Ed Cunningham gives thoughts on Willingham


In the wake of Wednesday’s press conference announcing Tyrone Willingham’s return as UW coach, to say that emotions are running high is to call the 1980 Mt Saint Helens eruption a hiccup.  Instead of bringing resolution to the masses, the Husky fan base remains fractured and furious.

Former Husky and current ABC broadcaster Ed Cunningham is hopeful when emotions finally cool that logic will prevail– and Husky fans can once again unite behind the team.   

“I just want everyone to take a deep breath,” said Cunningham.  “Do I think that in the next couple of years Willingham needs to be held accountable to winning 8,9,10 or 11 games a year and competing for the Pac-10 Championship?  Absolutely.  It’s just that I have first-hand knowledge of how bad it was under Rick Neuheisel (prior to Willingham’s arrival in 2005).  And so based on that, it’s too early to pull the plug.

“I came up for the last Spring game before Rick was let go (in 2003), and they couldn’t have a game.  It confused me.  It was really controlled, and not even like a glorified practice, but just a regular practice.  So I asked around, and the reason was they only had three offensive linemen on scholarship.  If you don’t have that core, you’re in trouble.  Look at any championship team at any level, from the NFL on down, and tell me that they don’t have an outstanding offensive line. 

“Of course, this is a topic near and dear to my heart,” said Cunningham, a former NFL center.  “But for the Huskies to allow the foundation of the program to deteriorate was unacceptable.  One of the more important aspects of having a physical offensive line is that it makes your defense better.  When you’re going against the defense in practice, you’re making them better, you’re making them tougher.  And we didn’t have that.”

Cunningham pointed to Notre Dame as an example, given that the Irish sputtered to a 3-9 record in 2007.       

“Notre Dame was horrendous this year because their offensive line was horrendous,” he said.  “They were the worst team in the country because their offensive line was the worst in the country.  It takes years to rebuild that. 

“I would argue that the most improved unit on the entire Husky team this year was the offensive line,” he said.  “To me, that shows hope.  That shows that the core and foundation of the program is going the right direction.  I feel like there were massive amounts of improvement on the offensive line, and it is something that can be built around.

“And listen, I understand the frustration that some fans feel,” he said.  “But let’s keep in perspective just how tough the schedule was.  Should they have played better and do I wish they had some more identity, especially on defense?  Absolutely, and I think those changes need to be made.  And I think the coaches should be held accountable for those changes. 

“For example, right now I don’t think they are maximizing Jake Locker’s talents,” he said.  “If they can’t maximize his talents, and if they can’t find an identity on defense, then they need to be held accountable.  But right now, the signs point toward the foundation being rebuilt properly.”

I took a couple of minutes to express my concerns to Cunningham, based on the predication that Washington should win nine games a year and compete for the Pac-10 Championship.  Of my heartache in seeing the defense rank 110th in the nation.  Of my concern that Tyrone Willingham, in 13 years as a head coach, has only won one bowl game and is 11-25 at Washington.  I pointed to the allure of Jim L. Mora, and how we will likely never know if he could have been UW’s version of Pete Carroll. 

“Well, the second string quarterback and the coach that you don’t have are the two most popular people when you’re not winning games,” said Cunningham with a laugh.  “It’s not a football fan condition; it’s a human condition.  We want what we cannot have.  How many cliches are available for that kind of thing?  The grass is greener on the other side of the fence, etc.  As football fans, we have a tendency to rush to judgment.  There are many examples out there of programs that wanted to run off their coach that ended up being successful in the long run because they kept their coach there.  Virginia Tech, Kentucky, the list goes on and on.  There’s a lot of them.

“If the Huskies had gone out this year and lost by 40 to Ohio State, by 60 to USC and by 30-40 points to Hawaii, then it’s GET OUT!  LEAVE!  YOU’VE GOT TO GO!

“But if you look at the Husky roster, and you see the lack of depth, especially in the secondary, you understand that you’re dealing with a three and half quarter team.  I would hope they would be (all the way) by next year. 

“And look, I have concerns,” he said.  “When I look at it from an analytical standpoint, study films, talk to the coaches, watch the games, I have some concerns.  There were times when the defense didn’t look like it knew what it was doing.  Especially in today’s game, the secondary has got to improve or they’re not going to win many games next year. 

“But I feel that enough of a foundation has been built that warrants giving Willingham another year.  The players like and respect Tyrone, they’re beginning to keep the in-state players at home.  There are some promising signs.

“And listen, 4-9 stinks,” he said.  “There’s no two ways about it.  There are a lot of football programs around the country that have a knee-jerk reaction to these kinds of situations.  I would hope that the Husky Nation has a little more patience and tolerance.  I really do.  To see that we may not like where it’s at right now, but let’s see where it’s headed.  If we give it enough time and see it’s not headed in the right direction, OK, make the change.  But not yet.

