Freedom of information? Not this UW spring
As Washington's spring football practices end tomorrow, I'd like to be able to report Casey Paus now has a release like Dan Marino. I'd like to write...
Seattle Times colleges reporter
As Washington's spring football practices end tomorrow, I'd like to be able to report Casey Paus now has a release like Dan Marino. I'd like to write that people are comparing Isaiah Stanback to Michael Vick. I'd like to say that Johnny DuRocher looks like the best transfer since Zell Miller.
Instead, here's what I know about the UW quarterbacks after one spring under Tyrone Willingham: In stretching the other day, Paus was in the second line. Carl Bonnell seemed spirited at the periphery of one drill. Stanback delivered handoffs to fullback Johnie Kirton.
And then the media were gone, escorted from Husky Stadium per Willingham's decree that practice is closed to the media after 25 minutes — which is to say, before anything happens.
We have advanced to the ice age of relations between Washington football and the media covering the Huskies. The less revealed, the better.
"Closing practice eliminates distractions," Willingham explained the other day. "The more people that are around, the more distractions you have. And most of the time, the people there come with a different agenda than your football team."
He's right. They're there to practice. We're there to watch.
He went on to say that he wants a clinical environment as close to that of a classroom as possible and that otherwise, players' minds can be distracted by "attractions" passing through.
About 90 minutes later, there were recruits watching practice and about 15 members of the UW women's track team working out in Husky Stadium.
Wait, don't hit the "send" button yet. Every media hack, including this one, knows that one of the first principles of Journalism 101 is that the public doesn't care about our problems. Whining is, thus, not an option.
So consider this in different contexts — whether there's validity to the idea that the media provides eyes and ears for the public; and whether an enterprise that's at least quasi-business has any degree of responsibility for openness (especially when it's raising ticket prices coming off a 1-10 season).
Say this for Willingham: He's consistent. As little as press people are gleaning from practice, that's about what they're getting from his pre-practice briefings, which are punctuated with long silences and marked by vague references to injuries.
You can imagine how Grantland Rice would write about spring practice with the Huskies: "Outlined against a pale gold wall in the Washington press room, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore, they're known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. Those are only aliases. Their real names are reticent, silent, taciturn and coy."
This is the way Willingham likes it. Around the media, he's renowned for being proper, well-spoken, polite and thoroughly ambiguous.
Before he came to Washington, Willingham bristled at a writer for revealing information he had gained from sources within the program.
"If you keep doing that," Willingham warned, "I'll have to quit talking to you."
"But Ty," the writer responded, "you don't say anything anyway!"
Early in Washington's spring sessions, Willingham announced that linebacker Scott White would be "out an extended period of time," saying it was unrelated to football.
I first thought it might be because of bad grades. Then I thought drugs, or maybe an assault. Come to find out, from someone else, that White had the early stages of mononucleosis.
It was that day that Willingham, before departing the news briefing, said, "Oh, yes, let me make a quick announcement. We'll probably allow you to attend the full practice on Saturday."
I don't know about anybody else, but all I could think of was McMurphy in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," when Nurse Ratchet announced he and the boys could watch the World Series on TV.
Because of that allowance two weeks ago, the wretches covering the Huskies should know this: They're running ahead of schedule. In three years of spring and fall practices at Notre Dame, Willingham opened the gates two times to media.
Some perspective may be in order. Don James, the gold standard for UW coaches, allowed media into practices until the day in 1988 when quarterback Cary Conklin injured a thumb and James demanded that reporters not write it. When they did, the gates were shut.
They remained that way through the James era and halfway through that of his successor, Jim Lambright. Then came the revelation in 1996 that Lambright had been lying about the origin of a foot injury to star running back Rashaan Shehee; he had hurt it jumping off a second-floor balcony at a party when gunshots were fired, not in practice.
As a peace offering of sorts, Lambright opened practices to media. They stayed that way through Rick Neuheisel's four years, then Keith Gilbertson closed them again. Gilbertson, however, tried to provide background information to reporters on what he could.
Now the Huskies have ascended to No. 1 in the Pac-10. They have the most restricted football practices in the conference. Eight other schools allow media access spring and fall. Like Washington, Arizona's are all closed, but the Wildcats open spring scrimmages.
Many schools restrict public access to practice in some measure, while admitting media. It's easier to identify the visitors, and there's that theory that the public is being represented through the media.
That's no trifling contract, especially at a time when some media members seem to be making it up as they go along. The converse, though, is that the truth is ever more elusive without access to it.
There's also this: Willingham is still something of a cipher here, a man of unknown capacity. He was fired at Notre Dame. Can he win? Can he coach? His style evades those answers, leaving it all to fall Saturdays instead of April Tuesdays, probably the way he wants it.
He strikes you as a man of substance. Calls to former recruits' mothers last winter elicited raves, and they were the parents of kids who went elsewhere.
He seems like a guy you'd want your son to play for. Unless your son's mom or dad is a sportswriter.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-8281
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