The 2016 Washington Huskies Are Pac-12 Champions!!!

Honestly, I didn’t know if I’d ever see this day come.  Part of that is from being a heavy drinker and liking to run around in traffic, but most of that is just looking at how far the program had fallen, and the landscape in college football.

Washington’s not a power school.  We like to think it is, as we look back at the good ol’ days of Don James and whatnot, but we’re not Alabama.  We’re not Ohio State or USC or Texas.  Ours is not a destination school; we’re not going to draw coaches like Urban Meyer or Nick Saban.  We can pull from smaller schools, or we can elevate up-and-coming coordinators to their first head coaching gigs, but ours is just a stepping stone school.  Come here, turn the program around, get a better job somewhere else, as Sark did.  Or, come here, make the program worse, and never coach in college football ever again, as Tyrone Willingham did.  Oh sure, you might get lucky and have everything click for a season, but that’s when you strike!  When the iron’s hot!  You parlay that to your dream job where you can compete for national championships every year, as opposed to once in a blue moon!

I would try to console myself from this line of thinking, by pointing to Oregon.  They rose from the ashes of nothingness to be a perennial college football powerhouse!  That’s true, but they also had a head coach with a gimmick system that it took the rest of college football too long to adjust to.  And a benefactor in Phil Knight who doesn’t mind pouring all of his riches into the school.  What are we talking about here, a one in a million confluence of wealth and genius?  Unlikely to be in the cards for a school like Washington.

And yet, here we are.  In Chris Petersen’s third year since coming over from Boise State.  He doesn’t strike me as a guy who would cut and run for a bigger job at a bigger school (but, then again, I suppose Boise State fans thought the same way).  In Washington, he’ll be able to earn the same as anywhere else; he’ll be the highest-paid coach in the conference at a minimum.  And, it’s so early in his run, he can really build a dominant program over the next decade and really bolster his resume!  He’s done it without a billionaire putting his name on the stadium and paying for recruits (allegedly).  He’s done it without a gimmicky offense that – oh by the way – won’t help you one bit in raising your NFL draft stock, because they’d rather go with guys who’ve run a pro-style offense.  I mean, this is as old school as it gets!  Solid recruiting on a foundation of recent success, building your team up in all areas, and then going out there and beating the snot out of everyone you play.  This is how Alabama stays so good every year!

WE’RE PAC-12 CHAMPS!!!

I just can’t say enough how cool that is.  Started from the bottom in 2008; now we’re here in 2016.  I couldn’t be more proud and more happy that I was so wrong about all of that I wrote above.

Last night, we beat Colorado 41-10, in spite of the fact that Jake Browning had a God-awful game.  Nevertheless, we were able to run the ball at will, gobbling up 265 yards on the ground, including 100-yard games for both Gaskin and Coleman.  Sheer domination up front, with some smart, powerful running by those two backs.

John Ross had one of the most impressive TD catches I’ve ever seen.  Browning was about to be sacked, trying to throw the ball away, and Ross ended up jumping as high as he could, snagging it with one hand, breaking a tackle, and scampering for 19 yards to paydirt.  Darrell Daniels had the other receiving TD on a nifty little catch inside the 10 yard line, breaking a bunch of tackles on the way to the endzone.

Game MVP Taylor Rapp had two interceptions right after halftime, one returned to the house.  The rest of our secondary played to their usual brilliance as we held Colorado’s QBs to a combined 81 yards passing.  Our guys up front were just as good, as we held their ground game to 82 yards and a 2.9 yards per carry average.  Just a totally dominating performance from a world-class defense.

The Huskies are 12-1, 12-game winners for the first time since our national championship in 1991.  I just want to sit here and bask in this for a while, as we only have until tomorrow morning at 9am before we know our fate.  Playoffs or Rose Bowl.  The Huskies are back!

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee Has Washington Ranked 5th

And yet, for some reason, all anyone is telling me to do is relax.  All Washington has to do is keep winning.  Everything will be fine.

What world do you live in?  I’d like to go to there, because I’ve been living in the stupid ol’ real world, and in the REAL world, teams like Washington get fucked over on the reg.

Alabama, Clemson, and Michigan are all right where you’d expect them to be, in the top three spots.  Yet, Texas A&M – ranked 7th in both the AP and Coaches Polls – has leapfrogged Washington to be ranked 4th in the College Football Playoff Rankings (aka: the only rankings that actually matter).

And it’s all a matter of strength of schedule.  Texas A&M is in the SEC (with Alabama).  The SEC is perennially overrated by the college football powers that be, in spite of the fact that they only play 8 games in conference play, and in spite of the fact that over half of their conference – every year – is total and complete trash.

I mean, seriously, when was the last time anyone talked about Vanderbilt, or Missouri, or Kentucky as a football power school?  But, no, The SEC:  it’s practically like playing in the NFL!  Right.  I can’t wait for when the SEC loses over half of their bowl games once again, like they do every year; it’s the only time people get to see this overrated conference for what it is.

ANYWAY, A&M lost to Bama (the #1 team in the nation), so that bumps up their strength of schedule in a big way.  They also beat a Top 10 Tennessee team (not ranked anymore), a Top 20 Arkansas team (also not ranked anymore), and a Top 20 UCLA team (one of the very worst teams in the Pac-12).  In essence, A&M gets rewarded for these wins over ranked opponents WHO THEMSELVES WERE OVERRATED!  As far as I can tell, they have 1 quality win, and that’s against Auburn (unranked at the time, now ranked 9th in the playoff rankings).  A&M’s remaining schedule involves Mississippi State (awful), Ole Miss (also awful), the Texas San Antonio Roadrunners (the Portland State of the south), and LSU (currently ranked 13th, but also dealing with the stigma of firing their head coach).  The only thing holding A&M back is the fact that they’re locked out of the SEC title game because they’re in the same division as Bama, but I don’t think that’s really a huge loss.

A&M is virtually guaranteed to run the table, with another highly-ranked opponent on the horizon (unless LSU loses a few more times between now and then, which is very possible in the overrated SEC).  That’ll put them at 11-1.  Alabama goes to LSU and hosts Auburn (as well as plays two garbage teams).  You like Bama’s chances to run the table just because they’re Bama and they’re great.  They’ll get a crack at a ranked Florida team for good measure in the SEC title game; you gotta figure if Florida runs the table (with LSU and Florida State on the menu), and somehow takes out Bama in the SEC title game, there’s yet ANOTHER landmine in Washington’s way.  I mean, you can’t rightly keep out a 1-loss Florida team who won their conference, can you?  By the same token, can you keep out a 1-loss Alabama team whose only loss was to that very same great Florida team?  And, as we all know, A&M is highly thought of with their 1-loss record …

Want to look at Clemson?  They have a creampuff remaining schedule.  The best team they’ll play the rest of the way is either North Carolina or Virginia Tech (each with 1 loss, but I wouldn’t count on that remaining).  They’re almost a lock to finish the regular season 13-0.  That just leaves Michigan, who has two impressive wins over Colorado and Wisconsin.  Their next three games are against garbage opponents, followed by the season finale at Ohio State.  That game will most likely decide who plays in the Big 10 championship game, so you know the winner there will crack the Top 4.  Our best hope to ice out a Big 10 school is for Ohio State to beat Michigan, then lose to some 2-loss team from the Big 10 West division.  At that point, MAYBE a slot will open up for Washington.

The people in the R-E-L-A-X camp have one thing right, though.  Washington has to keep winning.  One slip-up, and our dreams of playoff glory are over.  There is an absolute zero chance of a 1-loss Washington team making the College Football Playoffs, so at least that issue is put to bed.

There’s also the underrated factor someone brought up on Twitter:  the Nobody Respects Us factor.  If the Huskies use this as fuel to smash our remaining opponents, all the better.  Our next two games (at least) will be played to a national audience on ESPN and FOX.  We get a ranked Wazzu team in the Apple Cup (unless they Coug it along the way), with a 12:30pm window the day after Thanksgiving.  And, we’ll get either Colorado or Utah in the Pac-12 championship game (both ranked in the Top 20).  All hope isn’t TOTALLY lost, but make no mistake, everything we’ve been worrying about with this East Coast Bias thing is coming true before our very eyes.  I’m not confident in the slightest that a 13-0 Husky team will make the Top 4.  If you are, that’s good for you, you’re very secure and confident.  You should be proud of yourself.

As for me, I can’t help but harken back to the 2011/2012 Husky basketball team.  Remember that?  That’s a team that went 14-4 in conference play, won the Pac-12 regular season title, but because they lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, and because it was a down year in the conference (sound familiar?), and because we didn’t have any significant wins over major non-conference opponents, we were kept out of the NCAA Tournament.  I’m not saying this is an apples-to-apples comparison; obviously if you’re talking about an undefeated Husky football team, it’s not the same as an 11-loss Husky basketball team.  But, that was the very first time a major conference regular season champion had ever not been allowed into the NCAA Tourney in its history.  It was a BIG deal at the time, and a lot of people were up in arms about it.

Where are the similarities with this Husky football team (assuming it goes undefeated)?  Again, you’ve got the down conference, with all the major players (Oregon, Stanford, USC, UCLA) having mediocre-to-bad years.  You’ve got a complete lack of a major non-conference win (the best team we played in non-conference might have been Rutgers, who is currently 2-6 and winless in the Big 10).  And, you’ve got the unfortunate circumstance of a lot of other teams potentially having great records, with superior strength of schedules.

Think about it, it could come down to a 1-loss Florida SEC champ, a 1-loss Alabama team, a 1-loss A&M team, a 1-loss Ohio State team, a 1-loss Michigan team, and a no-loss Clemson team.  There are SIX potential playoff teams, and you’re telling me only half of them will make the playoffs, with the Huskies as that fourth team?

Look, I’m not saying this is what I want to happen; I hope I’m totally wrong!  But, to have this crazy confidence that all the Huskies have to do is win out – when our best win is likely to be last week’s road win over the Utes, decided on a punt return for a touchdown, with up to three uncalled blocks in the back – I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it.  I don’t buy it because I have zero faith in the system.  I have zero faith in the judgment of human beings.

Especially when, not for nothing, but one of the committee members has an axe to grind with the University of Washington.  I mean, seriously, what is Tyrone Willingham doing on this committee?  You should have to automatically recuse yourself if you have ever had a professional tie to any of the schools in contention.  Un-fucking-believable.

Pretty Crazy About Sark, Huh?

When Steve Sarkisian bolted from the University of Washington for USC, I’ll admit I was pretty damn bitter.  That’s not totally unexpected, but what’s a little shocking is the level of naiveté I was working with.  As far as Husky fans are concerned, I’m something of a n00b.  I was never into college football, whatsoever, when I was growing up.  I attended the University of Washington because it was close to home, and because it accepted me.  Had I not made the cut, I was well on my way to being a Washington State Cougar, and my whole life would be radically different right now.