“I just want everyone to take a deep breath and remember what happened to the program,” he said.  “It’s funny, because everyone always says to me that I’ve got a personal vendetta against Rick Neuheisel.  I ask people all the time to graph out what happened at the University of Colorado and the University of Washington during the years that Rick Neuheisel was the coach.  If you lay those graphs side-by-side, they’re identical.  There’s a little flash with other people’s players and other people’s discipline, and then it starts to trickle off down into NCAA violations. 

“I just want everyone to take a 35,000 feet view of what happened to our football program,” he said.  “It was pretty tragic Derek.  Let’s aspire as an institution to not have knee-jerk reactions and not let emotion drive the decisions.  Let’s try to look at it from an analytical point of view.”




Filed under football, Huskies

19 responses to “Ed Cunningham gives thoughts on Willingham

  1. Big Dave

    I’m sorry Derek, but I think all the excuses Ed brings up ie. tough schedule etc. are a huge steaming load of horse shit.
    Ty is a mediocre head coach and one more year will just put the program a year farther behind.
    I’ve been going to games since the late sixties as a kid with my dad. I have had my own seats since 1980. When I get my renewal notice this January I’ll decide if it is worth it for another year of Ty ball.
    This makes me sick to my stomach.


  2. Husky Fan In New York

    I greatly appreciate Ed Cunningham and Derek for this article. Ed Cunningham is a great Husky and is one of the best analysts I’ve encountered (does his best to be impartial during Husky broadcasts too). Cunningham, as a intelligent person and former OLman, knows that the foundation of any program comes from the lines, especially the OL. The pillars were slowing crumbling under Skippy Neuheisel and needed to be slowly built back up under Willingham. While I’m concerned about the young (yet talented) DL, the OL should be dominant in 2008!

  3. David Mescher

    Excellent analysis by one of the brightest guys that has ever worn purple and gold. Too bad he is not a coach. He would be excellent. But he’s got a great job. Just wish more of our games were on ESPN so we could hear him more often.

  4. Trevor

    lost a lot of respect for Cunningham in that interview– his arguments implode on themselves.

    If Locker, God forbid, goes down the season is lost, Fouch may have talent but I seriously doubt he is ready to start, and we only have true freshmen behind him.

    As others have stated the offensive line at ND was the biggest problem last year and Ty did not recruit enough players.

    The previous 2 years the problem at ND was the secondary and again Ty did not recruit enough DBs. Sound familiar at UW, defensive secondary depth was a problem when he arrived and he still has not adequately addressed it.

    Wide receiver and defensive line next year are also positions that are beyond green in experience and running back is not going to be that much better. Ty does not do a very good of managing his roster and ensuring adequate depth. And now he is only recruiting one JC transfer to fix these deficiencies.

    There is a good chance that our defense is going to be worse next year.
    There is no real basis to expect this team with this schedule to win 8 games next year.

    Gerry Dinardo was 33-24-1 after 5 years at LSU and Emmert fired him. It was a good decision but even if Ty wins his next 22 games in a row he still can’t equal that record. And that is not going to happen.

  5. Amantia

    Uh, Notre Dame wasn’t 2-10, they were 3-9 (not that much different from UW). While they certainly did suck, the fact that they beat three teams would indicate that they were not the worst team in the country. Given the level of recruiting that they have enjoyed there since Lionel Tyrone was fired, I would expect that they will return to center stage much faster than a Willingham-coached Husky team.

  6. Pete

    Analytical, no emotions, patience, tolerance, sounds like you interviewed Ty himself.

    Football is emotion, it is forcing your will on others, defeating them. It is modern day version of the Roman Coliseum. No emotion? be analytical? Fine, then Mr Cunningham (who I have always admired, and respected)is willing to risk the eligibility and talent of Jake Locker by waiting another eligibility year (Jakes Sophomore)then if the change is made in 09 (Jakes Junior)he must adapt to another coach, another system, in which will most likely be his last as a collegiate. So in other words, Mr Cunningham is willing to throw away arguably the best talent UW has seen in many years for what? political correctness? being perceived as “good guys because they bent over backwards for Ty? I wonder if Ty was not a minority if all this discussion would be taking place? I seriously doubt it. The coach would have been fired or coerced into resigning just like Doba at WSU. Why is Mr Cunningham is not upset with the forced resignation of Doba (after all WSU had one less loss than the dawgs.

    If I saw the improvement in Jake, the defense schemes, the receivers, the tackling, the on field communication, and I could go on and on, I would not feel as I do. But we have not seen improvement I expect from the Huskies coach after 3 years. I supported ty through out the first 21/2 years, but he continual breakdowns leave me with only one conclusion, and that is that ty does not have the ability to consistently maintain the UW Football program at the level of excellence that I expect. He may even compete every few years, much like ucla, or oregon. This does not meet Husky expectations. Wasting Jakes talents, is inexcusable, ty should have been fired, but was kept, for what, in my opinion political correctness! Unreal!

