Following Washington’s 33-7 defeat to Notre Dame, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Jim Moore wrote of head coach Ty Willingham, “if he’s not fired on Monday, it will be a bigger upset than Washington beating USC on Saturday.” Moore was awfully close — Willingham’s firing, effective at season’s end, was confirmed late Monday night. In the eyes of one of Moore’s P-I colleagues, Willingham was doomed from the start. “What we have at Montlake regarding the football program is one ‘Yakety Sax’ theme song short of the full Benny Hill. As with the British comedian, it hasn’t been especially funny.” Let no one accuse Art Thiel of being short on contemporary cultural references.
Even Don James in his prime could not have parachuted into the 2008 season and made it a winner. Too much bad has happened at Washington to fix in one year, or four years. The new guy, who will lose this recruiting season and probably most of the next one, will need at least five years. He will probably get three.
But the UW history of abject floundering does not mean that the firing of Willingham should not have happened, only that it was inevitable due to the combination of many misdeeds that had gone before his tenure as well as his own hand.
He didn’t make promises, concessions or compromises to players, fans or media that he couldn’t accept. Those kinds of corner-cuts often get programs in trouble. But it’s exceedingly difficult to satisfy elite players and high-rolling boosters without them.
To make it across that tightrope, any coach has to play and talk a good game. Willingham did neither. In an era of the 24 /7 news cycle and Internet message boards that influence recruiting, his frequent inability and/or unwillingness to explain himself well was a bigger handicap than he ever appreciated.