I enrolled as a Husky in 1999, the same year Rick Neuheisel was hired.  Neuheisel was a dramatic shift away from past Husky leaders, Don James (the immortal, from 1975-1992) and James’ defensive coordinator, Jim Lambright (1993-1998).  Lambo took over under the harsh scrutiny and penalties of the NCAA, and for the most part held the program together through some pretty dark times.  But, the university was looking for a change, and made a big splash in wooing Neuheisel away from Colorado after some successful years.

So, for all intents and purposes, Rick Neuheisel was my first Husky coach.  Of course, history hasn’t been kind to the Neuheisel regime.  Many argue he had his greatest successes with Lambo’s players (particularly superstar quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo), finishing 3rd in the nation in his second season as the Husky head coach, followed by another Top 20 finish the very next year.  Neuheisel’s fourth and final year was something of a disappointment, and as it turned out, 2002 was just the beginning of a long, slow death of a football program.

At the time, I thought Neuheisel got a raw deal with his termination – I mean, come on, a football coach can’t participate in a friendly NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket contest?  But, who knows?  Maybe it was for the best.  If he didn’t destroy this program with shoddy recruiting, he either would’ve left for a better-paying gig, or even possibly gotten us saddled with more sanctions than we ended up getting.  Much like the mighty oak tree, Rick Neuheisel was shady as all get-out.

But, that didn’t help things from a football perspective on the field.  Keith Gilbertson was hired as Neuheisel’s replacement.  He was a throwback to the Don James days, and he should be commended for taking a no-win situation.  As one might expect, he struggled to get us to .500 in his first year, before totally collapsing with a 1-10 record in 2004 (including going 0-8 in conference play).  After that, in an attempt to clean up our reputation, we hired Tyrone Willingham – recently fired from Notre Dame after having great success in Stanford years prior – and thus began our final bottoming out.

Throughout that whole decade, from 1999 through 2008, I followed the program, but I wouldn’t say I followed it as ardently as I do now.  I’m sure I didn’t watch all the games, for instance.  I certainly didn’t go to all the games, or even a high percentage of games.  In fact, if I had any memory at all, I may have gone to MAYBE 10 games total in that time period.  Part of that had to do with not having a ton of money, part of that had to do with spending a year and a half out of state, but the Husky football program was more of an excuse to hang out with friends and party than it was actually appreciating the product on the field.

In 2009, all of that started to change.  We hired Sark with the express purpose of getting back to winning football games.  Fuck graduation rates, fuck our reputation in the NCAA, now it was time to produce on the field.  In a lot of ways, my Husky fandom was reborn with the hire of Sark.  And, in his first couple of years, Sark didn’t disappoint.

  • In his first game, the Huskies fought hard & lost a close one at home to LSU
  • In his third game, we beat 3rd-ranked USC at home
  • In his sixth game, we beat Arizona in a thriller, 36-33, which still stands as the best football game I’ve ever seen in person
  • In his first Apple Cup, we shut out the Cougs 30-0
  • In his first season finale, we destroyed 19th-ranked Cal 42-10
  • In Year 2, we went down to 18th-ranked USC and beat them again
  • In the final three regular season games of 2010, we swept UCLA, Cal, and Wazzu to earn our first bowl game since 2002 with Rick Neuheisel
  • In that Holiday Bowl, we beat 16th-ranked Nebraska, who had slaughtered us earlier that same season

After those first two years, Sark was our adopted heir apparent to Don James.  The Dawgfather Part II.  While we all knew there was a great possibility that he’d eventually leave us for USC whenever they came calling, many of us couldn’t help but dream of a scenario where Sark brought us back to the Don James glory days of contending for national championships, building an empire in the northwest for the next quarter century.

That naiveté I talked about earlier.  It was there in spades.  I mean, why WOULD you trust anyone who played at BYU, who was from Southern Cal and who got his first coordinating experience with USC, when he said that the Washington Husky Football head coaching job was his “dream job”?  It’s ludicrous!  Those are empty words that you hear from practically every single head coach upon being hired by a new team!

Nevertheless, when he left, it stung.  It stung worse than when we lost Neuheisel.  I just had the feeling that he’d go on to USC, bring them back to national prominence, and we’d be up here looking like the fools who gave away the golden goose.

Sark’s first year at USC was pretty solid.  9-4 record, 2nd place finish in the Pac-12 South, important wins over ranked Stanford & Arizona teams, and a Holiday Bowl win over 25th-ranked Nebraska.  They finished in the Top 25 in both polls; all in all, not a bad start to a tenure.  Meanwhile, Chris Petersen struggled in his first year as Sark’s replacement.  We finished the regular season 8-5, losing to all five ranked opponents, including an unforgivable botch job in that Arizona game; then we lost our bowl game to a not-very-good Oklahoma State team.  We had four players on defense get drafted in the first two rounds, yet as a unit, our defense couldn’t have looked more mediocre.  There were definitely some growing pains as holdovers from the Sark regime tried to adjust to Coach Pete’s expectations, and in the end it all resulted in one of the more unsatisfying seasons we’ve had around here since our winless 2008.

2015 didn’t appear to be trending much better, with the Huskies going with a true freshman at quarterback, while trying to patch together a defense that lost a lot of starters.  Through four games, the Huskies were 2-2 and things were as expected.  We’d coast through the rest of a losing season and PRAY some of the young guys showed real, tangible improvement.  On the flipside, USC looked pretty ordinary in their own right through four weeks.  Starting the year as a pre-season Top 10 program, the Trojans let one slip away against an unranked Stanford team.  On top of that, there was the pre-season flap where Sark had too much to drink and made an ass out of himself at a school function.  A lot of Husky fans had a lot of fun at his expense, not realizing the full extent of the problem.

Were there rumors that Sark was something of a partyboy when he was head coach of the Huskies?  For sure!  But, we’re talking about a relatively young guy, promoting a youthful, fun atmosphere.  And, you can say what you want about his on-field playcalling, but he certainly got the job done in the recruiting department (maybe not in the offensive line, but you don’t get a player like Shaq Thompson to come here if you’re not a guy who knows how to recruit – players, and fellow coaches/recruiters).  Does he like to have a good time, and occasionally allow himself to consume too much?  Sure, but who doesn’t?

Everything seemed to come to a head last Thursday, as the Huskies made their way down to USC.  No one gave us a chance in Hell.  Yet, our defense was as good as I’ve seen it since the Neuheisel days, and our offense did just enough to get us the W.  Husky fans rejoiced, we poked more fun at Sark, and this season has since taken a wonderful turn towards the positive.  Maybe we’ll beat Oregon at home this week, for the first time in ages!  MAYBE, we’ll even win enough games to get into a bowl game, thereby giving our true freshman quarterback some extra practices to hone his craft!  Limitless possibilities!

Not so, down in Trojanland.  Apparently, Sark came into practice last Sunday while still drunk, or at the very least at the end of a long bender.  He was placed on leave, and later terminated for cause, because having an erratic lush as your head coach will NOT do wonders for your recruiting it turns out.

When I wrote that post above, in the days/hours following Sark’s abandonment of the Husky program, as I said before I was pretty bitter.  I wished him ill will.  I wished he’d be ridden out of Southern Cal on the rails like Lane Kiffin had before him.  This moment, this happening, SHOULD bring me great joy!  I should be wallowing in the succulence of sour grapes like a pig in shit.  But, honestly, I can’t help but feel bad for the guy.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.  He was supposed to be crushed under the impossible weight of USC expectations, and watch miserably as his teams faltered on the football field.  He wasn’t supposed to let that misery affect his personal life and drink himself out of a job!  I mean, I’m not a monster, after all.  I am capable of having sympathy, apparently (who knew?).

I have a different take on quote/unquote alcoholism than I think most others.  I think the textbook definition – and most people’s definitions – of alcoholism is greatly exaggerated.  It dates back to this country’s puritanical origins for all things “sinful”.  Sex out of wedlock is naughty, marijuana is a gateway drug that will ruin your life, and more than four beers makes you an alcoholic.  It’s insane!  Before I learned all these stories about Sark being drunk on the job – at practice and even during games – when we only had the story from that pre-season USC function, and some bar tabs from recruiting trips and such while he was head coach of the Huskies, I thought that Sark was no different than myself.  I like to tie one on during the weekends.  I work all week in an office, I should be allowed to have as many fucking beers as I want on Friday and/or Saturday nights!  As long as I’m not driving while drunk, getting into fights, or otherwise being an asshole while drunk, then who cares?

My take on alcoholism is this:  when it starts infringing on your regular, everyday life, then you’ve got a problem.  Like, when you’re drinking a fifth of vodka every single day, just to get through the day.  Like, when you’ve got so many DUIs that you lose your license and need to be chauffeured everywhere by family or friends.  Like, when you turn into a raging dickhead when you’re drunk and start alienating everyone around you.  Or, when your drunkenness starts affecting your ability to hold down a job.  Among, I’m sure, other reasons I can’t think of right now.

I think the term Functioning Alcoholic, or High-Functioning Alcoholic, is dismissive and patronizing.  Alcoholism shouldn’t be reduced to how many drinks you have in a day, or how many you have in a week.  If you drink to unwind after work, and you’re not hurting anybody, then who cares?  You’re not a High-Functioning Alcoholic, you’re just a person, making it through what can be – at times – a long and shitty life.

Sark, it appears, went off the deep end, though.  In almost any job, you have to be aware of your abilities and limitations.  I don’t know of any employer who’s going to tolerate you coming into work while sauced.  But, that dynamic increases 100-fold when you’re in a public position like head coach of a major college football program.  Without knowing him personally, or even the intimate details of his private life, Sark strikes me as someone who needs help.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of; we all need help at one point or another.  It’s good that he’s finally at a point where he’s willing and able to get that help.

As a Husky fan, more than anything I feel sorry for the guy.  Yes, he brought it upon himself.  Yes, he’s a famous, white millionaire with the epitome of First World Problems.  But, he’s still going through a lot of emotional shit right now, and as much as I want to enjoy him falling on his face for leaving the Washington program, I just can’t do it.

The stark truth is, Sark did have his dream job, when he was hired by USC.  He’s since lost that job, in a painfully embarrassing and premature way.  And, he’ll never have that opportunity again.  He can go to rehab, he can get his addiction under control, and he can be in a position to be entrusted with another bigtime college football program.  He can do almost anything he wants with the rest of his life, and he can live that life in comfort and financial security.  But, he’ll never have his dream job again.

