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Originally published Friday, July 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Tyrone Willingham's job status could be giving UW recruits reason to stall

Uncertainty over the job status of coach Willingham could have recruits delaying a commitment to UW.

Seattle Times staff reporter

It's only mid-July. Still almost seven months until Feb. 7, when high-school senior football players can sign letters of intent to attend the college of their choice.

Plenty of time, in other words, for the Washington Huskies to put together a class like 2008's, which was generally considered to be among the top 20 in the nation and one of the school's best in years.

Still, the fact that UW doesn't yet have any commitments for its Class of 2009 while every other Pac-10 school has at least four — USC has 15 — is raising some eyebrows among those who follow recruiting. And at least a little concern among UW recruitniks, an anxiety often voiced on Huskies-related message boards.

Noting the trend toward earlier commitments, Allen Wallace, publisher of SuperPrep magazine, said UW's shutout is "pretty shocking in today's day and age, no question about it." Washington had five commitments by this date a year ago, and 10 by Aug. 4.

Wallace said he didn't want to guess why the Huskies don't have any commitments. He said it doesn't mean the Huskies can't still put together a solid class, pointing out that many of the top-ranked recruits in the West have yet to make decisions.

Others, however, wonder if recruits might be holding off because of the uncertainty over the future of coach Tyrone Willingham.

Willingham has two years remaining on his five-year contract, with lots of rumblings that he will need a winning record this season to save his job.

Scott Woodward, UW's acting athletic director, said Thursday there has been no talk of a contract extension for Willingham. But he said he doesn't think that will play a factor in recruiting and that he's "not that concerned" about the lack of commitments to date.

"There's a lot of speculation about a lot of coaches," Woodward said. "A lot of coaches have to deal with it. I think once [commitments] start rolling in this will be a non-story."

Still, some wonder if there's a connection.

Greg Biggins, a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said recently, "It is a little surprising. They have offered a handful of in-state players, some of which aren't national-level recruits who I would expect to jump on the local offer. I have never heard any player mention being leery of coach Willingham and his job security, but the lack of even one commitment makes you wonder a little bit."

Receiver Gino Simone of Skyline said the uncertainty is a factor. Simone said he was offered a scholarship by UW during spring football in April but is still waiting to make a decision, having also received offers from Boise State, Washington State and Oregon State.

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"If they don't win some early games, they might not have a job, so I think that weighs heavily on a lot of guys' minds," he said. "They don't want to commit to a lot of guys who may not be there."

Simone, who recently played on a Seattle team that won a national 7-on-7 tournament in New Orleans, said he has heard that same concern voiced by other recruits.

"That's kind of one of the general things that everybody says, is that they don't want to make a commitment to some guys and then have a new group of coaches that you don't really jell with and don't have a good time with it," he said.

However, Garfield defensive tackle Deandre Coleman, generally regarded as the state's top recruit, said Willingham's status isn't an issue with him.

Coleman says UW is No. 1 on his list and knows that it would help the perception if he committed, but says he wants to go through the recruiting process and take his visits in the fall before making a final decision.

"I like Tyrone," he said. "I would like [the coach] to be Tyrone. I like the way he runs the team."

But Coleman also said, "I'm not going to make a decision until I take my visits to make sure."

The Huskies have had at least one commitment by this date every year since 2002.

Recruiting analysts say there could be other factors at play than just Willingham's status.

Washington doesn't figure to have as many scholarships to offer this year due to a smallish senior class. The Huskies have just 14 players in their final season of eligibility and might have only 18 to 20 scholarships to award. The Huskies signed 26 last year.

"With around 17-20 scholarships to give at most, the Huskies' staff has to be very prudent about who they target," said Chris Fetters, the Northwest recruiting analyst for Scout.com.

Also a factor is that this isn't regarded as strong a year for recruits in-state as last year. Recruits who commit early tend to be local players. Still, UW has made at least 30 offers, seven to in-state players, according to Scout.com.

Says Fetters: "Sure, it's surprising that UW is the last to have a commitment in the Pac-10, but I certainly wouldn't jump to any grand conclusions about it. Now if they don't have any commitments by the end of August? Get back to me because something is definitely amiss."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Pac-10 commitments
Known verbal commitments for each Pac-10 school for the football recruiting class of 2009:
School Commitments
USC 15
Stanford 9
Arizona State 7
UCLA 6
Oregon State 5
Oregon 4
Arizona 4
California 4
Washington State 4
Washington 0
Source: Scout.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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