With the 2009 season for the University of Washington Husky Football team over, it gives us a chance to look back on what has been the single worst decade in Washington’s storied history. Just how bad has it been?
The Huskies have managed forty wins in the last ten years, giving them a winning percentage of only 40 percent! This is 10 percent lower than the next worst decade-1950-59. The decade started out well enough, with an 11 win Rose Bowl Champion team in 2000.
The 2000 squad was a gutsy team led by quarterback Marquis Tuiasaspo, and inspired by the tragic on field accident that eventually led to the death of teammate Curtis Williams. This team did not overwhelm opponents, but was a scrappy team that refused to lose, and ended the season ranked No. 3 in the nation.
Washington followed that campaign up with a respectable 8-4 effort in a rebuilding season, having lost a lot of that Rose Bowl winning team.
The future looked good going into 2002, and it was an exciting year offensively with the Cody Pickett to Reggie Williams’s connection producing record numbers, but the team managed only seven wins.
The 2002-2003 offseason proved to be disastrous for Washington as head coach Rick Neuheisal, who had coached the 2000 Rose Bowl team, was fired and offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson was put in as the interim coach.
Still Gilbertson was a coach with a lot of experience and history with the Huskies, and many people felt that this team should still compete for the PAC-10 title with Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams returning.
Instead, the team fell apart and barely finished the season at .500 with a 6-6 record. Gilbertson was retained for the 2004 year which produced a 1-10 effort, only Washington’s fifth one-win season since 1901.
In 2005 the Huskies hired the recently fired Tyrone Willingham to ‘clean up’ the program. Willingham wasn’t the first person they went to, reports are they talked to Urban Meyer who had no interest in the job, but was a favorite of Athletic Director Todd Turner.
Turner, who left Vanderbilt when they decided no athletic director was a better idea, saw something no one else seemed to see in in Willingham.
Sadly for Washington fans whatever Turner saw in Willingham did not produce many wins, as Willingham’s 2005 team produced two wins. Tyrone’s effort for 2006 was not much better, but did reach the Willingham era’s highest single-season win total-five.
It should be noted though that at this point that Willingham did resist the urge to burn freshman quarterback Jake Locker’s redshirt that season after the starter, Isaiah Stanback, went down.
It is interesting to consider how things might have turned out differently had he burned Locker’s redshirt. Would the team have reached the six win total for bowl eligibility? Would that have earned Tyrone another year at the helm? It is hard to say in retrospect, but most Husky fans are probably happy at this point that he did not, and that he never got an extension.
What did happen was the infamous "suddenly senior" day, where Willingham decided that players had to earn their fifth season, the most notable case being kicker Michael Braunstein, who transferred for his redshirt senior season and had an excellent year, at Ohio.
Going into 2007 there was excitement around the program about new quarterback Jake Locker. An amazing athlete, Locker proved to be deadly with his feet, rushing for nearly 1,000 yards his redshirt freshman season. This was also supposed to be a make it or break it year for Tyrone with his 2006 team falling short of making a bowl games. Despite playing a 13 game regular season the Huskies only managed to get to four wins.
There were a few positives, however, with senior running back Louis Rankin reaching the 1000 yard mark, and Locker showing some of his potential. Still, there were a lot of questions in the Washington community wondering, "Did Willingham earn his fourth season?"
In retrospect the answer looks easy-he didn’t. The Huskies went into 2008 with the same goal of making a bowl game, and failed on a grand scale by going 0-12. Jake Locker was knocked out for the year blocking on a run play in the fourth game, and the Huskies never stood a chance after that.
After a thrashing at the hands of conference power USC, Willingham stepped down. He was allowed to coach the team through the whole season, however.
After the disaster that was 2008 Husky fans were left to wonder, "what next?" The Washington administration went again searching for a head coach for the third time in the decade, and most fans were hoping for an experienced, proven winner, to lead the Huskies out of the abyss.
President Mark Emmert and interim AD Scott Woodward—who took the position full time later on—did not go for the experienced coach, but rather a young up and comer by the name of Steve Sarkisian.
Sarkisian was serving as the offensive coordinator for the USC Trojans, and has coached and impressive list of quarterbacks who went on the play in the NFL. Sarkisian brought a lot of energy to the picture, and bringing with him the always fired up Nick Holt from USC to be his defensive coordinator.
After the reign of Willingham produced 11 wins, closed practices, and more awkward press conferences than anyone thought was possible, the Husky faithful were ready for a change.
Sarkisian certainly brought change in 2009, as he opened up practices, and also matched Willingham’s season high of five wins in his first campaign. He also scored an upset victory over his former team at Husky Stadium.
The changes in style, and the improvement of young players throughout the season gives Washington fans a lot more hope going into the next decade. Play-makers like redshirt freshman Chris Polk, who rushed for 1000 yards in his first full season, give this Washington team the potential to be dangerous going into 2010.
For a 10 year span that started out on top of the Pac-10, it was a sad series of events that led to the worst decade in Washington Football history. It has been a rough stretch, no bowl game since 2002, Pac-10 record 12 loss-season, but after surviving through such lows the program looks to be headed back in the right direction.
With Jake Locker and most of the offense returning, we should look for the Huskies to start this new decade on a positive note, just not quite as high as the last one began on. This is ok, as long as we don’t have to experience the same depths of futility.