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Grading the coach
Richard Linde, 15 January 2006

Most UW fans agree that the Huskies need some coaching stability. Prematurely firing Tyrone Willingham, Washington’s fourth coach in the last 7 years, would be disastrous for the football program.

However, that doesn’t mean this fan is giving the coach a free pass. Coach Willingham needs to show that some progress towards winning, among other milestones, is being met over the next few years.

If he should fail to reach one or more of my milestones, then AD Todd Turner should consider some remedial measures, such as: no pay raises or contract extensions and, perhaps, even a Draconian measure like a reduction in salary. These measures would also apply to Willingham’s staff. Boy, would I be an unpopular AD.

From a winning standpoint, I’m giving Tyrone Willingham at least four years to return the Huskies to top -five status in the Pac-10 conference.

(Factoid: Over the last 19 years, Washington (3 wins) and USC (3 wins) are the only conference members to post wins in the Rose Bowl).

Here are some specific milestones that can be tracked over the next 4 years.

-- Show progress by winning more games each season

Over the next four years, Washington must win one more game that it did the previous season; if the Huskies win at least seven games, with at least five conference victories in any one of the four years, I will check this milestone off.

Goal: This means that the Huskies need to post at least four wins next season. I expected the Huskies to win three games in 2005; instead, they won two. Hence, they need to win four games in 2006, in line with my milestone. Along that line, I expect five wins in 2007, six in 2008 and seven in 2009 (with five conference wins).

Current Grade: D. (Mostly based on UW’s 2-9 season in 2005. I expected a 3-win season.)

-- Improve on recruiting each year.

Each year the recruiting services do a better job of grading the athletic ability of potential student athletes. In most cases, the correlation between the ranking of a consecutive series of recruiting classes belonging to a school and its success on the gridiron are directly related. To be sure there are “sleepers” in every class -- but that's true for every school.

Currently, UW’s 2006 recruiting class is ranked 31st in the nation, according to scout.com. The Huskies' 14 commits average 2.86 stars per man. Four of the five schools in the conference ranked ahead of Washington are averaging more than 3 stars, that is, USC (4.36), UCLA (3.22), Arizona (3.35), and California (3.06).

Goal: Willingham needs to bring in a top 30 recruiting class in 2006 and, thereafter, three top twenty classes, with an average star rating above 3.0.

Current Grade: C-. (The UW's two soft verbal commitments, along with a high-ranking athlete who may opt out of his commitment in order to play professional baseball, give its current ranking a fragile leg to stand on.)

-- Willingham needs to open the door to the media and fans a bit more, increasing the contact each year over the next four years.

As of now, Willingham restricts the media’s access to his football team. For example, only the first 25 minutes of practices are open to the media.

Over the last 13 years, the media, as much as any other group of people, are responsible for Washington’s diminishing returns in football. Several members of Seattle’s media elite despise big-time college football, which shouldn’t surprise anyone living in this left-coast city. For that reason and for the fact that Seattle’s two failing newspapers need to sensationalize their stories to keep monetarily afloat are sufficient reasons to limit their access to the Husky football program.

Over the last decade or so, the media have held the Washington football program to a higher set of standards than they have set for its Northwest cousins.

However, as long as members of the local media behave themselves, why not increase their access to the program a tad? A good start would be to hold some of the August practices at Evergreen State College in Olympia, as former coach Keith Gilbertson did in 2003 and 2004. This would allow fans access to the team, along with big donors to the athletics program. The TSEC is a great place for the players to bond and become better acquainted.

Goal: I'm setting no further goals for Willingham in this regard. I'll begin to worry when the media drop the characterization "Paint Dry Ty" from their stories.

Current Grade: B. (You can’t blame Willingham for restricting the media’s access to his team.)

-- Willingham needs to keep the UW program on the straight and narrow.

For the most part, Washington has kept a clean slate with the NCAA since November of 2003 when it was placed on probation for violations involving NCAA bylaws. However, Willingham violated an NCAA bylaw on recruiting in November 2005 by mentioning the names of two oral commitments on a radio show. Willingham will likely be forced to undergo a review of the rules and receive a letter from athletic director Todd Turner as punishment, a source from the UW has reportedly said. This breech of rules is considered minor in nature.

Before the first game of the season, Willingham listed an ineligible player on his two deeps. Washington's compliance department caught the error before the season started.

Goal: Willingham needs to keep the program squeaky clean for each of the next four years.

Current Grade: C. (Mostly based on the secondary rule’s violation.)

-- Willingham needs to minimize off-field problems with his student athletes.

Over the last 24 months, UW has had no off-field problems with its student athletes as far as anyone knows. The high character standards Willingham sets for himself serve as a model for his student athletes, as in "Do as I do and do as I say."

Goal: No off-field problems over the next 4 years.

Current Grade A. (Give former coach Keith Gilbertston some credit here.)

-- Willingham needs to graduate players.

According to the latest NCAA statistics (Graduation Progress Rate), Washington is graduating 75% of its football players, second in the conference behind Stanford. Eventually, the GPR will be paired with an Academic Progress Rate (APR), under NCAA reforms still being fine-tuned, and programs can be hit with postseason bans or loss of scholarships if they are not keeping up. According to Bud Withers of the Seattle Times, “Preliminary data released last spring showed several programs at Washington and Washington State — including men's basketball and baseball at both — to be under the national average for Division I in the real-time APR reckoning and potentially at risk for penalty in the future.”

"We're really not anticipating any penalties," Withers quotes UW athletic director Todd Turner as saying. "But it's a small margin for error. We have to stay vigilant about it."

Goal: Willingham needs to keep Washington's football APR in line with the national average in each of the four years of measurement.

Current Grade: B+. (Former coaches Rick Neuheisel and Keith Gilbertson get most of the credit here. Willingham's high graduation rates at Notre Dame and Stanford are the basis for his grade.)

Other factors on which the coach will be judged lie hidden in the details of his contract with Washington.

Obviously, winning is the most important goal for Willingham, and his performance at Washington most likely will be judged on that factor more than any others, that is, by what he does on Saturdays.

The coach's grade point average for 2005 is 2.5.

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

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