Washington football is a doggone mess - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Washington football is a doggone mess

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Posted: Tuesday, November 4, 2008 3:22 pm | Updated: 10:37 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The Tyrone Willingham Watch is still very much in effect, even though the Washington football coach has already resigned effective at the end of the season.

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Things have gotten so bad around the Huskies that, after they looked lost and lifeless in a 56-0 shellacking at the hands of Southern California last week, there is talk it might be best to let somebody else coach the team for the last four games of the season.

A doggone mess, this is.

"It is a very tough thing to watch," said former Huskies quarterback Billy Joe Hobert, who was on the sideline for the game at USC. "And the tough thing is, in the old days, even if we had a really bad record, at least when we went into another stadium to play a game, the other team would know we were there."

Hobert, the starting quarterback on Washington's 1991 national championship team, is a link to the Don James glory days of the Purple Haze and annual Rose Bowl contention. A slow death after James' departure picked up pace in recent seasons and has bottomed out this year, with Washington the only winless major college program.

The Huskies (0-8) host Arizona State on Saturday. They have been competitive just twice: a controversial 28-27 setback to Brigham Young - an excessive-celebration penalty in the final minute pushed back a potential game-tying extra point, which was blocked - and a 35-28 loss against Stanford.

"I don't see that sense of urgency in (this year's) team," Hobert said. "I don't see that desire. I don't see that fire. I don't see that anger. I don't see that passion for the game, and it's just frustrating. It breaks my heart to see that."

Willingham, 11-33 and in his fourth season at Washington, inherited a program in tatters and could not reverse the slide. The Huskies announced last week he will not return next season.

"Hopefully, it can eliminate some of the outside negativity that has been surrounding the program," Willingham said in the wake of his dismissal. "Our guys can now have an idea, even though it does raise questions, of what is going to happen (after the season), so we can focus on the opponents we have in front of us."

Those sentiments were questioned after the loss to the Trojans.

Granted, the talent chasm between the teams was of Grand Canyon-size proportions. However, if the Huskies were motivated to play hard in support of Willingham, by all accounts, they did not show it.

"Coach Willingham is a good man, and we've all got a lot of respect for him for sticking with us, not quitting on us, not leaving us," sophomore running back Brandon Johnson said after the game. "He still gave us the best plan that he could give us. We just didn't come out and follow through with it."

Asked if he believes he can still motivate the players, Willingham said, "I would say yes to that."

Things have not been the same in Seattle since 2003, when the messy firing of coach Rick Neuheisel was followed by a legal fight and embarrassing athletic department blunders. Recruiting mistakes depleted Washington's talent, once the best in the West.

The Huskies have 81 players on scholarship - under the allowed 85 - with 55 of them underclassmen. In their Oct.4 game at Arizona, the Huskies started seven freshmen. Quarterback Jake Locker, the team's best player, has been out with a thumb injury.

It adds up to insufficient personnel against one of the toughest schedules in the country, with nonconference games against BYU, Oklahoma and Notre Dame.

"We are freshmen and sophomores," Johnson said. "You're not going to come to the next level and make things happen. It takes time to develop and get going. This is Division I. We're playing in the Pac-10. Everybody's fast. We're playing against the older guys who are used to doing this."

After 3 1/2 seasons with Willingham leading the football program, Washington's administration determined that was enough time.

But the watch continues.

"I can't talk about that particular situation," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "My thoughts have always been, in college athletics, the longer you have a program and keep someone in there, the better chance you have to be successful, because it takes time to recruit and do a lot of different things. When you make changes all the time, it just seems like you start over, but that's my opinion."

The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer contributed to this report.

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