Willingham still Montlake's man
Washington athletic director Todd Turner never wavered in his support of Tyrone Willingham this season, while acknowledging the disappointment...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Washington athletic director Todd Turner never wavered in his support of Tyrone Willingham this season, while acknowledging the disappointment of a 4-9 record.
But not everyone was so stone-cold sure Willingham — 11-25 in three seasons at UW — remained the right coach for the Huskies.
So in the days since the Huskies concluded their season with a 35-28 loss Saturday at Hawaii, Turner canvassed the campus community, meeting with UW president Mark Emmert, regents, boosters and others until finally all came to the same conclusion as Turner — that Willingham would be given at least one more year to turn around the Huskies.
"My evaluation was complete," Turner said. "But it was important for me to make sure other people were in agreement, and that takes time and meetings and phone calls and shared data. When you are talking about a big university and its most visible employee, a lot of parties need to have comfort with where you are going."
That process came to an end Wednesday when the Huskies gave Willingham what Turner called "reaffirmation" as football coach.
Turner spoke at a news conference alongside Willingham while Emmert — who has the ultimate say and was said to have heavily debated the issue the past few days — released a statement expressing his support. Emmert said he has confidence Willingham will make the changes needed to turn UW into a winner.
Emmert said he believes Willingham "has the talent, character and drive to reach the level of success we all want for our football program. He and I have discussed the need to evaluate all aspects of the program, determine what changes need to be made to strengthen it and set in motion those changes to point the program in the right direction. Everyone understands we need to become more competitive, and I am confident Tyrone will do what it takes to make that happen."
The most obvious change figures to be to Willingham's coaching staff, particularly on a defense that allowed a school-worst 446.4 yards per game.
Willingham said changes could be coming soon, but offered no specifics. A spokesman said all of the assistants were doing their normal duties Wednesday other than running-backs coach Trent Miles, who has left to become head coach at Indiana State.
Willingham said he has made staff changes at other schools. He has yet to make any in his three years at UW other than to replace coaches who have left voluntarily.
"We will evaluate as we normally do and make the appropriate decisions," Willingham said.
The only UW football coach with three straight losing seasons, Willingham said he always "believed I would be the coach." But he admitted his reluctance to speak to reporters Tuesday after a UW team meeting indicated a certain level of uncertainty, saying he didn't feel comfortable saying anything until he had "the correct information."
Emmert surely debated the finances involved — Willingham has two years left on his contract paying him roughly $1.4 million guaranteed each season and would have been owed $3 million were he fired before Jan. 3, 2008.
There was some thought that the perception of making such a payoff at a time the school is trying to get money from the Legislature was among the factors considered by Emmert.
There have been no talks of a contract extension, Turner said.
Turner said one of the key considerations in his mind was the fact that recruiting is judged to be going well. The Huskies have 19 commitments, including one from Kavario Middleton, a tight end from Lakes generally considered the top prospect in the state.
Turner also noted the team "was gutty"' and "never gave in" this season. Five of UW's losses were by seven points or fewer. Turner said other than not winning enough, the experience of players going through Willingham's program has been good.
But all sides acknowledged the time for building is done and that next year has to be about winning.
Willingham said he would ask those fans who have run out of patience to "please hold on. We've had some rough and turbulent waters to navigate when I arrived. Hopefully we are in the process of getting through those difficult waters and now getting to punch our way through and becoming the football team I think we can be."
While most will figure UW has to get at least a winning season and a bowl game in 2008 for Willingham to retain his job further, Turner said he wouldn't state such a clearly defined goal for what will make next year a success.
"I would never do that," he said. "I think that's too limiting. There are always conditions and situations that can occur that are beyond your control and you don't want to put yourself in a box. I would much rather say we will know it when we see it because there will be enthusiasm and excitement surrounding what is going on down on the field. I think we'll know when we get there."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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