Six things Washington and Washington State can do to improve football fortunes
Essentially, both programs are starting over, and of that simple act, there is hope. It takes time, but it doesn't have to take forever, either. Remember, Arizona was a mess as recently as 2003 and Mike Stoops' team won six games in his third year. Duke won four games in four years, but David Cutcliffe's first Blue Devils team isn't out of the bowl picture in 2008. With that, we give you a road map on how it can come about at both places. It happened for Thomas Paine's team; it can happen for yours, too.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Thomas Paine, the 18th-century writer/philosopher, once assessed England's oppressive rule over the American colonies — or was he anguishing over an early Apple Cup? — and proclaimed, "These are the times that try men's souls."
To which you can almost hear a chorus of fans from Washington and Washington State: "Yeah, what he said."
The times don't get much more trying than this: Washington and WSU embark Saturday on the second century of Apple Cups with a single victory between them — that over a lower-level Portland State team.
We're only three months removed from August, but we're light-years from the visions back then. There was talk of Washington winning six games and competing for a bowl invitation. The Cougars were a great unknown with a new staff and a new quarterback, but surely, if nothing else, they would be feisty.
Then the games began.
How did we get here? Four years ago, a group of former UW players sat down with then-athletic director Todd Turner and expressed that they wanted their alma mater to return to hard-nosed, bedrock principles on and off the field.
Turner produced Tyrone Willingham, big on bedrock but light on charisma and game-day strategic response.
Two years before that, Washington State's Mike Price made his ill-fated break for Alabama. Just before a Rose Bowl, WSU AD Jim Sterk could either set out on a national search or pray he'd be rescuing continuity by hiring from within.
He chose defensive coordinator Bill Doba, who was a lot like your grandfather, a peach of a person but nobody who would lay down the law. Discipline suffered, recruiting went haywire and if the program isn't at rock bottom, first-year coach Paul Wulff doesn't want to see it.
Essentially, both programs are starting over, and of that simple act, there is hope. It takes time, but it doesn't have to take forever, either. Remember, Arizona was a mess as recently as 2003, and Mike Stoops' team won six games in his third year. Duke won four games in four years, but David Cutcliffe's first Blue Devils team isn't out of the bowl picture in 2008.
With that, we give you a road map on how it can come about at both places. It happened for Thomas Paine's team; it can happen for yours, too.
Six things Washington State must do
1Remember your lines. Nothing depicts the decline of the WSU program like its meager stockpile of the big uglies. Think about this: In the three oldest classes of five, only three scholarship offensive linemen remain. On the other side, three defensive linemen played every snap against Arizona. That's a recipe for failure.
2Get to know the weight room. All you have to do is watch pregame warmups to know how far WSU has fallen. In fact, throw some generic uniforms over both teams, and you could tell which one is the Cougars. Before WSU can get better, it has to get bigger.
3Turn over every rock. While at Eastern Washington, this staff was known for unearthing hidden talent, and that's the perfect prescription for a school like WSU that isn't going to attract five-star talent. So far, it appears the Cougars are recruiting well, despite their place in the standings.
4Shake down the donors. Not only are the Cougars lagging on the field, Martin Stadium might send a message to prospects that football isn't important in Pullman. The Oregon State-style stadium remodel that WSU is now planning would be strong evidence to the contrary. That project is a must.
5Go with youth. No doubt WSU recruiters are telling prospects they can play early, and they might as well. If they're physically ready, and competition with an upperclassman is close, opt for the youngsters. In the long run, it will pay off.
6Move Andy Mattingly back to linebacker. Coaches switched Mattingly to defensive end in the offseason, believing they had a shortfall there, and it's brought negligible results. Mattingly isn't a classic linebacker, more of a straight-line runner, but his eight sacks of 2007 indicate he'd be of more help there.
Six things Washington must do
1Hire the right coach. This is obviously a no-brainer, and indications are that while work has been done to narrow the field, there are still a number of candidates on the list (Gary Pinkel? Jeff Tedford? Chris Petersen? Jim Mora?). The Huskies can't afford to miss on this hire and must get someone who will not only do the job on the field but reunite a fractured fan base.
2Hit the weights. Coaches continually praised the players' efforts, but results speak more loudly, and it seems evident that not everyone on the roster has taken conditioning as seriously as needed. The Huskies just haven't looked the part at a lot of positions the past few years.
3Fine-tune Jake Locker. The quarterback, who will be a junior next season, is Washington's biggest reason for hope. He's an immense talent who has shown flashes of brilliance when healthy. But his game still needs a lot of work, and one of the first priorities for the new coach should be figuring out how to quickly maximize Locker's gifts. The Huskies need to make sure they don't let the career of one of the most talented QBs in their history go to waste.
4Get moving on the renovation of Husky Stadium. The school will again ask for $150 million from the state Legislature in January to help with what is estimated to be a $300 million project. It doesn't figure to be an easy sell right now. If approved, it will be a big shot in the arm for the school and a selling point to recruits. If not, the Huskies will have to figure out another way to get it done. Either way, the school needs to start moving on this project.
5Re-establish an identity. For a lot of years, it was easy to know what Huskies football was — tough-as-nails defense, opportunistic special teams, physical offense. Obviously, these are changing times and what worked 20 years ago won't necessarily work again. But the Huskies have seemed to lose all of what once made them great — they don't do anything well and don't seem to have any visible defining characteristic other than losing. The new coach needs to try to bring back some of the UW tradition and make the Huskies recognizable again.
6Bring back the run. This is a corollary of No. 5. For decades, UW football was known for punishing running games, and nothing excites its fan base like a grind-it-out, 12-play, 80-yard drive predicated mostly on the run. Five of the 10 lowest rushing averages per game have come since 2001 (and this year will soon join that group), one of the biggest reasons for the losing that has followed. Obviously, the style will be dependent on the coach (if it's Mike Leach, disregard all of this). But nothing would seem to bring back respectability more quickly than regaining an ability to run the ball.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 10:18 PM
Washington State's Klay Thompson will play Thursday against Huskies