Hot or cold seat, Ty still the right man

Tyrone Willingham (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

There isn't a coach in America that doesn't feel the heat; Washington's Tyrone Willingham is no different. Entering his fourth season as Head Husky, Willingham must simply ignore the constant banter about how "hot" and uncertain his position is. He must concentrate on preparing his kids for what appears to be one of the hardest schedules in college football.

His contract has been honored and this season will no doubt decide his future at Washington.

The Huskies finished this past season last in the Pac-10 standings. During his three seasons as Top Dawg, his team has only won only 11 times while losing 25. The win-loss record alone makes 2008 a must-win season; I believe they will win and win more than they lose. If they don't, decisions will be made and Husky football will move on.

Willingham enters this season with a rebuilt staff, a retooled offense, a new and improved defense, and a revitalized kicking game. He successfully recruited the best group of kids to be brought into Washington in at least a decade and has cleaned up the program from both the academic, character, and image standpoints. Everything is finally on the upswing now so all he has to do is win some games. His three staff additions were positive, needed and well received by the players.

After decades of dominating the Pacific Northwest, the Huskies are a miserable 1-8 vs. their Northwest rivals during the Willingham era. This will also change in the fall. Even considering the hand he was dealt, this has been an arguably slow rebuilding process. It has taken time to go get the right kids, the right coaches, and especially the right attitude.

Personally, I can't believe any coach has ever taken over a program in more disarray than the one Willingham inherited in 2005. The previous year the Huskies bottomed out when the rug was pulled out from under Keith Gilbertson before the season had ended. The resulting 1-10 record was an accurate reflection of both the lack of administrative support, coaching problems and a decreased talent level. All of it combined to perpetuate a state of disorganization and scandal which had plagued the whole athletic program for the previous four years.

After the Rose Bowl victory in January of 2001, Washington football had been slowly declining and has never really made it back into the upper half of the conference standings. This will also change in 2008.

In coaching the game of football you learn that it is always more productive to work on fixing the problems rather than fixing the blame. In my opinion, Rick Neuheisel - like Jim Lambright - should never have been fired. Gilby was hung out to dry, and Willingham was brought in to pick up the pieces. I believe that this constant turnover of both coaches and athletic administrators helped created an atmosphere of instability. I don't expect many to agree with me, but that is exactly how I see it. Washington football needs to win this year and then win a bowl game. Then people will start to realize how lucky they were to get a sports educator of Willingham's integrity and status.

You have to be realistic when assessing his performance. The NFL has literally ignored Husky players over the past six years. Since that championship season there has been just one Husky All American, and that was Reggie Williams. This, after having literally an All-American every single year for decades. Washington has gone to only one bowl game and have a grand total of 10 draft choices in that same period of time. There has even been two years when no Huskies were selected. Considering there were 10 alone in 1998, it gives you an idea of what Willingham has had to work with.

Anyone in the game will tell you it takes at least a couple of years to re-establish your recruiting program, and that certainly has been the case with Willingham. His first class during the transition was essentially a throwaway, and it wasn't until this last signing period that Washington even dominated the local kids.

Now that they have firmly re-established the recruiting process and successfully turned that phase around, here the UW coaches are yet again, facing another uncertainty; whether or not they will be rehired. That's one of the worst parts about coaching - the constant threat of always being fired.

You want to know a reason why they have fewer early commitments this year? There it is. Kids are being told the coaching staff at Washington is on thin ice and there is no denying this.

To have thrown it all away by firing Willingham after year three, all that progress that had taken place would've have simply pushed Washington further down. I don't care how good the next coach would have been, he would still be facing confidence issues. Both Washington President Mark Emmert and interim AD Scott Woodward have regularly visited the football operation, and they had it evaluated correctly. Coach Willingham created a positive learning environment, and in every aspect of the job he received high marks - except winning. They expect him to win and he expects to win, but there is no question he is highly serious about all areas of the job.

Willingham knows he must win, but if you asked him he would probably say something like, "Isn't that the point?"

The man is as respected as any college coach in the nation. Heck he's their (AFC) president!! I've been a member of that organization and I know what good they do for the sport of football. That is an honorable position in the football coaching profession.

I was listening to a recent interview with the Seahawks' No. 1 pick, tight end John Carlson from Notre Dame. He could not have been more respectful and complimentary of Coach Willingham. He was recruited by and played for coach and went out of his way to mention what coach does for the total development of his players. It's all about respect.

I am lucky to be as close to the program as I am and I have watched an attitude change taking place at Washington. After being around Husky football for so long and watching personnel in particular, I can honestly say they are progressively getting better from the player standpoint. They are adding faster and better players. They are a lot closer than most people think.

Still the thing that is always obvious to me is that these Huskies really admire and respect their coach and know he is straight up with them and has a deep concern for each of their futures. I know because I talk with the players.

Willingham is loyal to a fault when it comes to team. He is very protective of private issues and deals first hand with those who don't buy in all the way. This particular group of kids believes in their coaches and are anxious to show that they can be winners on the field as well as off. Like I said, the Huskies will have a winning record and go to a bowl game and win it.

And then the "hot" seat will cool itself down.

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