Well, this category won’t elicit any controversy, will it? I see the mere mention of even trying to do this generated dozens of comments.
But here goes anyway:
COACH OF THE DECADE: Rick Neuheisel. Really, who else could it be? Neuheisel was the coach for the only three winning seasons of this decade, a combined 26-11, as well as leading UW to the only three bowl games UW played in this decade.
There’s not enough data on Steve Sarkisian to really consider him, even if you think that early indications are that he will be a better fit for this school than was Neuheisel. The only other two head coaches this decade were Keith Gilbertson and Tyrone Willingham.
So Neuheisel it is.
You can debate forever what would have happened had he stayed. Neuheisel said in an interview with the Times last year he would have kept the winning seasons coming. Lots of people around the program beg to differ, pointing to the way things seemed to be sliding his last two years — UW was 8-9 in his last 17 games, a stretch saved only by winning the three games that encompassed his famed “Northwest Championship” in 2002.
I’ve never figured out how he would have changed what was the biggest problem the team had in the bottoming-out season of 2004 (granted, there were many) — the quarterback carousel. Neuheisel recruited all three that played that season, and also hired their position coach, John Pettas. Neuheisel wasn’t fired until the summer of 2003, so if he had plans to bring someone in to magically change the situation by fall of 2004, it wasn’t evident at the time.
But he also provided the touches that allowed the 2000 team to go 11-1 and win the Rose Bowl, the last great season in team history. And his overall record of 33-16, 67.3 percent, remains the best at UW of the post-World War II era, other than Don James. Obviously, you can argue he wasn’t around long enough to fully validate it, but the record is what it is.
His recruiting record, however, is shakier on paper, though his supporters argue that Neuheisel would have developed his players better so it’s not fair to hold it against him how those players did once he left.
But the reality is that in five years (giving him credit for both the 1999 and 2003 classes), he signed just three players who earned all-conference honors — Reggie Williams in 2002 and 2003 as a receiver, Charles Frederick in 2003 as a returner, and C.J. Wallace in 2006 as a safety.
Jim Lambright, in the previous five years (1994-98 recruiting classes), signed 13 players who earned all-conference honors at least once.
Neuheisel also signed just one player who ended up as a first-round draft pick — Williams — and only six who were selected in any round.
Lambright signed one first-round pick (Jerramy Stevens) and a couple of others who probably should have been (Corey Dillon, Olin Kreutz) and 15 who were eventually drafted.
Of the All-Decade team I put together, Neuheisel signed 14 players — giving him credit for Cody Pickett and John Anderson, who committed to Lambright and surely would have signed anyway had he stayed as coach, but who ultimately signed with Neuheisel — to nine for Lambright and three for Willingham.
One reader suggested I name some assistant coaches of the decade. But given the way the record played out, they’d pretty much all be guys who coached from 2000-2002. You’d have to go with Gilbertson as the offensive coordinator of the decade. And while the defenses obviously weren’t great in that era, they were better than anything that came after it, so Neuheisel’s defensive coordinator, Tim Hundley, would have to get that nod as well. He also held a job that bounced around a lot this decade longer than anyone, four years total.
This has proven to be a pretty popular set of entries, so I will continue them with a look at the games and performances of the decade, as well as answering some comments I’ve gotten about some of the other selections.