  7. rpm88yb

    I’m really tired of people saying that firing Ty would have been a knee jerk or “instant gratification” reaction. It has been 3 years, after year 1 or year 2, I might buy that argument… but if anything I believe that the hardcore Husky fans have been incredibly patient to date. This is a fan base that hasn’t seen a bowl game in 5 years, hasn’t been able to cheer for a team with a winning record in 5 years. There are always excuses:

    Year 1 it was there isn’t any depth and Gilby/Neu left the program in shambles, Ty’s system isn’t in.

    Year 2 was there isn’t any depth, & Isaiah got injured, he doesn’t have his players.

    Year 3 was we have a freshman qb, there isn’t any depth, they aren’t all his players (he didn’t recruit them), the schedule was hard

    Next year it is going to be we are too young at WR, and the DLine, we don’t have any depth in the secondary, the schedule was hard, Gilby didn’t recruit his last year (but Ty gets a pass on his first class?)

    The time for excuses has come and gone, 60% of this team was Ty’s recruits last year, I would imagine 85% will be next year. And regardless of whether Ty recruited a player or not, they are all his guys now. They have spent more time with him as a coach then any other. The only performance measure that should matter next year is wins and losses, period.

  8. David

    ask Mr. Cunningham why ND had such a week O-Line this year.

    BECAUSE WILLINGHAM DIDNT RECRUIT O-LINEMAN!! Weis has recruited agressively but they were only frosh and sophs this year.

    please ask him to correct the various other factual errors such as the number of O-lineman on Ricks team and the number of wins last year for ND.

  9. John

    I totally respect Mr. Cunningham and his views. I think some of what he said has at least some merit. However, the reality is that Willigham’s 13 year track record is unmistakably clear; he is at best an average coach, period. This hiring decision of three years ago was inexcusable!

  10. domenico1

    Virtually every “great” coach has had losing seasons when initially taking the helm—1,2,3 losing seasons before reaching 500 or a winning season? See Lombardi, Parcells, etc.
    Willingham’s dismissal by Notre Dame after three seasons was premature at best, foolhardy at worst, when considering little difference from current Weis record over the same period. Apparently, Washington fans
    We know advising patience to rabid football (read all sports aficonados) fans is also a foolhardy venture. But Bosox, Chicago Cubs fans, etc. hung in there and the former were finally were rewarded.
    Incidentally, ND putting teams like Duke, Navy on a year’s schedule should give its fans pause in their ardor.

  11. domenico1

    Virtually every “great” coach has had losing seasons when initially taking the helm—1,2,3 losing seasons before reaching 500 or a winning season? See Lombardi, Parcells, etc.
    Willingham’s dismissal by Notre Dame after three seasons was premature at best, foolhardy at worst, when considering little difference from current Weis record over the same period.
    We know advising patience to rabid football (read all sports aficonados) fans is also a foolhardy venture. But Bosox, Chicago Cubs fans, etc. hung in there and the former were finally were rewarded.
    Incidentally, ND putting teams like Duke, Navy on a year’s schedule should give its fans pause in their ardor.

  12. Vegas Dawg

    I too thought for a moment that some of Cunningham’s commnets were straight from the mouth of Tyrone.His lone commnent about the defense being out of position upon review of the film says it all. I watched a film clip of the fianl WSU touchdown where there was not a Husky defender within 20 years of the receiver. It is one thing to have a roster of less talented player, it is quite another to have these same players poor coached.

  13. Husky19

    Tackling was much better this year, OL, DL, LBs, RB all showed improvement. Locker was awesome for his first year at the helm. TE’s went backwards, WR’s stayed the same, DB’s stayed the same. I believe in JD Williams but I think the D-Coordinator needs to re-evaluate his strategy and defense or be let go.

    With Middleton at TE, this position will improve regardless who coaches them. Talented RBs, WRs and skill players are arriving.

    AND PETE, football is more mental and physical then emotional. In fact if you are too emotional, this usually leads to dropped passes, over thrown balls, over pursuit, missed assignments. Like anything, once the emotions wear off (and trust me they do) after the first qtr, the fundamentals and mental aspect of the game are more important. To think you need to be emotional is crap. Some people need it some don’t, but to say our coach needs impose that on the players is crap. I know that many Huskies through the years have been incredible players without much celebration, yelling, jumping up & down, talking trash. These guys know that it is a job, you go to work, do your job well and get it done.

    Also he is not wasting Locker’s talents and for you to say that is absolutely ridiculous. Are you a coach for division 1 program? A NFL scout? What do you base your statement that he is wasting Locker’s talents?

