for staffs to fly cross-country in order to watch a practice or study a game's worth of film with another staff just to see what thoughts percolate from both sides of the table.

"We're always making trips," Willingham added. "We like some things that we're doing, but it's all about continual learning."

The Huskies' staff did just that a couple of weeks back, taking trips to Gainesville, Florida and Columbia, Missouri to watch, learn and share with the staffs from Florida and Missouri.

"You see a reflection of yourself," Willingham said when asked about the benefits of the visits. "Often when you look in the mirror you see things you didn't see before. And maybe that allows you to grow."

"If you can go down there and take one thing that can help you, it was worth the money to do it," Washington Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano added. "And we did help ourselves."

"You definitely don't want to re-invent the wheel, that wasn't the intent," White said. "You want to find a technique, a different way of teaching. It was very valuable. I know I got a lot out of it and I know the rest of the staff was pleased with the experience."

The more ties two schools have with each other, the easier it is to bridge the knowledge gap. Heater and White knew each other from their days at Notre Dame. Heater coached the secondary during White's tenure as a graduate assistant. Heater also knows Randy Hart from when the two coached at Washington under Rick Neuheisel.

"(Florida Head Coach) Urban (Meyer) is a good friend and he was very gracious to us and they opened their doors to us and we are grateful," said White.

And Washington fans are well aware of Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel's association with the Huskies. He coached at Montlake from 1979 to 1990, helping Don James to a 104-37-2 record.

"It's almost his home, in a sense," Willingham said of Pinkel and Seattle. "The opportunity to get a flow of information is critical, so having a former Husky contact there (Missouri) makes a world a difference. And what better program to go study, because that defense goes against it (spread option) every day."

Ed Donatell - Washington's new Defensive Coordinator - took this level of study up a notch. Having just come from a year where he immersed himself in the 3-4 defense with the New York Jets, Donatell takes the sharing of information very seriously. And from his vantage point, he's going to take advantage of networking on multiple levels.

"Go talk to the guys you know in the league (NFL) that have gone from pro to college and converse with them," he said, matter-of-factly. "(USC Head Coach) Pete Carroll trained me in the NFL and he's coaching in college. A year ago today, I spent five days on their campus. I was there."

Donatell hasn't placed a call to Carroll lately, but you get the point. The Washington coaches are not satisfied with anything they've done to this point, and are more than happy to crib notes from those that have taken it to the winner's circle of late. And it's not just the obvious stuff.

Clearly when Washington visits an offense as powerful and as multi-dimensional as Florida, it's easy to point to players like Tim Tebow and make comparisons to their own talent. And for sure, Tebow and Jake Locker share many similarities. But UW's visit went deep into coaching minutiae - stuff that wouldn't be apparent to the casual fan at first glance.

"The most important thing is tempo, the tempo of practice," White said when asked about his Florida observations. "You have to make it a physical game, but when you're practicing you also have to be very smart about it. It's foolish to lose someone in a practice needlessly. And I thought Florida did an outstanding job of coaching tempo while at the same time not exposing their players to injury."

"It was fun to watch their offense, who just might be the best in the country," added Lappano. "Once you go down there and you get into film work, you start to see some other bits and pieces."

"The more years you have in a system, the more you understand all the minor adjustments that are necessary to help you better adjust," Willingham said. He added that by watching both the offense and defense of a team - especially one that runs basically the same philosophy the Huskies currently incorporate, it might allow the staff to be 'one adjustment ahead' when calling a game.

With all the frequent-flyer miles used and time spent checking other programs out, it begs the question; will teams be coming to Seattle starting Thursday to exchange information with the Huskies? Willingham hinted there might be, but wouldn't name names.

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