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Originally published December 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 5, 2007 at 9:47 PM

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Willingham will return to coach Huskies

Tyrone Willingham received the backing of University of Washington officials today as they announced he would remain as the school's football coach despite three losing seasons.

Tyrone Willingham received the backing of University of Washington officials today as they announced he would remain as the school's football coach despite three losing seasons.

At a news conference, athletic director Todd Turner and Willingham both said they were not pleased with the season's results, but were confident that they were on the verge of turning the program around. A statement from UW president Mark Emmert was read, echoing those thoughts.

"There has been much speculation,'' Emmert's statement began. "Everyone connected with Husky football...is disappointed with this season's record. No one is more disappointed than the coach himself. Everyone understands we need to be more competitive. I have confidence Tyrone will make that happen.''

Turner said one of the two main factors weighing in Willingham's favor was his success in recruiting as well as the attitude of the players in that their performance on the field was always "gutty."

"That's a credit to the players and to the coaching staff,'' he said.

"We've been really encouraged about the reception our staff has received, especially in our state,'' Turner continued. "That validates the hard work and effort put in over a period of time to change perceptions of our football program here.

"We are creating the kind of trust and reputation that are consistent with our values, and we are starting to see the fruition of that.''

Willingham said he had expected all along to return despite the rumblings.

"Our football team I believe is poised to do some good things,'' he said. "I share the disappointment that our president echoes from our boosters. No one wants to win badder than Coach Willingham and our team.

"I'm making the right decisions to put us in a place to win.''

Willingham did not specify what those decisions might be, with speculation rampant that changes may be made on his staff.

"I am committed to Husky football and will do the things that are right, '' he said, adding that there was no time frame for changes. "But always, if it takes place, I always like it sooner than later.''

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Willingham, who was fired at Notre Dame after three seasons before coming to Washington, said he knows he is always under scrutiny.

"There is always going to be something nipping at a coach's heels,'' he said. "You live in a daily world of doubt, you wake up with a little chip, something to prove. I've always been that way. Sometimes, I'm hesitant to let people in because of that, but it's also a great way to make sure you're always on your game.

"Unfortunately, I have seen this situation before, and probably will again. But I can keep focus, keep eyes on the prize, and I think I've done that.''

Finally, Willingham urged fans to have patience.

"Please hold on, we've had some turbulent times to navigate,'' he said. "Hopefully we are in process of getting through those difficult waters and punch through to be the kind of football team I think we can me, and to me, that's exciting.''

Willingham is 11-25 in three seasons as UW's coach, including a 4-9 record this season that led to much conjecture about his future.

The season ended with a 35-28 loss at Hawaii that concluded a 2-9 finish for the Huskies after a 2-0 start and led to much unrest among some fans as Willingham became the first coach in UW history to suffer three consecutive losing seasons. Some fans had openly pined for the school to instead make a run at Seattle Seahawks assistant Jim Mora, a former Husky player.

Willingham was hired following a 1-10 record in 2004 under Keith Gilbertson, who was fired by Turner with three games remaining in the season.

Willingham just completed the third season of a five-year contract that pays him roughly $1.4 million annually. Turner told the Times on Monday that there have been no talks of extension, meaning Willingham will likely have to win-or-else next season --- he would have been owed $3 million were he fired before Jan. 3, 2008.

Willingham has said he feels the program is close to turning a corner, citing an improving offense led by quarterback Jake Locker, who was named this week as the Pac-10's Freshman of the Year.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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