Is it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all?  I tend to have my doubts, especially in cases like this, where that love was ripped away all too soon.  So, if you’re looking for a reason to feel bad for a guy you may have resented for leaving the Huskies, I’ll present exhibit A.

That’s All Folks: Husky Basketball Season Ends In Yet Another Defeat

The Huskies finished their 2014/2015 season with a 16-15 record, 5-14 in conference play (including the Pac-12 Tourney).  Yep, after starting the season 11-0 in non-conference play (including impressive wins over Oklahoma and San Diego State), the Huskies finished the season losing 15 of their last 20 games (many times in brutal fashion).

A lot went wrong this year, no doubt about it.  Robert Upshaw was kicked off the team.  Jernard Jarreau missed a bunch of games with injury.  Shawn Kemp Jr. missed a few games towards the end with injury.  NWG even had to miss a game, as well as a couple of minor role players.  It hasn’t been pretty.  We’ve been forced to play guys who have no business being on the same court as other major conference schools.

Naturally, though, our lack of success falls on the head coach, Lorenzo Romar.  It has to, we’re talking about four consecutive years without making the NCAA Tournament.  There’s too much talent out there to be this bad for this long.  At the same time, it’s not like the Pac-12 has been this huge powerhouse in the last four years.  It shouldn’t be THAT hard to be one of the best three teams in this conference.

You could say the team has been snakebitten by injuries in recent years, but if we’re putting all of our eggs in the Jernard Jarreau basket, then really, how good were our chances to begin with?  This year looked to be different, but you can see how the lack of depth is killing us.  As soon as we lost Upshaw, we immediately became the worst team in the conference.  We were able to cobble together a fairly strong starting five this year (I include Upshaw in that statement, even though he was relegated to being the 6th man; he still played starter’s minutes), but we had absolutely nothing going on with our bench.

The problem with Romar, as far as I can tell, is that while he’s a good recruiter, and a good leader, and a fine, upstanding role model; his gameday decision-making is a little suspect.  I’m not going to sit here and say the man doesn’t know what he’s doing – I think he did the best with what he had, as the roster fell apart around him – but you can’t help coming away from these games wondering what the plan was, or if there even WAS a plan.  His teams in recent years haven’t excelled at anything.  The defense has been routinely suspect; he seems to have given up on his old, tenacious style of swarming defense (either because he can’t find the right people to run it, or because it’s impossible to bring in quality basketball players on a foundation of defense, because all anyone ever wants to do is show off how well they can score).  The offense doesn’t appear to ever know what it wants to do.  Are we a running team?  Are we a half-court team?  Are we a high-post team?  Are we whatever the hell we were before we started running this high-post?

I would say, beyond the simple gameday stuff, the real menace has been in who he has recruited to come here, and his player development.  These are two aspects of Romar’s job description that tend to receive the most praise.  While he has nearly always struggled to recruit quality big men to UW, we’ve always had a quality guard or two.  I mean, just look at the track record of success of getting guys into the NBA; he’s not over here puttering on the fringes.  He’s bringing in bigtime talent and pushing them through to the show!

And, while that’s great for the star players, and it’s great for Romar’s reputation as a recruiter, it hasn’t translated to a whole lot of success on the college basketball court.  The coach and players get what they want, but what about the team?  Through last year, there have been ten players drafted into the NBA under Romar’s watch.  Upshaw is another talented player who figures to at least get a shot – even with his checkered past – and the jury is still out on whether NWG is a bona fide NBA player, but with his pedigree and hype, I bet he finds his way onto a roster.  Yet, with ALL this talent we’ve had grace this program, what do we have to show for it?  Three Sweet 16 appearances and that’s it.  In 13 seasons.

Romar’s best attribute has been his ability to mold players who are totally inept into quality Pac-10/12 players by the time they’re Seniors.  But, if his plan is to keep recruiting stud athletes, he’s going to have to do a better job of coaching players up in year 1.  Our return on investment is pretty much nil with these guys.  I mean, with all the first-year players we had on our team this year, not ONE was able to break out and at least be a somewhat competent role player?  For all intents and purposes, we were merely running a 6-man rotation, with a couple extra duds thrown in just to give guys some time to rest.

I know it’s an unfair example, but when you look at teams like Kentucky, they’re out there running full starting lineups of Freshmen and getting the job done.  Why is it that seemingly our Freshmen – even our highly-touted ones – consistently underwhelm in year 1?  I feel like that’s a problem that’s not getting enough play.  It’s all well and good if you bring in a 4-year guy, and he makes big leaps in production from year to year.  But, we need help immediately!  We need MORE than one dominant player per season if we’re going to go anywhere!

Anyway, say what you will, but the calls are getting louder now for Romar to be fired.  I’ve always been a pretty big defender of keeping him the last few years, but at this point I’m on the fence.  If I had to put a number on it, I’d say 51% of me wants him to stay and 49% thinks we should just cut ties now and move on.  This isn’t nearly the same as Tyrone Willingham, because he was a fucking loser from Day 1.  Romar at least has a history of being relatively successful with UW.  That has certainly bought enough goodwill to get him to this point, but I wonder if it’ll carry him on into next season.

The crux of the matter is next year’s recruiting class, which is one of the better classes in the country.  We’ve all been kind of focused on this being the start of a turnaround for the program, but part of me wonders if it will even matter.  Is Romar the coach to do it?  Does he have what it takes?  And, if the program does decide to cut ties, what will become of all the players who promised to come here?  Will they go elsewhere in the conference?  Will this be the start of another Dark Age for the program?

I will remind everyone that the Huskies are NOT some historically great basketball school.  Before Romar, we had some marginal success in the 80s.  Before that, we had a pretty good run in the early 50s.  Before that, we had a good run in the 20s & 30s.  But, it’s not like there’s some dynasty in the history of this program.  No one – especially incoming Freshman and transfer students – gives two shits about what the Huskies did multiple decades ago.

If we’re going to turn this program around – and not have it be a blind fluke – we’re either going to need to find a real amazing recruiter (someone who’s probably a little shady, like Kentucky’s head guy), or we’re going to have to find a coach with a scheme that’s unique and super-difficult to match up against.  Who’s the next Chip Kelly of college basketball?  That’s who I’m talking about!  If we don’t find that diamond in the rough, then it really won’t surprise me to see this program spinning its wheels for the next two decades or more.

The bottom line is, it’s fun to be a mid-major like Gonzaga who finds the perfect head coach who not only chooses to stay for decades, but is a great recruiter and a great tactician on gameday.  But, it’s also pretty fucking easy to be that school – with that unicorn of a coach, who consistently dominates in fledgling conferences like the WCC, when your conference competition is nothing – and make the NCAA Tourney year-in and year-out.  The Huskies are at a real disadvantage, because we play in a REAL conference, that’s more or less loaded with talent up and down the standings.  Here’s to hoping we find that unicorn of a head coach, because more often than not, any kind of good head coach will see the Huskies as a stepping-stone and certainly not a final destination.

I’ve said it repeatedly in the past:  I don’t want to get rid of Romar for just anyone.  He needs to be legitimately better, and ideally he’d be someone willing to stick around for the long term.  Failing that, replacing Romar just to have someone different is no way to run a basketball program.

Tell Me Why We Were So Excited About Chris Petersen Again

I guess when your team gets a new head coach, you’re supposed to be all blindly excited and hope for the best, right?  That’s all part of being a fan.  When we brought in Sark, we were just elated to finally be out from under Tyrone Willingham’s winless thumb, it didn’t matter WHO we brought in.  Sark was a young, up-and-comer from a Pac-12 rival, and we were giving him his first shot at a head coaching gig.  He couldn’t be any WORSE!  And, in the end, he wasn’t any worse.

With Sark going back to USC – this time to be their head coach – the Huskies figured they needed to make a splash.  But, these are the Washington Huskies of the 21st century.  The odds of the next Don James walking through that door are slim-to-none.  If you want to make a splash, you’ve got to go out and bring in a big name.  Chris Petersen, we all figured, was that big name.

But, is he?  He was head coach of Boise State for eight years.  In that time, he won five conference championships:  four Western Athletic Conference titles, and one Mountain West Conference title.  He went 92-12 at Boise State, going down as the all-time leader in overall wins and winning percentage.  Unquestionably, he was great.  He led them to two Fiesta Bowl victories and four Top 10 finishes.

I would point out that there is something to be said for playing the bulk of your games in the WAC and the Mountain West.  If you string together enough 1-loss seasons – as his predecessor Dan Hawkins did, before taking a job with Colorado – you’re going to get some national recognition.  Sprinkle in a few high-profile, early-season victories over ranked opponents in your non-conference schedule, and look at you!  You’re in the BCS discussion!

I would also like to point out that Chris Petersen’s best team – the undefeated 2006 squad – was unquestionably Dan Hawkins’ team, as he left Boise State after the 2005 season.  What’s Petersen’s claim to fame?  A few trick plays in that Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma that netted them a 1-point victory in one of the most exciting college football games of all time.  I’d also point out that their other Fiesta Bowl victory was over TCU, another Boise State-esque mid-major and darling of the BCS era.

It’s nice that Chris Petersen was undefeated against Oregon when we hired him, but all I care about is WASHINGTON’S record against Oregon, which is now 0-1 with Petersen as the head coach.

It’s also neat that Chris Petersen was so highly coveted by all these other nationally-prominent schools all these years, but that doesn’t mean anything.  Sometimes, coaches just catch fire in a bottle.  Sometimes, coaches ride the coattails of the really successful head coaches who preceeded them.  Dan Hawkins was highly coveted as well.  Colorado nabbed him and what happened?  The Buffaloes went 19-39 and never had a winning record.  Ever since then, he’s coached exactly 5 football games in the CFL before being fired again.

Sometimes, coaches aren’t really that great at all.  Sometimes, they just luck into an impossible situation.

The point of all this is:  it’s more Wishful Thinking than Making Good Sense to get your hopes up over a new hire like Chris Petersen.  What do we know about his abilities as a head coach?  He’s never done it at this level, in a BCS conference!  It’s almost like taking the very best high school head coach in the country and giving him the keys to your college program; you’re not necessarily in for the time of your life just because he won a million games at a low-level football factory.

I’ve had MULTIPLE days to sleep on last Saturday’s bungling, and I’m still just as irate as I was when the clock hit all zeroes.  I wasn’t even all that disgruntled at the time, when he decided to hand the ball off to Deontae Cooper instead of just kneeling on the ball three times.  But, the more I’ve thought about it, and the more people have pointed out the Wildcats would’ve had all of 10 seconds left to try to go the length of the field to take the lead, the more idiotic he sounds for saying that his “chart” says that he needs another first down there.