    There are less mental breakdowns, less pentalties, and there has been improvement in fundamentals. Yes there are a few breakdowns and I agree with Ed, the defense looked lost at times. This is the one glaring area that I feel needs to be addressed in the off season.

  14. Legacy Dawg

    Too many people claiming to be Dawg fans want to turn is into Ole Miss. How many coaches can you fire in 10 years? Are we striving for some kind of record?

    Anybody that says they didn’t see improvement in the team this year isn’t paying attention. This team competed with everybody we played. The depth chart and youth at the QB position took its toll in the fourth quarter, and so we lost games. But the offense ran the ball effectively for the first time since 2001. Locker’s play visibly improved over the year. Rankin visibly improved over the year, and so did the O-Line. Those are things you have to attribute to the OC and offensive coaches. Willingham brought them in, so give him credit.

    On the other hand, the D was terrible. You can blame that on any of the D coaches, and Willingham brought them in. So blame TW. But that can be fixed by bringing in a new DC. Not many head coaches in college ball call the plays on O or D, and most of the coaching is done by position coaches. Let TW replace the DC and we’ll see what happens.

    Stop whining. Nobody cares if you, a fan of 40 years who has contributed $27 to the Tyee club, is considering not renewing season tickets. Please don’t, it means mine will get better and when the team does well next year, I’ll have a closer view of the field.

  15. 3 of 5

    This was an outstanding article. Regardless of who took over, the rebuilding project at UW was a five year plan. Cunningham hits a bullseye when he focuses on the Offensive line. He easily could have continued the analysis of Neuheisel’s legacy and continued this into some bad and unbalanced recruiting by both Neuheisel and Gilbertson. I don’t blame Gilby because he was inheriting a sinking ship and did what he could do.

    Ty’s ’07 and ’08 classes are exactly the type of talent base UW has needed for years. This is certain to pay off. Even if Ty turned out to be the wrong coach, he will have certainly injected enough talent to get this program back to where it needs to be, which is fighting at the top of the pac. But I’m happy that the administration is giving Ty at least 1 more year. Imagine us losing these recruits that are buying into the system. Imagine losing Juan Garcia and possibly a few more. Imagine having these kids enduring yet another coaching change and a new play book. Maybe in the future if things don’t work out, but not now.

    Oh, and it should be clearly stated that not all husky fans are in the fire Ty crowd. Certainly quite a few alumni aren’t either. At this point their is nothing useful they can bring to the program, so let’s not give them a louder voice than they deserve.

  16. Big Dave

    Legacy dog writes this gem:
    Too many people claiming to be Dawg fans want to turn is into Ole Miss.— HUH?

    Then Legacy dog writes this:
    The D was terrible. You can blame that on any of the D coaches, and Willingham brought them in. So blame TW.
    —-You are onto something there

    Legacy dog again:
    Nobody cares if you, a fan of 40 years who has contributed $27 to the Tyee club is considering not renewing season tickets.
    —I know I am not the only one reconsidering their financial contributions and realize I may not be missed.
    27 bucks may be a tad low, but in the last couple years a 65 dollar ticket was going for 5 bucks at the stadium…If you were there you would know that.

    The best way to show my displeasure with this decision
    is to cancel my tickets and donations and let Dr. Emmert know why.

    Enjoy your seat upgrade, junior, and I’m sure your donations will cancel mine out.

    Big Dave

  17. Donald Jones

    Ed shows once again why he is the smartest Husky ever. I had dinner with Ed a few years ago and we were both amazed at how much the talent level had fallen. I went to a Husky legend reunion back in 2004 and had a chance to watch a spring football practice. I remember feeling bad for the program and I also felt bad for Ty and his coaching staff because he had very little talent to work with. You cant win without good players. How many players from Washington made it in the NFL the past 3 years? You can count them on one hand. We all knew that it was going to take 3-4 years for them to rebuild this program. I believe Coach Willingham can get the job done. Any coach that can get Stanford to the Rose Bowl can coach and if the players believe in him then so should we.

  18. Don

    Two thoughts in support of not only a new coach but a new staff. Look at the adjustments made by opposing teams in the second half vs the adjustments the Huskies failed to make. The numbers don’t lie. I am not an expert on football but I know when a man is out of his element—it shows in his demeanor and on his face. We should having but the best–period, and we arent even close

  19. Matt

    I suppose it would be poor form to point out that the reason Notre Dame had the worst O-Line in the nation last year is because they were playing all Freshmen and Sophomores there. Our “coach” left that cupboard pretty bare.

    I am in the camp that wants Willingham gone tomorrow. Aside from one fluke PAC-10 championship at Stanford (which was ages ago), what has he done to deserve all these high profile jobs? He is a career sub-.500 coach who is a lazy recruiter. (I would argue the two are intimately related.)

    I think the only reason we kept Willingham is because the Administration is afraid of the racial backlash Notre Dame got when they canned his inept *ss.

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