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Recruiting did him in
Richard Linde, 29 October 2008

Arguably, Tyrone Willingham was given a fair chance to succeed at Washington if you ignore its recent history, its tough schedule and the clamor for Ty's head going into the season. You might be able to make a case for a premature firing if you look at these factors in depth. Otherwise, the following indictments stand as charged.

-- He squandered a treasure trove of athletes leftover from the Neuheisel era, failing to replenish the stock. Former coach Rick Neuheisel was a good recruiter, his shortcomings aside. “He can talk a dog off a meat truck,” people at UCLA are saying. Yeah, but can the dog keep Slick Rick out of the dog house?

-- In retrospect, the 2005 recruiting class was Willingham’s undoing. I know -- it was a carryover class and he did take over a 1-10 team. Just the same, his 2006 and 2007 classes failed to look to the future, to prepare for a shortfall of experience in 2008.

-- His recruiting effort made for the 2008 class was commendable, but just too late, much like a pre-med student cramming all night for a final test in Organic. It was as if he were tossing the dice, hoping that the 2009 class when added to 2008’s would ensure his survival at the time of contract renewal.

From a personality standpoint, if Rick was too clever by half, then Willingham was too stubborn by half, his stubbornness and intransigence partly working to his failure.

Washington’s intense fear of incurring more of the NCAA’s wrath, a phobia developed during Don James’s last year and reinforced during Neuheisel’s last year, motivated Willingham’s hiring. As a role-model coach, Ty was intended to serve as a tranquilizer to counter the fear of a snooping NCAA President Myles Brand, who has a Blackberry filled with the names of snitches, as with the anonymous "Peter Wright."(&)

His 11-12 record during his final two years at Notre Dame was ignored by NCAA sycophant and former AD Todd Turner, who chose Valium and introspection over direct therapy to cure Washington’s phobia, the direct approach being to hire a proven coach with a better record.

As with Rick's stewardship, Tyrone’s captaincy was like sailing in the eye of a hurricane. You always knew his ship was in trouble; it was just a question of when the winds would hit broadside, full force. You must admire him for going down with the ship. But that again is his stubbornness at work.

Here's my job description for a new hire of the offensive-defensive-coordinator type or of a young head coach like Lane Kiffin, say:

Wanted: a capable, hungry, young man, hopefully fired from your last job, with an annoying twitch in the eye. You must have the work ethic of a Jeff Tedford and be known to keep a refrigerator and sleeping bag in your office. Having a loyal wife and young daughters to feed at home -- like Jim Owens -- is fine with us.

You'll be paid "peanuts" relative to the outrageous CEO salaries of today and earn raises over the next five years of your contract by winning on the field and steering players along the road to graduation. You need a gift of gab, charisma and fund-raising skills. You will need to leap to the fore when called to attention, but be your own man when the chips are on the line. You will need to donate time to the present to provide for your family's future. When you retire you can learn to play golf.

Now I need to work out a job description for going the route of a Pat Hill, say. ;-)

Wanted: An experienced, lowly-paid gent, not over the hill, with an annoying twitch in the eye long ago suppressed. You must have taken and passed an anger-management course. You must never have been hanged in effigy.

We need a coach who can talk an impoverished State Legislature off the top of a Brinks truck. We need a coach who can talk a kid off a sunny beach into the thrill of basking in the rain. We need a coach who can talk a donor out of his last kidney. We need a coach who can read a game-day pep talk off a teleprompter without wearing reading glasses. We need a coach who can walk down the slippery steps of the lower bowl without instinctively reaching for a handrail. Amid repairs, we need a coach who can talk a boater into being bussed.

You must be willing to mingle at alumni events and hug old gadflies at the team hotel.

As with any politician, you must possess the ability to divert tough questions, have a litany of homilies at your disposal, be willing to wear a frozen smile on a warm face, and refrain from punching vexing newspaper columnists in the squinters and wiping the similes off their faces.

In any case, you should be as scrupulously honest as your contract will be long and, just in case, be willing to take a "lie-detective" test, as Jimmy "the Couging it" Moore might say. *


* Moore is an obnoxious WSU grad writing for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. :)

& "Peter Wright" is the pseudonym of the snitch who turned Neuheisel in to the NCAA back in 2002.

Richard Linde, aka Malamute can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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