YOUR CHART IS BULLSHIT!  USE SIMPLE MATH!  TAKE A CHANCE ON GIVING THEM THE BALL BACK WITH 10 SECONDS IN THE GAME!

Then, when we finally stopped them on the ensuing drive, instead of calling a timeout to preserve around 30 seconds of clock, he let them run it all the way down.

YOU CAN’T TAKE YOUR TIMEOUTS WITH YOU!  YOU HAVE TO GIVE YOUR TEAM A CHANCE TO DRIVE DOWN AND SCORE WITH THAT MUCH TIME LEFT!

And then he does the numbnuts head coaching move of “icing” the kicker by calling a timeout right before the snap.  He apparently wanted to call the timeout before they snapped the ball, but if they’re all lined up, they’re GOING to snap the ball and take the practice kick whether you want them to or not!  You have no control over it!  And, expecting the refs to do their job in a timely and competent manner means you haven’t been paying attention to what the Pac-12 Refs have been about for the last decade.

DON’T LEAVE IT IN THE HANDS OF THE REFS, AND DON’T FUCKING GIVE A COLLEGE KICKER TWO TRIES AT A GAME-WINNING FIELD GOAL!

This was it.  This was our chance at a signature victory this year.  Now, we’ve got two meaningless games against two bottom-feeders, followed by the A Pizza Mart Who Gives A Shit Bowl.  But, more importantly, this game is going to taint my impression of Chris Petersen for a LONG time.  He’s got A LOT of work to do to win back my trust as a head coach.

Middling programs who want to rise to the ranks of the elites need more than your standard, conservative, by-the-book head coach.  And, I don’t care how many Statue of Liberty plays he ran in a bowl game nearly 8 years ago, Chris Petersen is an average, by-the-book head coach.  The only thing is:  that book was written about 70 years ago, and the game has changed since then, in case you haven’t noticed!

Instead, why not go out and do what Oregon did to get great?  Hire the next creative offensive mind!  Not Just Another Guy from Po-Dunk State University who had a good run of coattail-riding against the dregs of Division I college football.  If his tenure doesn’t end in a blaze of mediocrity, I’ll be SHOCKED.

The Washington Way, Or The Chris Petersen Way

This week, Marcus Peters was kicked off the team.  Either you think it’s a good thing – because he’s likely a bad apple – or you think it’s a bad thing – because he’s a really good football player.

I mean, who gets kicked off of a football team without breaking some law or otherwise getting arrested?  Maybe this happens more than I realize and I just don’t pay attention, but I assure you, college football teams aren’t in the market of throwing away first round draft picks.  That’s not how you win football games.

I don’t know what happened.  No one but the people on the Washington Huskies football team knows what happened, and we likely never will.  We know that there were a number of incidents leading up to this, and apparently there was some straw that broke the camel’s back this week.  There was the apparent sideline tirade during the Eastern Washington game that resulted in a 1-game suspension the following week.  But, other than that, we don’t have a concrete idea of what he’s like as a teammate.

I mean, no one had a problem with Marcus Peters last year, did they?

In the short term, yeah, this sucks.  I was really hoping we’d find a way to beat UCLA, and this puts a serious damper on our chances.  But, let’s face it, it’s not like the Huskies were going anywhere this year.  Having Marcus Peters on our team isn’t going to result in a magic wormhole opening up where we’re all transplanted into another universe where the Huskies are competing for the Pac-12 championship.  We’re 2-3!  There are 8 teams ahead of us in the conference standings!

Likewise, losing Marcus Peters isn’t going to prevent us from going to a bowl game.  We need one more win.  We happen to play both Oregon State and Washington State to close out the season.  That 7th victory is coming regardless.

So, this move doesn’t really impact this season too much, if we’re being honest.  But, really, this move was never really about this season.

This is one of those statement moves.  You have to wonder – if the Huskies were 9-0 right now – would they opt to make the same statement?  It’s a legitimate question anyway; but they’re not 9-0, so they can afford to hurt the team in the short term in an effort to help the program long term.

The thing is, these “statements” can have both a positive and negative effect.  One would hope that this shows not only the players currently on the team – but prospective recruits in the future – that we want players who are going to fall in line.  Buy in to the program and all that.  The University of Washington is far from alone in being an institution and a program that wants quality individuals under its umbrella.  We’re not special in that regard.  But, it’s always a fine line between finding the right type of people, and the type of people that will win you football games.  Sometimes, those groups don’t overlap.  At what point do you sacrifice talent for good behavior?  At what point do you get fired for having too many Good Guys and not enough quality football players?

There’s being a hard-ass and there’s being an uncoachable twat.  Chris Petersen doesn’t necessarily strike me as being overly overbearing, but then again, he’s certainly more of a disciplinarian than Sark was.  If a move like this makes things a little easier; if they make the players a little more coachable, then it’s a positive.

But, if these types of moves hurt the product on the field, then there’s a problem.  Players aren’t going to want to come here if they’re worried about getting kicked off the team.  Granted, as has been stated before, this isn’t an isolated incident with Peters.  But, there’s the coach’s side of the story, and there’s Peters’ side of the story.  We’ve yet to hear the player’s version of how this season has unfolded.  When that story is finally told, how is that going to play in the media?  More importantly, how are future recruits going to take it?  Will they ultimately side with the coach or the player?

And, finally, if these types of dismissals continue, at what point do the players currently in the program start to revolt?  Making a statement like this, showing the world how you want to run your program, only works if it ultimately leads to winning and sustained success.  Coach Pete is just starting out, so you figure he has some time to build upon our foundation.  But, if we continue to spin our tires at Just Good Enough To Get To A Bowl Game year-in and year-out, at what point do we stop lauding the coach for his ethics and morals and start condemning him and his holier than thou act?

Like everything, this is another slippery slope he has to contend with.  Many fans really love this approach to running a program.  They like their players disciplined and playing “Washington Football”, a throwback to times of yore where Men Were Men, and the kids did what they were told without any lip.  But, I would argue there’s a strong contingent of fans who are loathe to see the best players – their favorite players – getting kicked off the team for what may or may not be ticky-tack reasons.

Did he rape someone?  Did he burgle a home and get caught by the police?  Did he pick a fight with a bunch of drunken Seahawks fans after the Super Bowl?  No.  Apparently, he mouthed off one too many times and the coaches had enough.  I dunno.  Is the greatness of a coach measured by how strong he is in his convictions, and how he’s able to cut loose a future NFL star because he doesn’t live up to some sort of standard?  Or, is the greatness of a coach measured by how he’s able to work with and mold a troubled kid?

Again, I don’t have all the facts.  All I know is, in one year, we lost our best cornerback and our best wide receiver due to code of conduct violations.  Washington fans like to preach about doing things the Washington Way, but that has nothing to do with Chris Petersen.  He has no ties to this school prior to his hiring this year.

This is all about how Chris Petersen wants to run things.  Which, fine, it’s his team, and he has obviously earned this right through years of success at Boise State.  At some point, within the next couple years, this team will be comprised of almost exclusively Chris Petersen’s Guys.  I’ll refrain from total judgment until then.  I hope to holy hell that he has a team full of saints who are some good, coachable kids that make this staff glad to come to work every day.  But, if they’re not winning some serious ballgames at that point – if we’re not sticking it to Oregon again on a regular basis – then we’ll know what all of this has been for.

Remember, Tyrone Willingham made it his mission to change the culture and bring in a bunch of Good Guys.  Fuck that.  I’ll take some ballers with attitude anyday if it means we’re back to being an elite program.

The Winning Percentages of Seattle Head Coaches & Managers

As I go onto say in this link (which can be found under the heading The Best Of Seattle at the top), this is merely research for a larger project.  Few things of note:

Lorenzo Romar is the second-best Husky basketball head coach of all time.  JUST SAYIN’.

Obviously, Lou Piniella is the only manager who has led the Mariners to the playoffs.  18 managers, only one has been good.  Also, 10 of those 18 had to be replaced mid-season, either by firing or because of resignation.  That’s beyond pathetic, and another reason to NOT fire Eric Wedge in the middle of this season.  Let’s show a little fucking self-control, huh Mariners?

Also, Eric Wedge:  he’s in the top half of all Mariners managers.  Didn’t see that one coming.  But, then again, considering the organization, maybe I should have.

Sark has a long way to go to be one of the all-time Husky greats, but it’s a good sign to see that he already has a winning record this early into his career.  Also, back-to-back head coaches Gilby and Willingham:  two of the VERY worst all-time.  No wonder we’ve had such a long climb back to relevancy.

Pete Carroll is already one of the best Seahawks coaches in franchise history and has a real chance to go down as THE best.  Didn’t see that one coming at the time of his hire, but now I can’t NOT see it coming …

Here’s the link.

The Best Players On The Worst Teams, Part IV: Everything Else

Part I – Felix Hernandez

Part II – Other Seattle Mariners

Part III – Seattle Seahawks

There aren’t enough Sonics to include on this list to make it worth my while for a whole post, mostly because the Sonics had been consistently good throughout the years.  With the exception of the early going (the first seven years or so) and the late going (the last six years or so, before they left Seattle).  One name that popped to mind immediately was Ray Allen.  Of course, he went on to have great success with the Celtics (and I guess the Heat, depending on whether they can pull out these Finals), but in his time in Seattle, the Sonics greatly underachieved, with only one post-season appearance to his name.  Technically, I’m not counting players like Ray Allen, since the whole idea is to praise the guys who have suffered their whole careers on terrible teams, but as I said before, the pickin’s are pretty slim across Sonics history.

I was also halfway tempted to put Rashard Lewis on this list, as his Sonics teams were pretty underwhelming too.  But, he did go to Orlando, and they did go to the playoffs in three straight seasons, including one Finals appearance.  So, screw off to Lewis; he had his chance.

Once you rule out all the great players from the 70s, 80s, and 90s (for being on consistently good-to-great teams), the only name that comes immediately to mind is Bob Rule, the old Sonics center from the very first Sonics teams.  I don’t know much at all about these early-going Sonics, but I know Bob Rule was quite good in his day.  And, from the looks of things, he NEVER made the playoffs in his 8 seasons in the league.

***

I likewise don’t have a great handle on all the Husky teams throughout the ages, but there’s one name that can’t be denied.  He might be the greatest Husky football player who ever lived.  At the very least, we’re talking about a guy in the Top 5 or Top 10 in all time Huskies.  Of course, I’m talking about Jake Locker.

When you think of great Husky teams, I’m sure you think of the Don James era.  Maybe you think about some of those teams in the 1920s, or the Jim Owens era if you’re real old school.  If you’re some young punk idiot, you’ll think about a couple of those Neuheisel teams, because those are the years I attended the university.  The point is, there are PLENTY of great Husky teams to choose from.  As there are PLENTY of great Husky players to choose from.

