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Originally published Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Jerry Brewer

Big-time coaches won't come running to big-trouble UW

Coaches are focused mostly on the safest, best-paying, high-profile jobs, and right now Washington is too risky for many of them, despite its tradition.

Seattle Times staff columnist

The current star candidate is a deadpanning football savant fascinated with pirates.

The most enthusiastic candidate is a brash man coaching in Fresno who has a Fu Manchu-ish mustache that would make him a better option to be a character on "American Chopper."

The most desired candidate is a myth, a man locked into an agreement to coach the pro team across town, despite the never-say-never outcries.

This process to find the Washington football savior has been, ahem, eccentric. It seems to have three layers: unbalanced, maniacal and bonkers.

It was probably an unavoidable quandary for a proud program on the verge of going woe-and-12 for the first time. Diamond-studded coaches don't drop their clipboards and run with arms flailing to pursue such a challenge. For all the superfluous credit they receive if things go right, they're a bashful breed when it comes to danger. Coaches are focused mostly on the safest, best-paying, high-profile jobs, and right now Washington is too risky for many of them, despite its tradition.

Unless UW president Mark Emmert is waiting until the last minute to pull a Saban out of his hat, the expectation of a flashy, splashy hire should yield to hope that the Huskies can mine the lesser-known coaches to find the right man.

Sometime this month, athletic director Scott Woodward will announce a new coach who will require some good fortune-telling. He won't already be a rock star. He'll make a sizable chunk of the fan base wince at first. There will be serious reservations about whether he can be another Don James.

But it won't mean Woodward made a bad hire or botched the search. The reality of the Huskies' current state is that they must take a chance on someone because most surefire coaches aren't willing to take a chance on them.

That's OK, too. Some of the Huskies' peers have done the same thing to rebuild themselves.

In 1999, Oklahoma hired Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida, an acclaimed young assistant but an inexperienced selection for a school with the stature of Oklahoma.

Now, Bob Stoops has the Sooners competing for the national title every year.

In 2000, Ohio State replaced John Cooper with the coach of Division I-AA Youngstown State, a successful coach from a smaller collegiate league that fans barely acknowledged.

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Now, Jim Tressel has the Buckeyes competing for the national title every year.

In 2001, USC picked a mediocre former NFL coach, a move that left fans wondering if the glory days would continue to drift away.

Now, Pete Carroll has the Trojans competing for the national title every year.

Moral: Sometimes, the underrated hire turns into an extravagant one.

Instead of clinging to what James built, the Huskies need to let go and find the next James. He arrived here as the former Kent State coach and left as the Dawgfather. He was a cutting-edge hire and produced a cutting-edge program. In some form, the Huskies must duplicate that kind of foresight.

Even if Washington convinced Mike Leach, the pirate-obsessed Texas Tech coach, to come to Montlake, you couldn't guarantee his success. Although he's never had a losing season in nine years at Tech, he has never won a conference championship, he's only familiar with the Big 12 and Southeastern conferences, and he has a strange personality that might not work in a big city. It appears Leach wants to start a bidding war between UW, Texas Tech and Auburn, and the Huskies shouldn't play that game.

The rest of the realistic candidates (Jim Mora sold separately) don't have Leach's high-powered offense and therefore seem like more of a mystery. Pat Hill, aka The 'Stache? Has he failed to win big at Fresno State because of resources or coaching shortcomings? Steve Sarkisian, the USC offensive coordinator? Is he living off Carroll's genius or assisting with some of his own?

Kyle Whittingham of Utah and Chris Petersen of Boise State? Could they succeed in a bigger conference and recruit better athletes to compete at this level?

Mora is not walking up to that Husky podium, and even if he was, he'd have to answer questions about transitioning from the pros to college. There is no slam dunk, no clear-cut candidate, no foolproof hire.

Besides, the Huskies have chosen a big-name coach twice in the past 10 years, and the results were a mess (Rick Neuheisel) and a catastrophe (Tyrone Willingham). Even worse, they possessed histories that made many predict their disasters, but the Huskies still went for the big splash.

Considering the mistakes Neuheisel and Willingham made, a fresh face should be welcome.

Don't start another rumor about poaching from a local pro team, however. No, Don Wakamatsu is not a candidate.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports. Also check out Jerry's Extra Points blog, where he talks with readers about his columns.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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