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Originally published Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Tyrone Willingham throws away a young receiver's season

Coach Tyrone Willingham's decision to play freshman Cody Bruns against Arizona for three meaningless plays two weeks ago, wasting his redshirt season, looks just as curious after Saturday's loss to Oregon State.

Seattle Times staff columnist

For 60 minutes Saturday night, Cody Bruns sat. Suffering from a slight hamstring injury, he watched with the rest of the 63,996 inside Husky Stadium, as Washington lost again, this time to Oregon State.

Two weeks earlier, for reasons that still don't make sense, Washington coach Tyrone Willingham put freshman wide receiver Bruns into a lopsided loss at Arizona.

Bruns played three plays, but more important, he burned his redshirt season. After not playing for the first four games, after expecting to spend his first year of college learning the speed and the smarts of the game, Bruns' season was wasted on three lousy plays.

And now he's hurt.

If people want to debate it, let them debate it, Washington coach Tyrone Willingham said, pretty much telling his legion of detractors that he wasn't interested — and never has been interested — in their input.

Let them debate? OK, we'll debate it.

It was a thoughtless decision.

I don't care if Bruns wanted to play. I don't care if he willingly threw away his redshirt, threw away his season, just for his first opportunity to get a feel for the big time. The decision wasn't his to make.

It is part of his coach's job to protect him from such rash desires.

Willingham knew better, but against Arizona, the Washington coach threw Bruns to the Wildcats and threw away his freshman season.

The Washington coach is going down after this season. That isn't debatable. But he didn't have to take down Bruns with him.

It is one thing to lose, as Washington has done in historic numbers over the past four seasons, but it is another to carelessly throw away something as precious as a young player's season.

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How valuable is a redshirt year? Ask former Husky Mark Pattison, who used it to get stronger and wiser. It gave him a fifth year of college football and, eventually, led to a successful NFL career.

If Bruns was needed so badly against Arizona, he should play in every game the rest of the season. He should learn, in real time, how to run routes. He should get familiar with the pressures of Pac-10 football.

Now, apparently, a slight hamstring injury is jeopardizing the rest of the season.

"He had a hamstring injury on Wednesday," Willingham said after the 0-6 Huskies' 34-13 loss. "Could he have gone? Possibly. Would he have been at his best? Probably not."

Bruns, however, had been part of the game plan before the injury, according to Willingham.

But let's debate whether Bruns should be part of any game plan this season.

What were the positives of playing him in Tucson?

There were none.

Washington was losing by 30 points when Bruns came into the game late in the third quarter. The game was long over. The Huskies used eight wide receivers against Arizona. They certainly didn't need Bruns in that going-nowhere game in a going-nowhere season.

You don't waste a player's future at garbage time. And if you do, you offer a public apology afterward. You don't challenge your detractors to a debate.

What were the negatives?

It cost the freshman from Prosser a season. It made Washington look like a program that didn't care about its players.

It felt like the move of an angry coach who knew he was in the last throes of his Seattle stay.

That decision is Willingham at his arrogant worst.

It is that typical my-way-or-the-highway approach that has turned so many Huskies fans and boosters against him.

And, his challenge to fans to debate the decision is another example of Willingham's lack of concern for the people who had been pouring their money and sweat and emotion into the program long before he arrived.

The Bruns incident was another infamous moment in a season that will live in infamy. It was another bad decision in an era that has been pot-holed with them.

After the game, offensive coordinator Tim Lappano had praise for his other young receivers — freshmen Devin Aguilar and Jermaine Kearse, and sophomore D'Andre Goodwin. The Huskies also used freshman Jordan Polk, making the idea of needing Bruns this season seem even more curious.

"We had a couple of things ready for him [Bruns] that he could do that we can use next week," Lappano said. "I don't think he could have cranked it up [Saturday]. Hopefully, he'll be full go this week."

But for Bruns, no go would have been a better option for this season.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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