But, when you think of truly terrible Husky teams, you think of every season after the Neuheisel era.  You think of Gilby and Willingham.  You think of 2008 and 0-12.  And, of course, you have to think about Jake Locker.

Now, obviously, if we’re talking about one of the greatest Husky football players of all time, then you know we’re talking about teams that were terrible in spite of their leader!  Nevertheless, in his first two years, the Huskies were 4-9 and 0-12 before Willingham was rightfully fired.  That’s a disgrace!  How could you possibly draw in a player SO GOOD, and end up with records so poor?  Well, of course, Locker was hurt for much of that 0-12 campaign (that really seemed to drag on and on and on until the end of time; if there is a Hell, it’s forever sitting in the freezing nosebleed seats at the end of October, 2008, as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish trounce your home team 33-7), but that’s neither here nor there.

Locker never had the talent around him.  Period.  Even when Sark came aboard, there was little hope.  You can’t turn around a program this inept in one or two years.  Locker’s third season was a marked improvement, but the Huskies were still only good enough to finish 5-7, bringing his 3-year record to 9-28.  Finally, though, in his Senior season, through the sheer force of Locker’s will, the Huskies made it back to a bowl game and kicked the asses of the Cornhuskers.  A 7-6 final season brought Locker’s total record to 16-34, which makes me weep a little on the inside.  Deep down, where I’m soft like a woman.

***

Upon conception of this post idea, it was supposed to center around Felix Hernandez.  I decided to broaden the scope and include other sports, so I reached out to some friends to give me ideas on other elite players who have been banished to terrible teams throughout their careers.  So, let’s get it on.

A lot of people feel sorry for Larry Fitzgerald, but let’s face it, if you’ve ever played in a Super Bowl, you’re disqualified (I don’t care HOW terrible his quarterbacks have been since Kurt Warner retired).  So, forget about him, and start getting a huge sad sack boner over Steven Jackson.  Nine years in the league to date, all with St. Louis.  In his first season (2004), the Rams made the playoffs (remember the game where they beat the Seahawks in the Wild Card round?) and won a single game before losing the following week.  At that time, Jackson was sharing the load with the legendary Marshall Faulk, so he didn’t even get a full allotment of carries in his lone post-season appearance!

In a real oddity, the Rams for Jackson’s entire career (including 2004) have never had a winning record.  At best, they’ve been 8-8 (twice); at worst, they’ve been 1-15 (once) and 2-14 (twice).  His total record in the NFL is 44-99-1.  His stats to date are:  10,135 yards, 56 touchdowns, 407 receptions, 3,324 receiving yards, 8 receiving touchdowns, in 131 total games.  My hunch:  we’re talking about a guy who will be in the Hall of Fame one day.  And it’s only now, as he’s signed with the Atlanta Falcons, where he will finally get a real taste of the post-season life.  Even then, nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.  I generally dislike the teams in Seattle’s division and the players on those teams, but Steven Jackson is one of the good ones.  If it weren’t a foregone conclusion that the Seahawks are going all the way this year, I’d root like crazy for Jackson and the Falcons.

Next on my list of the parade of the damned, we’ve got probably my favorite running back of all time:  Barry Sanders.  Ye GODS, was he spectacular!  Hands down, probably my favorite player to watch play the game of football.  He lasted 10 years, all with Detroit, before retiring at an age where he probably – if he wanted to – could have continued his career.  I mean, in his final season, he ran for 1,491 yards!  In his next-to-last season, he ran for over 2,000 yards!  If that’s not a guy who’s still in the prime of his life, I don’t know what to tell you.

The Detroit Lions, in his time, were consistently mediocre.  78-82.  Yes, they made the playoffs in five of his ten seasons, but they were never really CONTENDERS.  And, not for nothing, but the Lions’ playoff record in his tenure was 1-5; yes, they lost their first game 4 out of the 5 times his Lions made the playoffs.  Remember these names:  Rodney Peete, Dave Krieg, Scott Mitchell, Charlie Batch.  These are just a few of the quarterbacks who did little more than hand the ball off to Sanders and watch him try to carry the team into the playoffs.

OK, one more player before I finish for the day and continue this post later.  O.J. Simpson.  He IS a Hall of Famer!  He played in 11 seasons throughout the late 60s and all of the 70s, 9 of them in Buffalo before finishing his career in San Francisco (before they were SAN FRANCISCO).  In that time, Simpson played in exactly one playoff game, in 1974, against the Steelers, where they lost 32-14.  He ran it 15 times for 49 yards with another 3 receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown.  Those are the entirety of his playoff numbers.  Little did the world know then just what kind of an asshole he would become, but at the time of his retirement, I suppose you had to feel sorry for the guy.

To be continued …

The Last Five Years In Seattle Sports

2008 was the lowest point in Seattle sports.  It was our Absolute Zero.  Rock Bottom.  The total nadir of sports humanity!

It was the primary inspiration for the title of this website.  Take an already-crappy sports city, with practically no history of real success whatsoever, then rain down a million boulders while giving fans only a tiny umbrella to protect themselves.

We did NOT deserve this …

Well, we just finished the 2012 sports year with the 2012/2013 Husky basketball season coming to its conclusion.  As such, I have taken it upon myself to take a look back.  Five years ago, it was 2008; we were just getting started with the worst year ever.  How have things changed with our primary Seattle sports teams?

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners came off of a surprising 2007 campaign that saw them appearing to turn a corner.  Beltre, Ibanez, and Ichiro led the offense.  We hoped that a possible resurrection of Richie Sexson would bring about a further boost.  Two young guns up the middle – Lopez & Betancourt – were proof positive that what we were doing in our farm system wasn’t a complete joke.  Felix was coming into his own.  Losing Weaver & Horacio Ramirez was addition by subtraction.  You figured, with another quality starter, and another bat or two, and we’d be in business!

Well, we know what happened with 2008.  The Erik Bedard trade was a total and complete disaster (though, it went a long way towards the Orioles making their surprising playoff run in 2012).  The Mariners opted to let Jose Guillen walk and replaced him with the corpse of Brad Wilkerson.  Richie Sexson became a local pariah.  And, oh yeah, the other big pitching piece – Carlos Silva – was signed to the single-worst contract in recorded history.  You tack on little things – like J.J. Putz going from the greatest reliever in baseball in 2007, to an injured pile of crap in 2008 – and it all boils down to this team losing 101 games.  The first team with a payroll over $100 million to lose over 100 games.  Everyone was fired; it was brutal.

Enter Jackie Z, who could seemingly do no wrong at first.  He replaced Sexson with Russell Branyan – big upgrade.  He traded Putz for Franklin Gutierrez, who had an amazing season both in the field and at the plate.  We also ended up with Jason Vargas in that Putz deal, who came in and earned his way into the starting rotation.  He brought in Ken Griffey Jr., who wasn’t a total disaster as a DH.  In short, there was an immediate turnaround thanks to God knows what.  Good vibrations?  Luck?  I dunno.  But, this team improved 24 games over 2008 and contended well into the summer.  Everyone thought we’d struck gold!

Then, like some kind of sick fucking plague, every move Jackie Z made to help bolster the 2010 team turned to shit.  Chone Figgins was signed to a 4-year deal and immediately was the worst player in baseball.  Branyan was allowed to walk in favor of Casey Kotchman; Kotchman was terrible and Branyan was brought back in a panic-deal mid-season, because we had the most punch-less lineup in all of baseball history.  Silva was traded for Milton Bradley – which was a move of pure GENIUS until it turned out trading one cancer for another still leaves you on your deathbed.  Griffey was brought back, because HEY!, he hit 19 home runs the year before and it’s not like players suddenly lose all of their ability to swing a bat all at once or anything.

Mind you, just about everything Jackie Z did in anticipation of the 2010 season was believed to be the right thing.  Except for Griffey, but really, if we didn’t make the playoffs that season, it wasn’t going to be exclusively the fault of our elderly DH.  And, to a lesser extent, the Brandon League for Brandon Morrow trade was a bit questionable.  I mean, who trades a bona fide Major League starting prospect for an 8th inning reliever type? Nevertheless, this was a bold move looking to shore up our bullpen.

The cherry on top was the Cliff Lee trade.  We gave a bunch of Bavasi draft rejects to the Phillies for Cliff Lee in his final season.  At best, he’d be the starting pitcher to put us over the top.  At worst, we’d be a losing team and trade him at the deadline to the highest bidder for the best crop of prospects.

Like everything else that happened in 2010, even THIS ended up backfiring.  Cliff Lee came with a built-in contingency plan!  And he was traded for Justin Smoak – a disappointment to date – Blake Beavan – a less-than-adequate starting pitcher – and what has turned into a season’s worth of Michael Morse, a season’s worth of John Jaso, and a season’s worth of Josh Lueke.  There’s still time to turn around our fortunes, but unless Smoak figures out a miracle cure to his sucking ways, this has bust written all over it.

So, what happens when every single offseason (and in-season) move you make backfires?  You lose another 101 games, your franchise icon retires mid-season, your manager gets fired, and your GM is lucky to still have a job.

2010 was a wake-up call, both for fans and for the organization.  The last two times the Mariners had winning records – 2007 and 2009 – they immediately went out the very next offseason and tried to Win Now.  All the moves they made in hopes to Win Now were total disasters, so they had to come up with a new plan.  Either you keep riding this rollercoaster, firing your manager and/or GM every two seasons, or you start over from scratch.

Even though Jackie Z managed to bungle every Major League move known to man, he had still built up the minor leagues a fair amount.  With another high draft pick in his pocket, he put his head down and went to work.

The 2011 season was essentially given over to the kids.  Our major offseason moves included bringing in Miguel Olivo, Jack Cust, Adam Kennedy, Brendan Ryan, and handing over the starting rotation to guys like Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, and Blake Beavan.  In addition, Ackley, Seager, and Carp all got their feet wet; Peguero was given an inordinate amount of playing time for what he was actually bringing to the table.  Others, like Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Saunders, and Halman all got varying amounts of playing time.  2011 was Try-Out central in Seattle.  Throw a bunch of spaghetti noodles into a pot of boiling water, take them out and see which ones would stick to the wall.

2012 took it a step further.  The big free agent pick-ups consisted of Millwood, Iwakuma, and a backup shortstop in Kawasaki.  We traded away Pineda – our best pitching prospect – to bring in Jesus Montero, because we absolutely could not live with the same old offense we’d had the past two seasons.

