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Dawg days in the desert
Richard Linde, 14 March 2008

It was bright and serene with wispy high clouds and just enough warmth in the air to suggest the searing heat of late spring was near.

Speaking of turning up the heat, we’d just arrived at the Renaissance Esmeralda Hotel and Spa at Indian Wells and couldn’t find the lobby. I was looking around for directions when my wife spotted a black woman getting off the elevator and asked her for directions. “Richard, look who’s here,” she said, and I turned around.

The woman’s husband extended his hand and shook mine, “How are you?” he said, with a wide smile, “I am Tyrone Willingham.”

He was clean shaven, fit and neat in appearance, looking younger than his 55 years. He was shorn of the handsome goatee he sported last year, but Kim, his wife, wasn’t with him then.

Kim and Tyrone led us to the lobby. On the long walk, I complimented Tyrone on his 2008 recruiting class. I told him that there were some Husky moments on the playing field last season that reminded me of the Huskies of old, like the 18-straight rushing plays that started the Hawaii game. Kim’s face brightened noticeably, contrasting with Willingham’s wooden look.

When I opined it would take some time to rebuild the Huskies, both Kim and Tyrone emitted a soft, quizzical-sounding “Mmm,” which told me that his time was running out this year. “I guess I’m more patient than other folks,” I said softly, wishing I hadn’t brought up the subject.

I switched the topic to golf and asked him if he’d played to his six-handicap the last two days in the desert. Kim laughed. “I haven’t played much golf lately,” he said. Whoops, strike two, I thought.  

At the banquet later in the evening, we all met again. Rob Weller (’72) and Richard Karn (’79) emceed the event. Besides the speakers, the Jimmy Cho Trio, a UW jazz combo, enlivened the proceedings with some great music. Throughout the evening, old photos of historic buildings on campus played on two large screens, one positioned on each side of the Emerald Ballroom -- which is set just behind a large swimming pool at the rear end of the hotel.

Like last year’s Chow Down to Washington, Weller and Karn peppered the evening with jokes about Fife, Washington, the small town where Dr. Emmert and his wife, DeLaine, grew up. They joked about moving Husky Stadium to Fife and building a casino there with Fife card stud. Did you hear that a car dealership is coming to Fife, it was said as the evening wore on? The evening was rife with Fife.

Dr. Emmert joked that Cougars and Huskies share one thing in common. They both have applied for admission at the University of Washington. Now that the writers strike is over, he said, Weller and Karn can get someone to write their material.

Emmert’s talk was all about academics and the upper campus; not once did he discuss the lower campus, athletics or the football program – and he said nothing about the hunt for a new AD. Does that mean the upper campus rules?

No, it doesn’t. Dr. Emmert is a strong supporter of UW football. He and his wife convinced me of that four years ago when they talked about their LSU experience in great detail.

The football team is coming off a 4-9 season, the athletics director, er hum, resigned, three new assistant football coaches have been hired, and Tyrone is on the proverbial hot seat, which was implicit in Emmert’s guarded speech.

Instead of trying to spin a tough subject, Emmert talked about the research money the university has raised, and about some of the brilliant students that have attended Washington under his watch. The University of Washington is rated fourteenth in the world, he told us.

Ironically, the school president lives in a 12,000 square-foot mansion at night and goes begging for money by day.

Raising money for the university is Emmert’s pride and joy. He’s brilliant at it, and he’s paid accordingly, reportedly $905,000 a year. A winning football team can be a significant plus in fundraising. Considering Emmert’s passion for cultivating donors and his love of athletics, it is quite clear that he wants to have a coach at Washington that can win the majority of his football games. Clearly, Willingham is on a one-year leash.

At the end of his talk, he said that Dan Evans was in attendance and was raising funds for the Stadium remodel. Before turning the microphone over to the coach, he said this is the Locker era and, also, the Willingham era.

When Willingham took the mike, he sang Emmert's praises with superlatives that contrasted sharply with his own pedestrian introduction by the school president.

He joked about being from the nondescript town of Jacksonville, North Carolina and wondered if the two masters of ceremonies would tell Jacksonville jokes at the next banquet. Some of us wondered whether Ty would be with us next year. In any case, a Jacksonville joke isn’t going to work like a joke about Fife.

Willingham talked about Chris Polk and how he had recruited him away from USC. Polk’s family was split down the middle on his recruitment, but Tyrone said that he had Polk’s mother on his side, his ace in the hole. In Ty Willie’s mind, Polk is to this recruiting class as Locker was to the 2006 class; Willingham said that this class, however, is deeper in more positions than Locker’s.

Tyrone is excited about his recruiting class and talked about its speed.

Speed is a huge issue with Tyrone, always on his mind at Washington. Witness the Blaine Newnham interview a few years ago. Remember those “ahems.” Along with Polk, he mentioned Aguilar and Boyles by name. He talked about an incoming speedster that had set a goal for running the 200 meters in 20.9 seconds.

When the coach mentions a young kid by name at a donor event, it is always significant -- kind of like broadcasting Locker's name last year when we were all wondering who the QB would be. Locker’s speed was on his mind back then.

“If you’re not excited about Locker, you’re not excited about football,” he said at this event. He went on to praise Jake’s humility and dedication to the team.

Willingham spoke highly of his three new assistant coaches: Ed Donatell (defensive coordinator), Brian White (special teams and tight ends) and Steve Gervais (offense and perhaps running backs).

Willingham noted that UW almost had two 1000 yards rushers last season.

He concluded his spiel by saying that the Huskies’ offense averaged 29.2 points per game last season. By reducing the points allowed by 7 points and maintaining the same offensive output, we can win a lot of games next season, he said.

Appearing out of nowhere, DeLaine Emmert was at our table, putting her arms around us, and thanking us for attending the banquet. I made up a poem for her on the fly, rhyming “Fife” with “lovely wife.” She told me she was going to tell her husband about me. Geez, that’s strike three, I thought. * For a fleeting moment, I felt like Jim Moore of the P-I, a pitiful Cougar.

Pictured on the two large screens with the marching band behind him, William Gates Sr. led us in a chorus of Bow Down to Washington, and the evening was over.

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

Notes:

We sat with THE Stewart Anderson (class of ’45) and his charming wife, Helen, during the cocktail hour. Anderson had originally matriculated at Dartmouth. Not liking Dartmouth, he transferred to USC, and then got caught up in World War II. He finished his schooling at UW. Anderson founded the Black Angus restaurant chain.

Don James and former governor Dan Evans were also in attendance.

* Actually, DeLaine complimented me on my poem, which goes like this, Fi-Fie-Fo-Fife, I smell the perfume of a lovely wife.

Fife Jokes ruled the evening. DeLaine and Mark Emmert grew up in Fife.

Fife gives Puyallup a town to look down on.

 

Malamute can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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