UW starts overhaul of coaching staff
On the day he was retained as Washington's football coach earlier this month, Tyrone Willingham promised he would evaluate the program and...
Seattle Times staff reporter
On the day he was retained as Washington's football coach earlier this month, Tyrone Willingham promised he would evaluate the program and "make the appropriate decisions" in an attempt to get the Huskies back to winning.
Monday, the first major moves in that overhaul came to light as it was announced Willingham had fired two of his most trusted assistants — defensive coordinator Kent Baer and special-teams and tight-ends coach Bob Simmons.
They were almost certainly two of the tougher decisions Willingham has had to make.
Baer has been with Willingham for all of Willingham's 13 seasons as a head coach, and has served as Willingham's defensive coordinator since 1999. Simmons has been with Willingham since the 2002 season, when Willingham began his three-year Notre Dame tenure.
In a statement released by the school, Willingham praised both coaches and said, "Making such a change as this is never easy. Nor is it done without careful thought and consideration. I believe we are continuing to build this program into a national contender and I truly appreciate the contribution Kent and Bob have made toward our progress both on and off the field."
Willingham reportedly told both coaches in meetings Monday morning. The coaches are back in their offices following two weeks of recruiting.
Washington is without three assistants. Running backs coach Trent Miles left earlier this month to become the head coach at Indiana State, his alma mater. Indications are that those will be the only changes to the staff, though messages left for other coaches were not returned, and Willingham did not respond to a message for further comment.
When reached by phone, Baer refused to answer questions from The Seattle Times.
Baer came under increasing fire as the Huskies suffered through a 4-9 season punctuated by high-scoring defeats. The Huskies gave up 40 or more points five times and allowed a school-record 446.4 yards per game. That broke the previous record of 419.1 set in 2005, the first season for Baer and Willingham.
The nadir might have been a 42-35 loss to Washington State at home in the Apple Cup. The Cougars scored the winning touchdown with 31 seconds left; UW defenders admitted they were confused on the play, half playing one defense, half another.
Someone who knows the situation well, however, defended Baer, pointing out that his defenses ranked well at Notre Dame — when Willingham was fired, Baer was named interim coach for the team's 2004 Insight Bowl game against Oregon State.
"This is one of the uglier sides of the profession," the person said. "Kent saved Ty at Notre Dame. He was a smart coach then and he didn't grow dumb overnight."
Simmons, who could not be reached for comment, headed up a special-teams unit that was spotty throughout his three years at UW — the Huskies ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in kickoff returns and kickoff coverage.
He was also in charge of UW's tight ends, a group that has not met expectations the past few years, with the three main players at that spot combining for 20 catches this season.
One of Washington's top incoming recruits is a tight end, Kavario Middleton of Lakes High.
Both coaches had contracts that run through June 30, 2008, and they will receive their salaries through then unless they find other jobs. Baer had a base salary of $199,560 and a $24,000 housing allowance, while Simmons had a base of $164,112 and a $12,000 housing allowance.
Willingham will now search for replacements, a task that might not be easy with candidates knowing that the coach is in a win-or-else situation in 2008. Willingham is 11-25 at Washington and has lost his biggest supporter in the administration, with the forced resignation last week of athletic director Todd Turner.
Among possible candidates for the defensive coordinator position could be linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Chris Tormey, who was UW's defensive coordinator in 1994.
Another name mentioned was Oregon State assistant head coach Jay Locey, who handles running backs and tight ends for the Beavers but was previously a defensive coordinator and head coach at Linfield.
Many Huskies fans are hoping the school might be able to entice former Mississippi coach Ed Orgeron. But Orgeron, also a former assistant at USC, is said to have numerous college offers and also may consider the NFL.
It's thought there's almost no chance that Jim Mora, assistant head coach of the Seahawks and a former Huskies player, would be a candidate; most speculate his next move is as a head coach in either the college or NFL ranks.
Washington has received a commitment from quarterback Kevin Prince of Crespi High in Encino, Calif. Prince, however, won't enroll in 2008. Instead, he said he will either grayshirt and enroll full-time in 2009, or take a church mission and enroll in 2010, a decision he said he will make sometime this spring.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Prince was also recruited by UCLA. He suffered a torn ACL in the first game of the season for Crespi, but he says he is on course to begin doing football drills in February.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 10:18 PM
Washington State's Klay Thompson will play Thursday against Huskies