What did 2011 and 2012 accomplish?  Moderate gains in the win/loss column (+6 wins in 2011, +8 wins in 2012), moderate gains in our offensive production, and a whole lot of salary coming off the books.  The Silva/Bradley money, the Ichiro money, the Olivo money, another season’s worth of the Figgins money.

Now, it’s 2013.  The Mariners brought in some big bats via trade – Morse & Morales for Jaso & Vargas respectively – and some veteran bats via free agency – Ibanez and Bay.  They re-signed Iwakuma (when they realized he’s actually a quality starter), brought in Joe Saunders (who will probably be terrible), and have given the back-end of the rotation over to youth (Maurer and Beavan).  The crown jewel of the 2012/2013 offseason was re-signing Felix through 2019.  That’s huge.  The Mariners may never make the post-season while he’s with us, but God damn it, if they do WATCH OUT.

There is reason for optimism five years after bottoming out in 2008, but we’re still in a Show Me stage.  I’ll believe it when I see it, and all that.  2013 is critical, because if they don’t show some significant improvement, I think a lot of people will be out on their asses again and we’ll be looking at ANOTHER rebuild.

Husky Football

The Huskies ended their 2007 season with a 4-9 record.  Their 2007 schedule was deemed by many to be the toughest schedule in the nation.  Tyrone Willingham was coming off of his third consecutive losing season (going 2-9 in 2005 and 5-7 in 2006), and many believed he should have been fired then and there.  I was one of those simple-minded folks who said we should give him ONE more chance.  Jake Locker had a full season under his belt, why not give Willingham an opportunity to turn things around with the guy he brought in as his quarterback?

Well, we kicked off 2008 by being trounced in Oregon (who would go on to finish 10-3).  Then, we lost by a single point at home to BYU (thanks to the infamous penalty flag thrown on Locker as he ran in for the would-be game-tying touchdown and tossed the ball over his shoulder … thank you Pac-10 referees for being so damn competent) on a missed extra point at the end of the game.  Then, we lost at home to Oklahoma (who would go on to lose to Florida in the BCS National Championship Game).

THEN, we lost our quarterback, our best player, and really our only GOOD player, in the Stanford game.  After that, with the likes of Ronnie Fouch at the helm, we proceeded to lose all the rest of our games (including a pathetic heartbreaker of an Apple Cup, 16-13 in overtime).

0-12.  Doesn’t get any worse than that.  Can only go up from there, right?

Willingham:  gone.  Sarkisian:  in.

The 2009 Huskies improved by 5 games.  There was a signature win at home over the then-#3 USC Trojans, 16-13 on a last-minute field goal.  There was a signature near-win the first game of the season at home against LSU.  Jake Locker took huge strides in his development as a passer.  Everything looked great for the future.

The 2010 Huskies weren’t all that much more improved than the 2009 team, but they managed to win six regular season games (winning out after starting 3-6, thanks to a soft schedule to finish things) and earned a bowl game against Nebraska.  Of course, they got killed by Nebraska, IN Husky Stadium, earlier that season.  But, in the rematch, this Husky team was totally reborn and they took it to the Cornhuskers, stifling them 19-7.

That led to somewhat higher expectations for 2011, but how high could we possibly make them?  Let’s face it, we’d lost our best player and were breaking in a new quarterback.  Our defense was still on the fritz, and we were still in a very tough conference with Oregon, Stanford, and USC.  Not to mention we had to go to Nebraska, where we most certainly got our shit kicked in.

2011 was a disappointment because there was no Signature Win.  In 2009 and 2010, we had victories over USC and Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.  In 2011, we barely squeaked by Eastern Washington in the first game.  We were absolutely terrorized by the aforementioned heavy hitters (losing the games to USC, Oregon, Stanford, and Nebraska by a combined 190-93).  In spite of losing ALL the games were were technically “supposed” to lose, we were still in line for a 1-game improvement over 2010.  That officially died when A. we went into Oregon State and lost (they ended the season with 3 wins) and B. we faced RGIII and the Baylor Bears and gave up 67 points on 777 yards of offense in losing by 11.

Back-to-back 7-6 seasons left a bitter taste in our mouths.  After storming the field against the Cornhuskers, we bent over and grabbed our ankles against the Bears.  2012 would SURELY be different, though.  We had a full season with Keith Price, he had surpassed our wildest expectations by throwing for over 3,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.  How could 2012 NOT be a huge improvement?  On top of all that, we didn’t wait that extra season to see if Nick Holt could turn things around on defense.  We went out, brought in some heavy hitters at recruiting and defensive coaching, and nabbed some top prospects in the process.

Well, there was improvement.  The 2012 Huskies DID manage some signature wins against the likes of Stanford and Oregon State (both in the top 10 at the time we beat them), but they also fell completely flat against the likes of #3 LSU, #2 Oregon, and #11 USC.  In spite of yet another 3-game losing streak in the middle of the season, these Huskies were looking at possibly winning 8 or 9 games when all was said and done!

They were 7-4 (riding a 4-game winning streak) going into the Apple Cup in Pullman.  They had an 18-point lead going into the final quarter … so of COURSE they ended up blowing the game in overtime.  This ultimately led to the Huskies facing Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl and ending up – once again – 7-6.

In short, the Huskies went from 0-12 in 2008, to 5-7 in 2009, to 7-6 in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  No 7-6 record is created equal, obviously, but at the end of the day people don’t remember how you got there.  They just see where you were and shake their heads.

Keith Price showed all the promise in the world in 2011.  But, he lost all his major weapons (Kearse and Aguilar at receiver, Chris Polk at running back) and couldn’t recover in 2012.  In the Baylor bowl game, Price accounted for 7 touchdowns on offense and looked like the best quarterback on the field – even better than the Heisman Trophy winner and ultimate #2 overall draft pick.  However, in the Apple Cup and again in the Boise State bowl game, Price ended both with interceptions.  He was going into the 2013 season fighting for his job, but from all accounts he’s got it locked up after Spring Ball.  Nevertheless, I have to imagine he’s on a short leash.  We can’t suffer the kind of downgrade in production again.

At this point in Sark’s tenure, he’s got all his own guys now.  2013 is the year we’re expected to win and win consistently.  The non-conference schedule is relatively easy, and the conference schedule isn’t too bad either.  We’ve got veterans in all the right places, we’ve got some serious talent on defense for the first time since he got here, and Price has had a chance to gel with his offensive weapons.  2013 isn’t a Rose Bowl or Bust, but it’s close.  The Huskies have to at least be in the conversation.

I’m not gonna lie to you, beating the Ducks for the first time in eons would go a long way towards cementing Sark’s status as a legend ’round these parts.

Husky Basketball

The 2007/2008 Huskies were a definite low-point in the Romar era.  They finished the regular season 16-16, losing in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, and received the #1 seed in the College Basketball Invitational.  You know, that post-season tournament for the teams not even good enough for the N.I.T.

We lost.  To Valparaiso.

In 2008/2009, we brought in Isaiah Thomas and he was a firecracker right from the start.  We enjoyed Brockman’s senior season, and we rode that wave to a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament and a Round of 32 loss to 5-seed Purdue by two points.  More or less, it was a successful season, but once again it ended prematurely.

In 2009/2010, we had another senior leader taking to the forefront.  This time, it was Q-Pon, who averaged 19 and 7 per game in leading us to a Pac-10 Tournament victory, an 11-seed in the tournament, and upset wins over #6 Marquette (where he hit the clutch game winner) and #3 New Mexico.

Once again, though, the Romar-era Huskies couldn’t get past the Sweet 16.  This time, we lost to West Virginia, thanks to them totally having the length advantage on us.

In 2010/2011, we had our version of a Big 3 with Thomas, MBA, and Holiday.  The last two were seniors and Thomas was playing in what would be his final season.  We rode this squad to another Pac-10 Tournament victory (you all remember COLD BLOODED don’t you?).  This resulted in a 7-seed – our third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance – and a victory over 10-seed Georgia before losing in the Round of 32 to 2-seeded North Carolina (by only 3 points, but still).

The 2011/2012 season saw the emergence of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross.  Both were young, extremely talented, and irritatingly inconsistent.  Ross would disappear for minutes at a time.  Wroten had no jump shot whatsoever, so he had to fight for every single basket in the paint.  This team ended up winning the Pac-12 outright, but since the Pac-12 sucked dick that season, and since the Huskies lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, AND since they had no quality wins over ranked non-conference opponents, the Huskies were denied a fourth consecutive NCAA invite.  Instead, they locked down the #1-overall N.I.T. seeding and ran with it to the Final Four in New York City.  It ended with a loss to Minnesota, who would end up losing to eventual-champion Stanford the very next game.

The less said about the 2012/2013 season, the better.  Wroten and Ross both bolted for the NBA, and absolutely no one came in to replace them.  That’s what happens when you’re a good-not-great recruiter in a good-not-great university for basketball:  sometimes you DON’T bring in a player of quality and you suffer as a result.

Gaddy, Wilcox, Suggs, and N’Diaye were left to pick up the pieces.  This team was pretty solid on defense, but ultimately inept on offense, and now at least three of those guys are gone (with Wilcox having a difficult decision to make regarding his final year of eligibility).  The 2012/2013 Huskies didn’t beat a single ranked team, only beat three teams who ended up going to the NCAAs (Saint Louis, California, and Colorado), and wound up being a 6-seed in the N.I.T., where the subsequently got their shit kicked in at BYU.

What’s in store for 2013/2014?  Well, a solid incoming class with one McDonalds All American at point guard in Nigel Williams-Goss.  If Wilcox comes back, that gives us a veteran scoring presence (for the record, he’s a fool if he leaves; his past season was absolutely dreadful and injury-plagued).  If we can get anything from our young forwards, you could look at a team that surprises a lot of people.  Or, you could be looking at a third-straight N.I.T. bid.  If it’s the latter, I’m not so sure I’d be confident about my job security if I was Romar.

Seattle Supersonics

I won’t go into excruciating detail on this end.  We all know what the last five years have been like for the Sonics.  They went 20-62 in their final season in Seattle (after drafting Kevin Durant and bringing in one of the finest GMs in the game from the San Antonio organization).  They were given away by the city of Seattle, they struggled again the following season, and then they went to the playoffs four straight seasons (losing most recently in the Finals to the beloved Miami Heat).

Now, we’ve got an ownership group and an arena deal in place, and we’re fighting like crazy to steal the Kings from Sacramento.  If all goes according to plan, we will have pro basketball back in Seattle for the 2013/2014 season.  If it doesn’t, then this part of next year’s “Five Years” post is going to be REAL fucking depressing.

