In the hours following UW’s 37-23 pounding of the California Bears, Husky fans have asked en masse if they’re witnessing a renaissance. So few victories have come Washington’s way in recent years , it’s only natural to peer into rain clouds in a search for that proverbial silver lining.
True enough, the Cal Bears put up as much resistance as a wet mop. But of course, that’s their problem and not Washington’s, for Tyrone Willingham had his team ready to play. The UW offensive line blew open mammoth holes while Louis Rankin and Brandon Johnson sprinted through them for chunks of yardage. The maligned Husky defense kept in check the notoriously potent Bear offense. This resulted in the day’s main nicety: smiles on the Huskies’ faces, during a season with little to be happy about.
In the aftermath of UW’s win, some questions call for answers: Why couldn’t the Huskies have played this way earlier in the season? Why wait until it no longer mattered? Is this finally a turning point for the program? Or is this the equivalent of a doctor treating a broken leg with just a shot of pain killer and a slap on the back?
In short, does Coach Tyrone Willingham deserve more time? His supporters argue that rocking the boat would only serve to disrupt the budding continuity already in place. The big win over Cal certainly bolsters their argument.
The other side asks, “What’s the point of maintaining continuity when the team has three separate 6-game losing streaks under Willingham, currently ranks low in defensive and special teams categories, and is projected to harvest a dismal recruiting class?
As stated in last week’s column, I take the position that there’s a limited window to capitalize on the Jake Locker years at Washington. There exists an intriguing potential replacement in the form of Jim L Mora, currently an assistant with the Seahawks.
One interesting parallel to the UW debate is the Seattle Mariners, which takes us back to the 2006 season. Following the All-Star break, the M’s believed they were in position to get into the playoffs and make some noise, after several years of stuggling.
But then the Mariners left town on a road trip, where they went 0-11. This obliterated any chanches for stamping the season a success. Come September, when they were out of contention and feeling very little pressure, they rallied to win several games. This strong finish gave the front office a shot of confidence. Soon after they announced that the embattled duo of manager Mike Hargrove and GM Bill Bavasi would return for 2007.
“In evaluating the entire season,” said CEO Howard Lincoln at the time, “the way the team rebounded from that terrible 0-11 road trip and the way they have played in September… (gives evidence) that we are making progress.”
Lincoln and Club President Chuck Armstrong sent a letter to the club’s season ticket holders, urging the fans to stick with them. Some of the more vociferous fans had been calling for Hargrove and Bavasi to be fired, via calls to radio stations, letters, emails and blogs, just like the situation at UW with Willingham and Athletic Director Todd Turner.
Said Lincoln a year ago: “My feeling is that when you have confidence in the general manager and field manager and know we are heading in the right direction, there is no reason to switch good horses in the middle of the streak… The way the team rebounded and the way our players continued to play hard for the rest of the season was very positive.”
And so the Seattle Mariners blithely entered the 2007 season… and they saw their manager quit in June followed by the another collapse in August. The angry fans had been right.
However, once again the Mariners kept singing the same song. they announced that they were keeping their GM and manager for another go-round.
The Seattle P-I’s Art Thiel, who normally holds in contempt teams who pull the trigger too quickly on coaches, had an interesting response:
“Is anyone embarrassed here? Apparently not. Upon announcing the retention of GM Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren, CEO Howard Lincoln said, `Bill and John are the two best guys for us right now.’
“Plainly not,” said Thiel, “because Lincoln was also quoted as saying that `it’s so disruptive to an organization to change general managers.’ Since when has `it’s too hard to change’ served as an adequate excuse in any of the successful businesses run by anyone in the ownership group?”
Meanwhile at Montlake, the Washington Huskies sit in a precarious position in their history. Despite the bizzarre comment during Saturday’s telecast by ABC’s Tim Brandt that Willingham is pulling in a “monster” recruiting class, all current evidence points to the contrary.
It would be far easier to be supportive of Willingham if recruiting was flourishing. In fairness to him, the recruiting period isn’t over yet. But the odds of a good class look as likely as Lindsay Lohan eloping with Newt Gingrich this New Year’s Eve.
So the debate amongst Husky fans rages on. Can Washington afford to wait and see?
As famed explorer David Livingstone once said, “I’ll go anywhere as long as it’s forward.”