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Cutting the coach some slack
Where are the blue-chippers?
Richard Linde, 7 February 2007

This must be one of the most peripatetic (itinerant) group of recruiters ever seen at Washington. 21 kids are from out-of-state, with 6 home grown.

Student-athletes from California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Texas, Utah, and Nevada are represented in this class.

Most importantly all positions on the squad seem to be covered. "We have a class that is deep and talented here and it fills needs within our program," head coach Tyrone Willingham said at his press conference.

What the Huskies are missing, perhaps, are a power running back, an extra quarterback for insurance purposes, and a four-star offensive lineman in the mold of a Benji Olson or an Olin Kruetz, each of them former UW offensive linemen who now play on Sundays.

Instead, with two of the incoming three offensive linemen bearing the not-rated label, Willingham must find a way to cut the Gordian knot that has become the offensive line.

A sundry of guaranteed playmakers at various positions would also have been nice. Coach may have some, but they didn't commit to UW with 5-star warranties from scout.com. Eight commitments carry the dreaded NR abbreviation. I never see an NR on the USC website.

The incoming quarterback could be a little taller. They all tell me they wished they were taller, starting with Cory Paus at a UCLA training camp. It's a shame that former UW coach Rick Neuheisel didn't stick around long enough to have worked with Cory's brother, Casey, who was a legitimate 6-foot-5. Back then, Gilby didn't know squat about throwing a pass, except for making the obvious joke.

Wandering hither and thither, the coaches must have done a lot of traveling, as well as having done their homework on the Internet, and should be commended, provided most of the 27 student/athletes pan out. The medals ceremony won't take place for several years, though.  

Tyrone Willingham's future at UW may ride on this class. In this vein, providing this upcoming season, with its formidable schedule, has a reasonable outcome (say, 4 wins or more), how about extending his contract at the end of the season? One more year for 5 wins, 2 for 6, and 3 years for 7 wins or more. If Tyrone wins a bowl game why not give his salary a boost?

No, I'm not trying to create a groundswell of opinion for AD Todd Turner to have to deal with. But the Internet is a powerful medium. Imagine all of us ragamuffins having that much influence.

By staying around a little longer than many people might have expected, Tyrone and his assistants can eventually enjoy the fruits of harvesting this class.

But:

According to data from scout.com, UW ranks eighth in the conference in landing difference-makers, i.e., student athletes with 4 or more stars behind their names. In this age of parity in college football, the multi-star guys can make all the difference, considering almost everything else is equal.

Assigning star rankings to a prospect isn’t as subjective as some people think it is, especially among the 5-star variety. This makes sense when you consider that most of us can tell the difference between average and standout high school players, those men among boys, as they say.

It doesn’t take a Gil Dobie to know that a Reggie Bush deserves 4 or 5 stars. We all knew that WR Reggie Williams would be a star (pun intended) at Washington and take an early exit.

The art involved is in comparing a standout from Ferndale High with one from Long Beach Poly High, say. Hopefully, recruiting gurus can compare their skills at a football camp or a combine by witnessing their performance and comparing their individual statistics. DVD footage of their games offers another comparative. Without a definitive answer as to whom is best, most coaches would probably offer a scholarship to the Long Beach Poly product in lieu of the one from Ferndale. That would be safer.

Playmakers do make a difference. If I were a coach I’d rather sign a bona fide playmaker rather than sign 4 sleepers who are likely to be prayer-makers, as in Hail Mary.

For example, I remember UCLA players grumbling about losing to the Huskies last year, saying that the Huskies had “inferior talent.” In the second half of the game, Isaiah Stanback (once a 4-star prospect) took charge, carrying the Huskies’ offense, and was the difference-maker (e.g., the consummate playmaker).

Here’s how the conference stacks up in recruiting the blue chippers (BTW, USC has 10 commitments from 5-star recruits):

(1) USC=15; (2) UCB=12; (3) UO=11; (4, 5) OSU=7, UCLA=7; (6) ASU=6;  (7) UA=5; (8) UW=4; (9) SU=3; (10) WSU=2.

As a school builds an arsenal of talented players, the attendant hyperbole can attract other blue-chippers, for everyone wants to play for a winner. For one thing, a school carrying a passel of playmakers attracts TV exposure; these guys are fun to watch, and the recruits know it.

Carrying a galaxy of stars on his phantom jersey means the wearer is likely to play right away. For instance, Coach Pete Carroll played 15 true freshmen last season. The downside is that many of them will leave school prematurely for the Pros.

A school like Washington can surprise a USC in a year weakened by early defections with a cadre of redshirts built over several years, overwhelming them with experience and numbers. That scenario almost worked last season, as USC had been enervated by the Pros.

In the long run, though, the odds are stacked against Washington -- as much as they are stacked against people reporting alien abductions.

Rivals.com ranks the Washington class thirty-fifth in the nation. ESPN.com ranks it fifty-ninth. Scout.com is the most charitable giving the Dawgs twenty-ninth billing, and lists eight Washington signees on its Northwest top 100. Bob Condotta reports that Greg Hansen, the longtime columnist for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, ranks Washington eighth in the Pac-10, ahead of Arizona State and Stanford.

Although scout.com ranks UW fourth in the Pac-10 behind USC, Oregon and Cal, Karl Dorrell at UCLA stole the show, signing six 4-star players and one 5-star player out of the ten available scholarships.

We are cutting Tyrone and his assistants some slack this recruiting season and giving him qualified kudos for this class; however, when the coaches get the UW train back on track again, we, the fans, who are paying for the trestles, should "demand" -- at the least, suggest -- that they do a better job of recruiting than they have done over the last two years.  (*)

Mediocre recruiting classes eventually show up in the won/lost column, with a consequent drop in attendance. Hopefully, this class will better its projections.   

------------

(*) Joke for the beat writers: Just as you need to leave some slack on TIVO so you can spin through the commercials, you need to cut Coach Willingham some slack so you can spin through his homilies.

Yeah, boys and girls, I'm writing your material now. :-)

Photo of Isaiah Stanback, snapped by myself on a Picture Day.

Malamute can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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