Seattle Seahawks

I’m saving the best for last because I can.  Because, honestly, it’s all a little too much and I can hardly believe it myself.  There is cautious optimism for the Mariners and their young core to turn things around.  There’s more confident optimism that the Husky football team will turn some heads this fall.  There’s hope that the Husky basketball team can somehow gel with their new incoming players and make an improbable Tourney run.  There’s delusions that the NBA will be back in Seattle this time next year.

But, that’s nothing.  There is outright SWAGGER for the Seattle Seahawks.  How did we get HERE?

In 2008, we went 4-12.  We had dicked around with Mike Holmgren, we signed on his replacement – Jim Mora Jr. – to be his defensive backs coach, and all the major veterans took a huge dump.  This was coming off of a 2007 season where the Seahawks once again won the division.  But, Shaun Alexander was released at the end, losing out to another injury.  So, Tim Ruskell opted to reload via free agency.  Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett were brought in to liven up the running game, but no dice.  Hasselbeck missed a bunch of games, Walter Jones tried surgery but wasn’t the same and was forced to retire at season’s end … it was just a mess.

In 2009, there was something of a fresh start expected with Mora.  T.J. Houshmandzadeh was brought in on a huge free agent deal, Aaron Curry was signed as our can’t-lose first round draft pick … in short, we were one of the oldest and least-talented teams in the NFL.  When all was said and done, these Seahawks improved by only 1 game and both Mora and Ruskell were fired.

2010 was the REAL fresh start.  Pete Carroll and John Schneider tag-teamed this roster from head to toe.  They traded for Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, and Charlie Whitehurst (hey, they can’t all be winners).  They got rid of Housh (taking a healthy bath in the cap hit) and later Deion Branch.  They brought in a rejuvinated Mike Williams who led the team in receiving.  They drafted Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, and Kam Chancellor.  They made hundreds upon hundreds of free agent moves, giving tryouts to anyone and everyone who they thought might be an upgrade.  They got significantly younger, and thanks to a piss-poor division, ended up making the playoffs with a 7-9 record.

Understand, this wasn’t a legitimate playoff team.  Yes, after two years in the wilderness, they found their way back to civilization, but it was totally phony!  The fact that we beat the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at Qwest Field is a travesty of common decency (though, it did provide us with the greatest NFL play ever, Beastmode’s Touchdown Scamper).  Our “Cinderella” run ended the following week in Chicago, and you had to wonder how long it would be before the Seahawks made the playoffs again.

The 2011 Seahawks were hamstrung by the NFL Lockout.  They fired their offensive coordinator and hired Darrell Bevell from Minnesota.  Which meant, if they stood any chance of competing in ANY games that season, they’d have to bring some people in who knew Bevell’s system.  This meant Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.  They let Hasselbeck go with a cordial goodbye and handed the keys to the team over to Tarvar (without so much as a second look at Whitehurst, who was as bad as we all remember him being and then some).

Tarvar proved tough, but ultimately inept when the game was on the line.  Those 2011 Seahawks also finished the regular season 7-9 and weren’t given the benefit of a lousy NFC West to “earn” a home playoff game.

With a full offseason going into 2012, the Seahawks needed to make a change.  They’d drafted well, bringing in guys like Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright.  But, they needed a signal-caller with some zazz!  So, they signed Matt Flynn to a three-year deal, and they went out and drafted Russell Wilson in the third round.

People say if Wilson was just 2-3 inches taller, he would’ve been a Top 10 pick.  But, he’s not, so now he’s ours.

Wilson earned his opportunity to have an Open Competition in Training Camp.  This led to him wowing us in the Pre-Season, which ultimately led to him winning the job and running with it.  The 2012 Seahawks took it easy with him for the first few weeks, but once they knew he could handle himself, they opened things up.  This resulted in the Seahawks being the best team in football over the second half of the season.  Still, their early-season slip-ups meant that the 49ers won the division, relegating us to the fifth seed in the NFC.

We went into Washington and somehow came away with a victory.  Then, we went into Atlanta, gave them a 20-point lead, and somehow led in the game with 30 seconds to go.  That was choked away, but the message was sent.  It wasn’t, “Wait Until Next Year,” the way most fanbases say it, more resigned to their current fate as losers, sorely, bitterly hoping that things will turn around for them in short order.

No, this is, “Just you WAIT until next year, chickenfuckers!”  Because the 2013 Seahawks are a runaway train that has Super Bowl or Bust written all over them!

In five years, the Seahawks have gone from one of the oldest and worst teams in the NFL to one of the youngest and best teams.  In five years, the Seahawks have gone from bottom-feeders to would-be kings.  We fans are cashing in our 401Ks in anticipation of buying Super Bowl tickets in 2014.  It’s never been so clear and so positive in the city of Seattle.  They can single-handedly reverse the fortunes of this desolate sports city.  All they need to do is win.

What’s more, they’re spreading around the positivity.  People are stoked on the Mariners WAY more than they should be thanks to the good will generated by the Seahawks.  Sports fans have something to look forward to and spirits are bright.  This is carrying over to the other sports in hopes that the good vibes will roll on.

We’ll see.  If the Seahawks win it all, the Mariners contend for a playoff spot, the Huskies make a run at the Rose Bowl, the basketball Huskies make a run at the NCAA Tournament, and the Sonics return to Seattle, we could be talking about the greatest 5-year turnaround any sports city has ever seen.  Fingers crossed.

The Lorenzo Romar Debate Rages On

As this season progresses, the discontent with the Husky basketball program is only going to intensify.  That’s the way it is.  Husky fans have grown accustomed to a certain level of success.  Hell, the Husky PROGRAM has grown accustomed to a certain level of success.  So, losing all these games (to sub-standard programs both in and non-conference), as well as losing all these games in a ROW (after a 4-game winning streak to start conference play), has to be eating away at the psyche of both the players, the coaching staff, the Athletic Department, and the fans at large.

I get it.  Everyone’s pissed off.  Or, at the very least, mildly annoyed.  We’re all ticked because the team is not living up to their regular level of success, and THAT’S making us even angrier because we feel even THAT level of success isn’t good enough.  It’s not enough just to live up to what we’ve seen from other Romar-led Husky teams, it’s a point of contention that:  why can’t we be even BETTER?

The biggest monkey on Lorenzo Romar’s back is:  not getting past the Sweet 16.  For that, I have no defense for the man.  In the Nate Rob/B-Roy years, we had some electric teams.  That 2004/2005 season where we had a #1 seed in the Tourney is particularly galling, because of its rarity around these parts to have a 1-seed college basketball team, and because of the way we ended up losing (in the Sweet 16 round, to the 4-seed Louisville Cardinals).

I’m not here to blindly defend the man willy-nilly, in spite of some of my posts on the subject.  But, I’m also not going to sit around and go along with the crowd who wants to run the guy out of town after one bad season in the last five years.

Someone ran across my last post on the subject and wrote a thoughtful retort; I would recommend reading it even though he takes me to task for some of my sloppier assertions.  Since this is such a dead period in local sports, I’ve opted to reserve my response to his response for a brand new post (content generation, ho!).

I’ll start with this, apropos of nothing:  I don’t think Lorenzo Romar is the perfect coach.  I don’t think he’s the best coach in college basketball.  I think there are plenty of things you could question about the man’s in-game decision-making.  For instance:  why was Desmond Simmons riding so much pine last night, especially at the end of the game, and especially when he’s your best overall defender (who can cover guys inside and on the perimeter)?  Why risk letting Aziz get hacked and put at the line (where he missed two crucial late free throws), or God forbid jacking up a desperation 3-point ball from the corner on an inbound play?

I would also question his preference to have senior guards constantly taking the final shots in games over more-talented younger guys.  How many times did we see Game Overton blasting through the lane, throwing up some wild and crazy shot when it would’ve been more appropriate for someone like I.T. (only a junior) to have the rock with the clock ticking down.  Yes, we all remember COLD BLOODED against Arizona, but really give that season some thought and harken back.  The same goes for Abdul Gaddy this year; Romar needs to have him cede immediately to the younger and more vital Andrews and let him show what he can do.

There are countless other examples of things you COULD question, but for the most part you can see the logic.  Here’s the thing:  I understand being loyal to your upperclassmen.  But, if you’re going to be a top-notch program, you’re going to have to deal with the certainty that you’ll have one-and-done players.  Those players are one-and-done for a reason:  they’re the best of the best (usually).  Put the ball in THEIR hands, if you’re so fortunate to have them, when the game is on the line.

Abdul Gaddy is a real point of contention.  A point made by the aforementioned commenter:  “… I don’t know if Romar is at fault for the poor development of Gaddy and Suggs, but it’s frustrating no less.”

It’s a good point.  We DON’T know who’s at fault for Gaddy not living up to his billing.  I’ll leave Suggs alone, because I think Suggs is what he is, damn his rating coming out of high school.  He’s a spot-up long-range shooter and that’s all he ever was going to be.  Which is fine, if you’ve got the proper guards at point who will drive the lane, draw in defenders, and kick out.  Scott Suggs should be NOBODY’S primary or secondary offensive option (unless he’s playing for some lesser, Sun Belt-ish conference).  But, on a well-balanced team, he wouldn’t be a bad fourth or fifth option, preferably off the bench.

Gaddy, however, is a completely different ball of wax.  I said it last night (when he biffed that alley-oop pass at the end of the game) and I’ll say it again:  Abdul Gaddy is quickly becoming my least-favorite Husky.  He was supposed to be great.  He was our big catch of the 2009 Freshman class.  We may never know what would’ve been had he not injured his ACL at such a critical period of his development in his Sophomore year, but from what we’ve seen since his return, even if he could’ve gotten that medical redshirt, it’s unlikely he’d be any better next year than what he is right now.  Which is a semi-dependable ball-handler who makes WAY too many mistakes with the ball for a guy in his Senior season.  A guy who has never had even a remotely decent jump shot.  A guy who’s an average defender at best (but who will frequently be beaten by shorter, quicker guards).  And a guy who has little-to-no ability to penetrate a defense and finish at the rim.

So, who’s to blame?  Was it Romar not coaching him up, taking his high school talent for granted?  Was it all those sites who rank prep athletes for dropping the ball?  Let’s face it, we had a pretty good idea pretty early on that Gaddy would be a likely 4-year player in college.  With Gaddy supposedly being in the top-2 of incoming point guards that year nationally, you’d think at the most he would’ve been here 1-2 seasons, had he reached the potential everyone thought he’d reach.  Even if those sites DID drop the ball, if you’re Lorenzo Romar, you have to be BETTER than those sites.  As a talent evaluator, you have to know what you’re getting into with a major recruit.

But, there’s the other side of the argument, which is:  did Abdul Gaddy do enough work on his own to better his game?  Did he practice his shot enough?  Did he keep himself in good enough shape?  Did he work out with other players to better his dribble-penetration game?  Or, is he just lazy and thought he could coast on talent alone through his college career, with no real ambition to go on to the next level aside from a hazy, far-off dream?

