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The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

December 5, 2008 at 12:15 PM

Willingham implies UW “downtrodden”

I’ve landed in San Francisco and I see several of you have already linked a story from the AP wire today recapping an interview Tyrone Willingham gave this week to the Chicago Tribune.
Here’s the original story, and it’s written by Fred Mitchell who wrote a fawning book of Willingham during his Notre Dame years.
In the story, Mitchell refers to UW’s 1-10 record in 2004, the year before Willingham took over, then quotes Willingham saying that minority coaches are often left to take over programs that are “downtrodden.”
That’s a separate issue. No one will deny that minority coaches deserve more chances to coach at D-I schools, and that D-I schools should do more to make sure they are giving minority coaches every opportunity. Right on to that argument.
But specifically to Washington, this seems like another case of Willingham trying to spin how horrible the situation was when he took over, as he has done often since being let go.
Pretty soon, it’ll be that UW had 15 scholarship players and had to go to Target to get footballs when Willingham took over.
Fact is, UW had had 27 straight non-losing seasons — and all but two of those winning seasons — before 2004. Granted, 2004 was bad, But as I’ve detailed previously, four of the five UW captains that season were lost for the year to injury before the season ended — the injury situation that year was much worse than anything Willingham had to face during his Husky tenure. And unlike Willingham’s five-year contract, which gave him a status the players had to respect, everyone knew Keith Gilbertson was gone once the team started 0-3, given that he had a two-year deal and was basically regarded by everyone as an interim coach. Even then, the team played far more competitively the rest of the way than this year’s team has, despite what Willingham may tell you.
And the Huskies officially started just five seniors that season (more than five started at various times, but the roster listed in the media guide under all-time starting lineups lists just five seniors as dominant starters for that year). Willingham took over a young team with what was probably better talent than has been portrayed after the fact — it’s pretty obvious he wasn’t getting the most out of his players here. The 2004 season, to overuse a cliche, was a Perfect Storm of a bad season when everything went wrong, and not an accurate long-term portrayal of where the program was at the time. He took over a young team that had been riddled by injuries —- what many coaches would see as an opportunity, not “downtrodden.” I remember talking with coaches before that season began and they said the team could win seven or eight games. Willingham himself told the team it should expect nothing less than a bowl game, maybe one in January.
Maybe Willingham wasn’t specifically referring to UW as “downtrodden.” But if he did, he’s mistaken. UW didn’t have the pieces in place to compete with USC when he took over. But it sure as heck had a lot more in place than finishing ninth or 10th every year that he was here, as has been the case. No way this program should have gone 11-36 since then. And downtrodden programs don’t draw crowds of 64,000 in the midst of school-record losing streaks for games that everyone knows the team is going to lose decisively. This program has problems, but it’s still capable of a top 25 finish every year given the the right coaching situation.
(And if this all seems like old news, it’s Willingham who keeps bringing it up, not the rest of us.).
It’s all just more proof that the end of the Willingham era can’t come soon enough.

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