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Just Win
Richard Linde, 25 July 2007

Coach Willingham needs to sell some five-star recruits on his Dawg house, to show us fans that he's a better closer than Jack Lemmon was in Glengarry Glenn Ross. You know, "Coffee is for closers." On second thought, the coach probably drinks decaf.

In the recruiting process, I think of a closer as some sort of rah-rah guy, like Pete Carroll, who can overwhelm a blue-chip prodigy with his enthusiasm, his knowledge of the game and his coaching record, and then sign him on the dotted line.

Tyrone Willingham doesn’t seem to wear the personality of a closer, that is, as a zealot who can close the deal on a coveted five-star recruit. If he were an astronomer, his telescope would be focused on three-star nebulae.

Columnist Jim Moore of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer calls him “Paint Dry Ty.” Also, at times, Tyrone humbly refers to himself in the third person and will answer tough questions with coach speak and football homilies. During a game, he almost seems to be too placid and disinterested at times. I wish he’d tear at his thinning hair and shake the heck out of a gargantuan lineman for missing a block, a time or two.

Going head-to-head with the other coaches in the conference for the same recruit, in a battle of words, he’s got to be a 2000-word underdog, kind of a Don James versus Jim Walden affair. Not to say he can’t compete effectively against “Karl Dullard” and “Still Bill,” media nicknames for Karl Dorrell (UCLA) and Bill Doba (WSU), where words are the deciding factor.

Former coaches Jim Owens and Rick Neuheisel were outgoing.  Certainly, James could have been a more dynamic person (more of an extrovert), but his personality seemed to work for him. I always cringed when the media interviewed the Dawgfather, fearing he would put his foot in his mouth. Former coach Keith Gilbertson was too gruff and rough around the edges with the media. 

That’s not to say the Willingham isn’t a good recruiter and that he can’t land a highly-coveted PSA or two. It’s his potential to be an effective closer in a competitive battle with other Pac-10 coaches that is in question at this time -- the playing field being even, where loquaciousness is the measure. He’s competing against some of the best coaches in the country in the Pac-10. When he keeps the highly-rated local talent at home, we’ll know he is on the road to success at Washington, in addition to the scoreboard, of course.

Over the last three years he’s lost local products Jonathan Stewart, Taylor Mays, and Steve Schilling to schools outside the state of Washington.

When comparing Willingham with USC's coach Pete Carroll, Mays has been quoted as saying this about the recruiting process. "I think the difference was Coach Carroll ...just his enthusiasm and how loud he is and wild he is all the time. I just felt I could relate to that a little better."

Mays plays safety for Carroll and is considered one of the best at his position in the country.

This recruiting season, Kavario Middleton is generally considered the top prospect in the state. UW has extended him a scholarship offer, along with Miami (FL), Oregon, California, Arizona State, and Michigan, according to scout.com.

Middleton stands as a recruiting benchmark for Willingham, and he will be judged by the fans on his ability to land him.

Willingham managed to pull all-everything Jake Locker out of Ferndale, though. Stewart and Mays are likely to be first-round draft picks. The NFL jury is still out on Locker and on whether little, old Ferndale is a five-star nebula.

In the 2006 recruiting season, not being able to seal the deal on RB James Montgomery out of Rancho Cordova, California was frustrating. During the recruiting process, Montgomery orally committed to Willingham, and later changed his mind and signed a letter of intent with Jeff Tedford at Cal. Montgomery is what I mean by closing the deal on a recruit. To start the 2007 season, Willingham will have only two scholarship tailbacks on hand, one of them being a junior who is yet to carry the ball.

Also, Willingham mentioned Montgomery’s oral commitment on a radio show, which was in violation of NCAA rules. To his credit, he turned himself in for that violation.

Wait, stop the presses. Stop the ranting. We’ve gone too far.

If UW were winning, all of my conjecturing about our coach’s ability to communicate would vanish like a leaden object tied to Jimmy Hoffa’s feet. We’d be saying that Tyrone speaks in metaphors, where his paucity of words conveys a 1000-word picture.

“Just win,” Tyrone told me, those two words bringing hundreds of images to me, like Ohio State falling to Washington this season.

And in the privacy of his office, how do I know whether Willingham is talking a recruit’s head off or not? A couple of thoughts here: (1) By his own admission, he had an extended conversation with the grandson of former Governor Dan Evans, and (2) Willingham's brother is a lawyer.

His persona and 2007 record notwithstanding, Willingham will be judged by the recruiting gurus on his ability to land Middleton and, whether you are a Willingham fan or not, he gets his five years at Washington, unless someone miscasts him as a salesman in Glengarry Glenn Ross 

Malamute can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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