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Originally published Tuesday, November 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Washington AD backs Willingham

Washington athletic director Todd Turner expressed nothing but sympathy Monday over the fate of Washington State football coach Bill Doba...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Washington athletic director Todd Turner expressed nothing but sympathy Monday over the fate of Washington State football coach Bill Doba.

"I'm sorry about that — he's such a good guy," Turner said of Doba, who was fired Monday, two days after leading the Cougars to a win in the Apple Cup.

But the loser of that game, UW's Tyrone Willingham, is apparently in no similar danger of losing his job.

Asked whether there was any doubt that Willingham would return next season, Turner said: "Not in my mind."

Willingham is 11-24 in three seasons at Washington (Doba was 30-29 in five at WSU) and 6-20 in Pac-10 games with the Huskies heading to a game Saturday at Hawaii, which is 11-0.

Washington appeared to be making progress by winning two of its three games before the Apple Cup.

But that loss now has UW facing the possibility of losing nine games in two of Willingham's three seasons — the Huskies had lost that many only three times previously: in 1969 (1-9), 1973 (2-9) and 2004 (1-10). The first two were Jim Owens teams and the latter was coached by Keith Gilbertson.

Willingham is also the first UW coach to have three consecutive losing seasons and is assured of finishing in last place (if not a tie for last) in the Pac-10 this season.

Turner said he and Willingham will meet early next week to assess the season and where the program goes from here. But he said the meeting is nothing different from the kind the two hold after every season. Asked whether there would be any more urgency this season, Turner said no because "there's always a sense of urgency."

Asked about the possibility of Willingham making staff changes, Turner said, "It would not be appropriate to talk about that."

Willingham has said he will not discuss the future of his assistants publicly. However, during his radio show Monday night, he gave a hint that some changes could be afoot. When asked about the defense, which has struggled under coordinator Kent Baer, Willingham said, "My first commitment is to the football team. I will make all the right decisions that I think will put this football team in a position to win."

After the Huskies lost to Arizona State in mid-October to fall to 2-4, Turner launched into a hearty defense of Willingham that ruffled some UW fans when he cited Oregon as a team that Washington needed to aspire to be resemble.

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The week after the Arizona game, UW president Mark Emmert said he would join in the postseason evaluation of the program.

Willingham is in the third-year of a five-year contract that has a favorable buyout clause — he would be owed a lump-sum payment of $3 million were he to be fired before Jan. 3, 2008. It decreases to $1 million for each remaining year on the contract after that date. He makes a guaranteed $1.4 million per season.

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

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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