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Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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UW football trying to ticket a tough sell

Seattle Times staff reporter

The banner headlines Tuesday blared news that warmed the hearts of Huskies football fans even more than the weather — prized quarterback recruit Jake Locker will definitely play football for UW rather than try for a pro baseball career.

But in a magazine that hit newsstands this week is the sober reality of the more immediate perception of the UW football program — a college football preview by The Sporting News that ranked the Huskies last in the Pac-10 for the 2006 season and No. 83 in the country.

That latter sentiment is a big part of the reason UW football coach Tyrone Willingham and men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar spent an hour Tuesday afternoon at Husky Stadium filming a set of three commercials.

It is the second year the coaches have teamed for commercials.

Last year's commercials were designed primarily to let Husky Nation get a good and different look at its new football coach with an able assist from the popular Romar. This year's are more about promoting a football program that needs all the positive PR it can get.

"Last year, they were more about trying to introduce the coaches' personalities," said UW athletic director Todd Turner. This year's, he said, will include a bit more "of an appeal for support and ticket sales."

For good reason, as Turner said football season-ticket sales continue to lag about 7 to 9 percent behind where they were at this point a year ago.

About 52,000 season tickets were sold last year, not including 7,500 student seats.

But that was in the wake of a scandal, a 1-10 season that prompted the firing of coach Keith Gilbertson and the hope that Willingham would be able to turn things around quickly. The home schedule included Notre Dame, USC and Washington State.

Now, with it seeming UW will need more than a coaching change to turn things around in a hurry, and with a less impressive home schedule — Fresno State is the marquee nonconference foe and USC, Oregon and the Apple Cup are all on the road — ticket sales are struggling.

Locker's announcement, while welcome, did not make a big impact. A UW spokesman said there was no appreciable increase in ticket sales Tuesday.

The commercials are again produced by the Seattle firm of Dave Syferd & Partners and have the same humorous bent.

Once again, they are designed to show a lighter side of Willingham by making fun of his taciturn image, with Romar acting as his comic foil. In one, Romar tries to convince Willingham he has to lighten up while telling him some jokes. Willingham refuses to laugh until Romar leaves, then calls a buddy on the phone to repeat the jokes.

"They are fun to do with him because he's so easygoing and he doesn't mind poking fun at himself," Romar said.

Said Willingham with a laugh: "I have no talent. I just come out here and try to hang in there."

Turner said it's hard to accurately quantify whether commercials help sell tickets. "What you're really trying to do is create awareness, excitement and good will," Turner said.

Willingham said he realizes the best way to do that is to win.

"Obviously, we need to win more football games, no doubt about that," he said.

And Willingham insists the program is headed in the right direction, having said repeatedly during the offseason that a bowl game is a realistic goal for the 2006 season.

Locker likely won't have a heavy impact on that quest as few true freshman quarterbacks in the Pac-10 have stepped right into starting positions. Locker would likely play only if projected starter Isaiah Stanback stumbles.

But whether he plays, Willingham said Locker's presence will be felt immediately.

"I think when Jake comes into our program, he will be the hardest worker in our program," Willingham said. "And there will be a fight between him and some others to see who is the hardest worker."

Willingham said he was confident all along Locker would spurn baseball for UW.

Locker's now-certain arrival has prompted talk that he will be the savior of the UW football program, though Willingham said it's an unfair tag.

"I wouldn't put that on anyone," Willingham said. "Because the game of football is different. In basketball, maybe there is one guy who comes in and all the sudden you go to the Final Four. But the truth of the matter is, in football, no matter how good your quarterback is, if the center doesn't snap it to him, you've got zero."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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