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Why UW recruiting is in on the upswing
Richard Linde, 11 May 2006

A year ago from last February, Alan Wallace (the national recruiting editor for SuperPrep/Scout.com.) told Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times that, "It would be a mistake to emphasize recruiting right now at Washington. They should be thinking about getting the (current players) to buy into the new regime. Bringing in the wrong coaches is more devastating than bringing in the wrong players."

Wallace went on to say that, "If Ty (Tyrone Willingham) really works out to be what the Huskies need, then his classes in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 are going to be what counts and this 2005 class will be an asterisk."

The 2005 class, recruited by former coach Keith Gilbertson, along with newly hired coach Tyrone Willingham, was ranked a disappointing fifty-fifth in the nation, while the most recent class, Willingham’s first real class, was ranked thirty-fifth in the nation. It is highlighted by all-everything QB Jake Locker who many fans feel will be the Huskies’ savior in years to come, providing he does not opt out of his commitment to sign a professional baseball contract.

Recently, a poster on dawgman.com asked a general question on recruiting, “Are the Huskies in on a lot more recruits this year (2007 class) than last year in both football and basketball, but namely football? It seems like success on the field might be a few years away still in football, but at least recruiting is getting fun again. Correct me if I'm wrong here.”

One of dawgman’s recruiting gurus, Scott Eklund, replied, “Program stability is probably the biggest key, but (Tim) Lappano, (J.D.) Williams and (Eric) Yarber are really making their presence felt on the road.”

As everyone knows, UW needs to reopen the Hawaiian pipeline, bring in the State of Washington’s best student athletes, and haul in some four-and-five star recruits out of California to improve on its recruiting.

The encouraging performance of the Huskies in their spring game promises better results for this next season’s conference race than most people expect.

That, coupled with the stigma -- which is slowly fading away -- that has haunted the program for the last several years, means Willingham can expect to better his recruiting effort for the 2007 class. 

Other factors connoting such optimism are as follows:

-- Washington is keeping its slate clean with the NCAA and is maintaining high-academic standards

Since the gambling imbroglio that surfaced on June 4, 2003, the UW has not self-reported any major NCAA infractions.

Although Washington's probationary period expires nine months from now, it is subject to the provisions of NCAA Bylaw, concerning repeat violators, for a five-year period that began on the effective date of the penalties in the 2003 football infractions case (October 20, 2004).

Coach Willingham, who is as conservative and honest as they come, will not do anything to jeopardize Washington’s improving relationship with the NCAA and bring on the so-called “death penalty.” You can bet your booty on that.

Also, athletic director, Todd Turner, provides Washington with experience, leadership and a fondness for high academic standards. Among his peers, he is a leading advocate in the movement to bring academic reform to NCAA member institutions.

According to the data made available on Stanford’s website (“The bootleg’s graduation rate analysis,” April 14, 2006), Washington’s latest graduation success rate for football is 75%, ranking it second in the conference.

In his salary contract with Washington, some of Willingham’s incentives are tied to academics. “Willingham will receive $25,000 if the team grade-point average is 2.7 or higher, $2,500 for every player named to the All-Pac-10 academic team and $5,000 for any player named an academic All-American,” according to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times.

Performance in the classroom resonates well with the parents of potential student athletes.

-- Washington’s student athletes are staying out of trouble with the law.

In February 2005, defensive tackle Manase Hopoi pled guilty to fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor, in connection with an incident at a Seattle nightclub on March 7, 2004. Hopoi was arrested for assaulting a security guard.

Since then it has been 26 months since any Husky football player has had a run-in with the law, as far as anyone knows. Credit the prior and current coaching staffs with this phenomenon.

As a father figure, Willingham, 52, has instilled dedication, focus and self-discipline in his players.

-- Willingham and Turner have the media playing defense

In the main, the print media are looking for stories that can be sensationalized to enhance circulation, especially considering their declining circulation numbers, which were down for almost ever major newspaper in the country over the past year.

An overzealous local print media overplayed the Rick Neuheisel imbroglio and the prescription drug fiasco in a non-stop coverage that lowered team morale, back then and to a lesser extent now. One antediluvian media member, under the guise of humor, continues to hack away at the athletics program with pejoratives such as, ‘probation nation’ and ‘paint-dry Ty.’ As Washington’s image continues to improve, its media critics, dancing to the tune of their worn-out shticks, will begin to look as silly as a dermatologist peeling away microscopic layers of a benign tumor.

Other than the first 25 minutes of practice, media members are restricted from viewing UW football practices. Although the beat writers who attend practice pretty much report on what they see, it’s their peers back at the office – and elsewhere -- that are potential troublemakers for the program. Troublemakers (including snitches, eavesdroppers, anonymous editorialists, investigative reporters, and columnists) have been the bane of the UW athletics program since 1992. 

And then there is the alleged alliance between a Seattle newspaper and the NCAA aimed at blindsiding Neuheisel, the net effect of which cost Washington $2.2 million because the blindsiding was done in violation of an NCAA bylaw, the outdated version of which was entered into discovery during Neuheisel’s wrongful termination lawsuit against Washington and the NCAA.

Had sanity -- not a lynch mentality -- prevailed on June 4, 2003, the UW's Pearl Harbor Day, Rick might still be coaching at Washington and both the Udub's bank and win columns would be fuller. 

The Nebraska mindset just won’t play in loony Seattle.

So, limiting the amount of information, some of which can be twisted and turned against the program, seems like a good idea to me.

-- Retaining Willingham is fundamental to the franchise's stability and improved recruiting effort

Most UW fans agree that the Huskies need some coaching stability. Prematurely firing Willingham, Washington’s fourth football coach since 1998, would be disastrous for the football program.

Although his platitudinous relationship with the media becomes harder to bear with each ensuing loss, fans need to support the coach for the remainder of his contract, which runs through December 11, 2009.

As for Willingham’s not attending the fifth quarter after Husky home games, I’m sure he’ll attend them once he begins to accrue wins at Husky Stadium 

However, Willingham should encourage fans to travel with the team and lend their support. Staying in the same hotel with the team seems like a good idea to me, as long as fans don't regale players with largess.

Player: "Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime for a stick of gum?"

Alum: "I have a paradigm in my laptop. Buy two virtual sticks."

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

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