The Wake of Tyrone Willingham at Washington: His Biggest Mistake
This past Saturday, the University of Washington Huskies went to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to face the USC Trojans.
Considering the way the fates of the two programs have gone this year, the 56-0 massacre that Pete Carroll's Men of Troy put on those Huskies was expected—as was the firing of Washington coach Tyrone Willingham earlier that week.
With the Huskies sporting an 0-8 record and ranking last in the Pac-10 conference in pretty much every category, it was only a matter of time before Willingham was told his services would not be needed for 2009.
This is not to mention the broken thumb that quarterback Jake Locker, the heart and soul of that Husky squad, suffered earlier this year. When that happened, I knew that they were finished. Locker was essentially the whole team.
Much has been said about how the talent at Washington wasn't up to snuff, and about how Willingham brought in junior college players who didn't pan out being among the main reasons why the season has been a disaster.
But there is one significant factor as to why Willingham is being shown the door, something that almost no one has considered—or at least voiced.
There was one significant mistake that this lame-duck coach has made through the whole thing, which is this...
WILLINGHAM SHOULD HAVE NEVER LEFT STANFORD UNIVERSITY. HE SHOULD HAVE NEVER TAKEN THE NOTRE DAME JOB.
I know you're asking right now, why? Well, I'll tell you.
Willingham was never a good fit for Washington or Notre Dame because of his stoic, unemotional demeanor and personality, combined with his emphasis on academics, integrity, and conduct on and off the field. Stanford, on the other hand, was a great fit for him, because their philosophies meshed with his.
It seemed to me that many, if not most, of the top football recruits would be a bit bored with his personality, which I imagine was a big factor in them passing up Washington for schools like USC.
Notre Dame and Washington, while being perfectly good institutions—Notre Dame is regarded as one of the top schools in the country—puts a little more emphasis on results. Their bottom line at the end of the day (and especially their alumni and boosters), in the words of Vince Lombardi, is, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."
In other words, it seemed not to matter to Irish and Husky supporters how many Academic All-Americans Willingham produced or how well they stayed out of trouble. It wasn't happening on the field, and in their minds, that's what really counts.
The Notre Dame athletic director's comments after he let Willingham go were telltale. He said that the coach did a great job with his players from Sunday through Friday, but that it was on Saturdays where he failed, which was the number one factor.
That tells me that Willingham would be a much better fit at schools where winning was just one emphasis, where academics, character, integrity, and the concept of the student-athlete would be just as emphasized—if not more.
These would be schools such as Duke, Rice, Vanderbilt, the Ivy League (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, et al), the service academies (Army, Navy, Air Force), and a place where I feel that he would be a perfect fit, being that he's a Midwestern guy and the school is academically the best in the Big Ten—NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY.
Let me state this right now: IF THE NORTHWESTERN JOB EVER OPENS UP, WILLINGHAM NEEDS TO JUMP ON THAT OPPORTUNITY. IF HE IS NOT HIRED AS THEIR COACH, THEN NOTHING MAKES SENSE IN THE WORLD.
Indeed, if Willingham had stayed at Stanford and said no when Notre Dame came calling, he may well still be the coach there now.
He had a great thing going over there. He took the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl in 2000, the last time they saw the postseason. In fact, that football team up at the Farm has not had a winning season since he left.
Having said that, it's unfortunate that things didn't work out at Washington. To sum it all up, it was just a bad fit for him there.
I hope his next coaching job is at those schools I have mentioned. In my opinion, he would fit in better at those academic-emphasis institutions and would have a better chance at a long tenure.
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