It was three years ago, at the press conference announcing his hiring as UW football coach, that Tyrone Willingham said: “It is time for the University of Washington to return to being the dawgs. And it is my understanding that a dawg is a vicious animal.”
At that same press conference, a reporter asked UW Athletic Director Todd Turner about harsh criticism emanating from certain circles in response to Willingham’s hiring.
“Anybody with half a brain can get on the Internet and say whatever they want — pay no attention to that,” Turner said. “I’m not worried. He’s the Huskies coach. Husky fans everywhere are going to support our coach. They may second-guess for a short time if he was the right coach. But over time, as they come to know him and watch our team, they will agree that this guy is special.”
The press conference concluded with Willingham making it clear that he looked toward a time when talk would be about bowl games and not the fact he was one of college football’s few black head coaches.
“We want to get to the point in our culture where that is not the focus, where it really is the body of work being done,” said Willingham.
Nearly three seasons and thirty-three games into his body of work, the verdict is in. Featured is an overall record of 10-23, including an abysmal 3-7 mark this season. In multiple games, Willingham’s team has collapsed in stupefying fashion. The defense and special teams play rank among the worst in Washington football history. Recruiting is in a freefall toward oblivion. The Huskies are considered a laughingstock of not only the Pac-10, but also the Northwest (where they once ruled for decades with an iron fist).
Furthermore, Willingham’s stoic personality and aloof attitude have not endeared him to the fan base and a majority of boosters. He provides no inspiration, no confidence and no sense of hope. He also incensed many with his recent attempts to deflect blame upon his players for the string of devastating losses. History will note that Willingham is the first coach in 118 years of Husky Football to suffer three consecutive losing seasons.
It must be said that Willingham was hired back in 2004 to clean up the mess left in the wake of former coaches Rick Neuheisel and Keith Gilbertson, who suffered under the ineffectual leadership of former Athletic Director Barbara Hedges. The 2004 squad, under Gilbertson, went 1-10. To Willingham’s credit, the specter of NCAA investigations, which plagued the Neuheisel years, has disappeared off UW’s radar. For that, Husky fans can thank him.
Beyond that, the future remains bleak with Willingham at the helm. The team looks no better, and in some ways worse, than the 2004 edition. The shooting comet that is Jake Locker’s college career will pass oh-so-quickly. A current NFL General Manager recently told KJR’s Hugh Millen that Locker (a redshirt freshman!) is already one of the special quarterback talents “in the history of football.” Locker is an amazing gift to Washington, and one that can’t be squandered. For this young man’s sake, a dynamic coach who can recruit is needed to surround Locker with top-shelf talent. This is necessary so Locker can get to a BCS bowl before his jump to the NFL. For Washington’s sake, a dynamic coach capable of bestowing belief and vision is needed to capitalize on the Locker years and better teach the fundamentals of playing football to the UW players.
Former Husky player and Atlanta Falcons coach Jim L. Mora fits that bill. He is almost certainly available for the taking, in his current capacity as assistant coach for the Seattle Seahawks. From his days as defensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers, Mora is renown as a defensive mastermind and dynamic presence. Current Atlanta players, like ex-Husky Lawyer Milloy, rave about Mora’s leadership skills and greatness as a head coach.
As KJR’s Mitch Levy recently stated on-air, Mora represents a “Get out of jail free card” to the Huskies. Given the financial and public pressure currently being placed upon UW President Mark Emmert, it is clear the time for change should nearly be at hand. The Husky legacy is literally at stake. It’s a great year for high school talent in the state of Washington, and it’s not too late to harvest a good recruiting crop. Mora could swoop in and transform this recruiting class from drab to dynamite, but the window of opportunity is closing.
The time to make the move is this December, at the conclusion of the football season.