Slow countdown to Tyrone Willingham's exit begins
From the brink, Tyrone Willingham called opening his eyes Monday morning an achievement. He's alive and employed, at least. If the keys to...
Seattle Times staff columnist
From the brink, Tyrone Willingham called opening his eyes Monday morning an achievement. He's alive and employed, at least. If the keys to his office still work today, he'll probably need a plaque to commemorate the feat.
This is what a four-games-old season has come to: a day-by-day, mistake-by-mistake, wrenching anticipation of the inevitable. It's no longer worth wondering if Willingham can save his job. He's finished at Washington. Basic arithmetic suggests he could still win enough this season to be retained, but if there were mathematicians at Husky Stadium on Saturday, even they would agree it's over.
Willingham is avoiding the ax only to complete a season he was promised last December. When UW president Mark Emmert gave the coach another year, it set up an intriguing win-or-walk season. But it took only four games to decide the great drama of this year. For all his integrity, Willingham cannot coach the Huskies out of despair.
He will be fired, either when the season ends or if athletic director Scott Woodward is forced to act sooner because of mounting purple rage. In the meantime, the process will be as painful as realizing Stanford has better athletes than the Huskies.
When asked why he should keep his job, Willingham leaned into the microphone and reacted with his trademark stoicism.
"Because I have the enthusiasm for it," he said in a soft monotone. "The focus, the concentration for it, and I'm still very much into what I'm doing."
He'd have an easier time convincing you to climb Mount Rainier in your skivvies.
Willingham did his best to squash any thoughts that he was a dead coach walking, but it's too late. The innuendo is here to stay. The uproar will grow even louder with each loss. Now without Jake Locker, the players have fewer options to quell the outrage.
Willingham is prepared to tumble on, same as he has done throughout his 11-29 tenure. Barring a catastrophe beyond losing, Woodward is prepared to let this season expire. The AD reiterated Monday what he has said since taking the job two weeks ago: Willingham will stay the entire year.
Such news won't help the fans rise each morning, but Willingham continues to get out of bed. In fact, he's not above using the ordinary task as inspiration.
To questions of what keeps him motivated now, Willingham mentioned his trek from childhood to adulthood, all the failures that led to successes, and then he turned comical.
"And I've had quite a few successes since I was born," he said. "Waking up this morning was one of those, and it's not bad."
Willingham is still breathing. Beyond that, all is uncertain.
Now, this is about the time when all my detractors should be in full blame mode. They will say I contributed to this mess by supporting another year for Willingham. And you know what? They are absolutely right.
I was wrong.
I don't regret it, but I was wrong.
I misjudged the situation. I thought the defense would improve, Locker would play extraordinary football and the Huskies would mask their youth. I thought Willingham could win seven games this season and finally show significant progress. I thought three years wasn't enough to accurately judge a coach with a massive rebuilding assignment and figured patience was appropriate.
It turns out the Huskies weren't worthy of so high an opinion. It turns out Willingham can't make it work here. So the long, arduous walk begins.
Woodward's stance on keeping Willingham for eight more games is an unpopular move, but it's the right one.
Emmert decided to give the coach another year; it is only right that he commits to more than four games, or half a season, or three-fourths of a season. Firing Willingham won't stop the losing. In fact, losing a permanent leader for eight games would hurt a freshman horde that needs disciplined instruction.
Criticize Willingham for all the losses, but you cannot discredit his desire to coach his players the best way he knows. Even though he's an unofficial lame duck, he'll manage this team with the same energy he would if he'd just signed a new five-year deal.
It's one reason that Emmert and former athletic director Todd Turner were once so giddy over hiring Willingham. Four years later, that move has produced 29 losses in 40 games and divided the fan base more than it already was.
So this is how the Willingham drama ends — slow, monotonous, excruciating. It couldn't be any more agonizing, unless Willingham foolishly allows Locker to play another position while his broken thumb heals.
That offense would require an immediate firing. Otherwise, we'll continue this difficult crawl to inevitability.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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