Major mistakes Malamute, 2 July 2009
makes mistakes. And the Big Kahunas – the people who have been running the
football show at the University of Washington over the last 16 years –
have been no different. What circumstances over that period of time have
led to the Huskies precipitous fall from grace, that is, to the 0-12
season in 2008, which is part of 6-straight non-winning seasons?
my opinion, the litany of head coaches following the resignation of Don
James is the primary reason for the collapse of the program. Think Gene
Bartow and the coaches who followed the legendary John Wooden at UCLA.
It took years again for the Bruins to find that once-familiar road
leading to the final four.
lack of head-coaching continuity at Washington has proved just as disastrous
in its own way.
James resigned in 1993, five different men have coached the Huskies: Jim
Lambright (6 years, 43-24-1), Rick Neuheisel (4 years, 33-16), Keith
Gilbertson (2 years, 7-16), Tyrone Willingham (4 years, 11-37), and the
current coach Steve Sarkisian (0-0).
resignation of Don James
former head coach Don James walk the plank was the biggest mistake of
all. It matters little of whom we blame for his departure (members of
the Pac-10 conference, former university president William Gerberding,
or former athletic director Barbara Hedges), retaining James’ services
was critical to the survival of the program. In good health today, at the
age of 76, he could still be leading the program.
As a result of
the "fruit-basket" scandal (see Tabloid Times), the initial recommendation
for penalties asked for one year of probation -- meaning that the team
would have been barred from a bowl game only in 1993 -- and two years of
forfeited television revenues, but member universities decided on a
longer probation and shorter television forfeiture to alleviate the
financial burden on Washington.
told James about the change to a two-year bowl ban, James told her that
he was going to resign, and he did.
accepting Paul Allen’s offer to refurbish Husky Stadium
In 1996, Seahawks owner
Paul Allen was willing to pay for the renovation of Husky Stadium if the
university would allow the Seahawks to use it as a venue for their home
games -- with the Dawgs on Saturdays and the Seahawks on Sundays both up
for viewing. Apparently, former Governor Dan Evans, a Montlake resident,
was among the leaders of some nearby neighborhoods to squelch that idea.
Ironically, Evans is now leading the charge to refurbish the stadium.
The stadium mess could
have been solved years ago if Allen had been given the opportunity to
restore the historic facility.
firing of Jim Lambright
Coach Jim Lambright (1993-1998) a public voice of approval, AD Barbara
Hedges fired him one month later, presumably for losing to the Air Force
in the Oahu Bowl, although she said that loss didn't affect her
As it turned
out this was a huge mistake.
may have been player dissatisfaction with uniform changes Lambright made
that cost him his job—at least, symbolically—so says Blaine Newnham (The
Seattle Times) when he wrote in 1999, “It is preposterous to say Jim
Lambright failed because he changed uniforms during his time at
Washington, and yet the purple helmet is symbolic of his inability to
please either the players or the alumni…He wanted the purple helmet and
no one else did. He told the players they would wear white shoes when
they wanted to wear black.”
going to bat for Neuheisel
I believe that
the University of Washington should have supported former coach Rick
Neuheisel during the gambling investigation by either placing him on
probation or on a short suspension until the NCAA and Pac-10 could make
a preliminary or final judgment of his case. Instead, he was given a six
weeks’ suspension and then fired in July 2003 before the NCAA and Pac-10
had rendered their verdicts.
outcome of the NCAA investigation (2004) allowed Neuheisel to continue
his college coaching career and supports the notion of his retention by
UW, as does the outcome of his successful lawsuit against Washington and
the NCAA. His legacy at Washington trumpets the idea as well.
Tyrone the extra year
Tyrone's services runs counterintuitive to the continuity angle in
coaching I'm writing about. But there are exceptions to every rule, and
this is one.
Really, though, no one knew
that Tyrone would inadvertently torpedo his own ship -- albeit, sailing
in rough waters (that is, losing Jake Locker in the fourth game of 2008) -- when they gave him further license to lead.
addition to the clean ship Todd Turner and Willingham skippered,
supportive fans hoped to keep the football program from further
crumbling under a litany of firings and new coaches. At the conclusion
of the 2007 season, which went 4-9, they were willing to give Tyrone one
result: a 0-12 season and a mediocre 2009 recruiting class that
scout.com ranks as 66th in the country. I was among those people
who felt he should be given another year to build his program and, now,
looking back at last season, believe his retention was a mistake.
errors continue to compound themselves.
schedule a blockbuster power to start the 2009 season when you’re trying
to rebuild the program? Answer: money talks. In the long run, this
money-making endeavor could turn out to be a hunt for fool's gold (iron
pyrite), where the
perception of Sarkisian’s effort to rebuild the program takes a major
hit because of a sour won/loss record in 2009. For the Huskies, every
win counts and is a rebuilding tool for the future.