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Can Willingham “Ty” into Owens’ early years?
Two parallel universes may be sharing electrons
By Richard Linde, 7 February 2005

Although this article’s title bears a bad pun, this story is about goodness and prosperity. No, I’m not talking about bringing water and oxygen to Mars and turning it into a livable habitat. This story is about two parallel Husky universes: the one in the early ‘50s and the turbulent one of this decade. Will similar circumstances bear similar results?

Can Coach Tyrone Willingham revitalize the Husky football team as Jim Owens did in the late ‘50s?

There is room for optimism.

During the past several years, the youthful pups have run into some veteran teams (e.g., UCLA and Cal among others) and have taken a collective shellacking. Now, it's time for the near-grown Dawgs to bite and chew. With 38 of 44 two deeps returning, there is no reason the Huskies can’t win at least six games in 2005 and, in so doing, hang a loss on a prohibitive favorite along the way.

Tim Lappano, the UW's new offensive coordinator seems impressed with the talent on hand.

"I think those concepts – power running game, spread the field, a play-action passing game – that can be difficult to deal with,” Lappano said on Saturday. “I really believe we have the personnel to do that," these quotes taken from Dan Ruiz of the Tacoma News Tribune.

“I’m not saying we can do all of it right now, but from what I saw (Friday), we have enough athleticism to do that right now. We can give a lot of different looks, shift, motion, present a lot of different personnel groups to the defense," Lappano went on to say.

I smell blood -- a blood sport to be -- the football Gods willing.

Besides having some experienced talent dedicated to the watchful eyes of the upset minded, there are other reasons for optimism.

There are no road games on the 2005 schedule that portend a physical mismatch, that is, a Rocky Balboa versus an Apollo Creed. I’m thinking of past Husky road games against Miami (2001), Michigan (2002), Ohio State (2003) and Notre Dame (2004).

Tyrone Willingham has assembled an outstanding cadre of assistant coaches, who all know about the positives of hard work and self-discipline.

These coaches will instill confidence in the players, especially the quarterbacks, teaching them self-discipline along the way. Adding physicality should reduce the number of injuries that plagued the Dawgs last season.

All of my optimism is based on one proviso: One of the contending quarterbacks needs to take charge and run the team. It is not a question of being or not being the starting quarterback -- a question posed by the wishy-washiness of  too much introspection. One of the charges -- Johnny DuRocher, Isaiah Stanback, Carl Bonnell, or Casey Paus -- needs to "take arms against a sea of troubles," look Tyrone Willingham square in the eye and say, "Coach I'm your man."

Motivation shouldn’t be a problem for the Dawgs. Past embarrassment on the gridiron should be motivation enough. Coming off 1-10 season and picked to finish in the “sewer” of this next season’s conference rankings should translate into focus and attention to duty.

Players, one and all, listen to the coaches, obey their commands, do as they say and, yes, do as they do.

There is precedence for rooting the UW from its current quagmire while adding some of Todd Turner's "pizzazz" to the program.

The Huskies survived the troubled decade of the ‘50s -- the slush fund, the sanctions, the losing years, and coaches hung in effigy. Mention those years to a Husky adherent of that era and he'll smile back with front teeth showing as menacing as the grill of a '50 Buick.

In 1957 it all changed for the better when Jim Owens drove his figurative Roadmaster into town.

Currently, a gambling imbroglio, two big-brother investigations (the NCAA's and Pac-10's) and the firing of the three head football coaches parallel the events of the ‘50s. Former Ads Harvey Cassill and Barbara Hedges couldn’t stand the heat and had to leave the kitchen. Former coach John Cherberg (10-18, 1953-1955) exposed the slush fund run by Torchy Torrance. Rick Neuheisel, who is suing the UW and the NCAA, exposed the infamous memo. Darrell Royal (1956) stayed one season, Keith Gilbertson (2003/04) two seasons.

In the ‘50s along came Owens and almost fifty years later here comes Willingham bearing the confident look of the early Owens. Owens inherited a team of malcontents; Willingham inherits a team, some of whose members failed to give 100% in a few notable games.

Owens learned football under the teachings of the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, mostly beginning at Junction, Texas. Let it be known that Jim Owens so profoundly changed west-coast football that it shocked the nation. He brought the spirit of the “Junction Boys” to Montlake. He took the “Montlake Boys” to the Rose Bowl. He brought pride to a provincial seaport town that suffered from a weather complex. He turned rain into a purple-and-gold rainbow. His wide smile turned clouds into sunshine. For those us who lived with him, his magical qualities are symbolized by his statue.

Although the turbulent history of the early ‘50s has repeated itself in this first decade of the new millennium, ‘tis a history lesson to be learned.

There is no reason Tyrone Willingham can’t perform another “miracle” at Montlake. The Big Fella did; the Little Fella can too – for the best presents come in small packages.

If Willingham can turn last season’s 1-10 into at least a 6-5 winner this next season, I say draw up plans for his likeness.

We can all argue about where to put it.

Richard Linde (a.k.a., Malamute) can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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