Or, did he just not have it to begin with, and everyone fucked up, from the scouts to Romar to Gaddy himself?  I’m apt to believe this over anything else.  He could’ve been the Michael Jordan of practicing, working on his game, and having a relentless drive to be the best, but if he just didn’t have the talent to succeed and grow as a player, then it’s pointless trying to spread the blame around.

But, to say that Romar doesn’t get the best out of his players – which the above-referenced commenter, Taylor, noted – means you simply haven’t been watching his teams very closely.  I’m not interested as much in how guys rate coming out of high school.  There are plenty of blue-chippers who go on to fail.  But, I get it, the more blue-chippers you bring in, the better your odds are of having some dominating teams.  I’m more concerned with how guys look in Year 1 vs. how guys look in Years 3 and 4.

Look at Jon Brockman, as one example.  He didn’t come out of the womb an All-Conference player.  In his first season, he averaged 8.4 (points) and 6.5 (rebounds).  But, he consistently worked on refining his game to where he averaged 18/12 as a Junior before giving way to I.T. in his senior season.  Look at a guy like MBA, who averaged 4 and 3 in his first year.  By his senior season, he was up to 15/8!  How about Q-Pon?  From what I remember (and I could be wrong), he was fairly highly rated coming out of high school.  Remember what he was like early in his college career?  VERY inconsistent.  We kept waiting for his breakout that seemingly would never come.  In his first season, he averaged 11 and 4.  By his last year, he was up to 19 and 8 and led this team to an impromptu Sweet 16 run.

I could go on, but let’s just call it what it is:  Romar has coached up his share of guys.

The big theory in college athletics goes like this:  as a new coach, you do your best to bring in as many good players as possible.  You coach them up, you find some modicum of success in the post-season, and that begets even better recruits, which begets more winning, and so on and so forth.  Taylor’s main point, from what I gather, is that Romar has reached a wall, or a plateau of sorts.  He makes a very good point in his section about the other top-tier schools I listed.  I’m going to save myself the time and take his word for it:  those other coaches had more success, and quicker than Romar’s first 11 years with the Dawgs.  In a lot of cases, those coaches took nothing programs, caught lightning in a bottle, and went on to monster success.

So location has nothing to do with it.  I don’t know if I lamented our location as much (I don’t feel like re-reading my whole previous post to find out), but if I did then I was pretty erroneous on that mark.  However, I will say this:  just because it’s taken Romar 11 years to get where we’ve gotten (which isn’t all that impressive, in the grand scheme of things) doesn’t mean this is as good as it gets and it’s only downhill from here.  He’s a fairly young guy, and if you hear the man speak in person, you can tell he has a good rapport with the younger generation, so if he was given a free pass to coach here as long as he desired, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for him to turn this program into a national power.  Really, it just takes one class, one team, to catch that lightning in a bottle.  Generate a surprise Final Four run and before you know it, those blue-chippers we keep losing to Kentucky and Louisville and Arizona and UCLA are now coming here.

Which is why I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand his ability to recruit and build NBA players.  Some guys, like Ross and Wroten, and Roy and Nate-Rob and Hawes, were going to be NBA draft picks regardless.  But, Q-Pon was no guarantee.  Brockman was CERTAINLY no guarantee (an under-sized power forward or a slow small forward, depending on where you think he fits on an NBA team).  I.T.  was another sub-6 foot point guard who ended up being the last pick in the draft.  Yet, he was showcased by Romar on some quality (though not elite) Husky basketball teams, and he made it.  Bringing in blue chippers who leave early is just as important as building NBA-calibre players out of nothing, like he did with the likes of Brockman.  Because it sets an example that you don’t HAVE to go to those other elite schools to get noticed.  You can come here, play for a program everyone respects, and still find success as a pro.

But, I’ll walk this argument back:  Romar hasn’t caught that lightning in a bottle.  His best teams have been disappointments in that regard; they haven’t gone very far in the Tourney.  And his other Tourney teams have lost too quickly to generate much of anything in the way of national buzz.  So, we’re NOT on the level of an Arizona or a UCLA.  We’re in that meaty 2nd tear of the Pac-12, with Cal and Stanford and now, I guess, Oregon (God, just seriously fuck Oregon already!).

So, I get the frustration, I really do.  And Taylor’s point about Romar’s lack of success in non-conference games (especially on the road in non-conference games) is valid.  On the one hand, I’m sitting here telling you that Romar gets the best of his players, that often his players improve from season to season (and during individual seasons, when they’re playing much better towards the end than they are in the beginning), but on the other hand, why can’t Romar have them ready from the beginning?  Why do the Huskies constantly underachieve in their non-conference games?

What’s worse:  the non-conference schedule has only gotten EASIER since Romar’s early days as a Husky coach.  I don’t have an answer for that either.

But, I trust the man’s judgment.  If he feels his teams aren’t ready for elite competition in the first month of the season, then that probably means they aren’t ready for elite competition.  What do I read every year?  Romar’s defense is difficult for guys to learn.  It takes some of them a while to figure it out, which ultimately costs them playing time early in their careers.  I’ll counter Taylor’s point about Terrence Ross:  he WASN’T good as a Freshman until very late in the season.  If he was, he would’ve played a lot from the first game.  Instead, he got very sporadic minutes until he finally figured it all out come conference tournament time.  He certainly didn’t get the kind of minutes that Wroten got as a Freshman, but that’s another story.

What I think Romar gets the least credit for is how he turned this program around.  Taylor felt like belittling me on this point.  Yes, the Huskies are in the Top 15 all time for most college basketball wins.  That’s quite impressive.  They have well over 1,600 wins, which, I mean WOW, right?  Except, the Huskies have been around for 110 fucking years!  They’re tied for the 14th-longest running basketball program in the nation; of COURSE they’re going to have a lot of wins!  Truth be told, though, the Huskies – in those 110 seasons, have exactly 20 conference titles (hardly a “substantial amount”).  A whopping 12 of those were won by teams coached by Hec Edmundson; you know, the guy they named the arena after.  Yeah, Hec Ed had some GREAT teams in the 20s, 30s, and 40s.  Maybe I’ll go back to college, become a history major, and read all about it.

You know who doesn’t give two shits about how good the teams were in the pre-Korean War days?  Everyone born after the Korean War!

Throw your historical winning percentage around all you want.  Keep telling everyone how the Washington Huskies have the winningest home arena in college basketball.  No one gives a shit.  In the 49 seasons before Lorenzo Romar became the Huskies’ head coach, the Huskies won exactly 2 regular season conference championships.  Or, you know, the same number Romar has won in his 11 seasons.  I’m not necessarily saying 2 conference championships is acceptable, but don’t tell me that he was inheriting some program of ANY historical significance.  It’s only significant to Husky alums as a way to talk trash to our Pac-12 brethren.

I’ll close with Taylor’s closing point.  Romar has, indeed, lost a lot of confidence in Husky fans.  To have two first round draft picks last year and only manage to make it to the N.I.T. Final Four is kind of a travesty.  But, the year before that he led a VERY young team into the second round of the Tourney, and the year before that we were in the Sweet 16 with a team that essentially only had two scorers!

I ask again:  is a guy not allowed to have a down year?  I disagree with Taylor’s argument that the Huskies are destined to be terrible again next year.  First of all, with Gaddy leaving, we’re talking about addition by subtraction.  I think any game now, we’re going to find out that Andrew Andrews is something special and a solid foundation piece in the seasons to come.  I agree wholeheartedly with Taylor’s point about rather winning a national championship with 15 guys who never set foot in the NBA over having a bunch of lottery picks and losing in the first round, but that’s neither here nor there.  When do you EVER see that?  Inevitably, with college basketball, you need a good mix and some luck.  You need a couple blue chippers, but you also need those four-year veterans who know the system, who lead by example, and who can chip in as complementary players on both ends of the court.

This year, we kind of got caught with our pants down.  We’re very young AND we’re lacking in any blue chippers (unless you count Gaddy, but I don’t with the way he’s played his whole career).  Our veteran presence – Suggs, Aziz, Gaddy, and Wilcox as a Junior – isn’t enough, because they’re not talented enough to carry the mail.  But, they’re forced to carry the mail, and that’s why you see games like we had last night.  We can contend with some of the best Pac-12 teams, but ultimately we’re going to come short this season because the talent just isn’t there.

But, that doesn’t mean we won’t have the talent NEXT year.  Darin Johnson and Nigel Williams-Goss look like a one-two punch at guard to be reckoned with.  I don’t know if both will play next season, but you’re talking about 3-4 star players.  If we DO somehow land Aaron Gordon (which, I don’t think we should get our hopes up too high on that end, but what a coup that would be!), then the sky is the limit for the 2013/2014 season (especially if we’re fortunate enough to have Wilcox stay for his senior season, where he isn’t necessarily the ONLY offensive option and doesn’t constantly draw the other team’s best defender all game long).

Truth be told, even if we don’t get Gordon, all hope isn’t lost.  There have to be players in the JC ranks out there for Romar to poach.  I think he would be well-served to tap into that well again.  We keep getting our panties in a bunch over these 4-star high school guys, but there are effective JC transfers out there just WAITING for the chance to shine for a program desperately seeking a big man or two.

I’ll actually finish (seriously this time) by 100% agreeing with Taylor’s closing statements.  Yes, if attendance keeps falling, Romar probably won’t stand a chance.  It’s a shame, but that’s the reality in today’s major college sports.  I would hope that Romar has at least earned one more season on top of this one, regardless of how far attendance numbers plummet.  If we get these new recruits for next season and the team STILL struggles to find its way, then I might just be there with everyone else, leading the charge to run the guy out of town.

But, I don’t think this is a Tyrone Willingham situation.  I don’t think we’d be doing more harm than good to give the guy at least one more season.  Honestly, I think we’d be well-served to give Romar at least the next TWO seasons.  I don’t subscribe to the notion that just because you haven’t made a Final Four in your first decade, that means you’re destined to never be elite.  I won’t do the research at this time, but there HAVE to be late bloomers out there, who might’ve struggled or been middling in their first decade as a major-conference head coach, only to turn it on later in their careers.  I just don’t see why Romar can’t be one of them.

Taylor and I agree on one final point as well:  it would be foolish to make a change just to make a change.  The University of Washington has a ton of money.  If you absolutely HAVE to pull the trigger, don’t go out and hire the next Paul Wulff (or whoever the basketball-equivalent would be).  Go out there and make a big fucking splash!  Bring in one of the big dogs, give him free reign over the program, and get the fuck out of his way!