We’re jumping the gun here a bit, but that makes it no less a pressing concern.
As the Huskies prepare for their bowl game next week – the primetime, post-Christmas, Friday night spot against BYU – know that we’re seeing the end of an era. An era that beat the hell out of the previous era, for sure!
It’s interesting to look at the ebbs and flows of the history of the University of Washington football team. If you go all the way back to the Jim Owens era, you see a team in the late 50s and early 60s that was one of the best in the nation. His first seven years brought with it three Rose Bowl appearances (two victories), before a long descent into mediocrity. The Huskies of the mid-60s to the mid-70s weren’t terrible, but they weren’t all that good either. Just sort of okay.
Then, Don James came in, and the mediocrity continued for the first two years. His third year was probably the most important season in Husky football history, and we were all rewarded with a Rose Bowl victory. Thus began the next great era of Husky football, lasting through the early 90s.
Once Don James left, the team fell back to the pack again. Part of that was losing a legend, but most of it was due to the sanctions that really wiped out our ability to recruit the proper talent we needed to maintain our stay as one of the nation’s premiere football programs. Just as we were starting to recruit, Lambright was replaced by Rick Neuheisel, who reaped the rewards and took this program back to the Rose Bowl in 2000.
Ever since then, it was a long, slow, brutal decline, culminating in the 2008 winless season.
So, if you’re keeping track, the Jim Owens era started off great, then went mediocre. Then, greatness returned with Don James, and immediately went mediocre once he left. Greatness returned briefly under Neuheisel, then the program plummeted to its nadir. Sark came in here and brought us back to mediocrity, and that’s where we sit today.
Coach Pete’s first year will be the most important year for the program since Don James’ third season. Any regime change is going to automatically see a hit in recruiting; that just comes with the territory. How bad we’ll have it largely depends on where the assistant coaches end up. If we’ve got Wilcox and Lupoi going to USC, that really puts us in a bind. If they end up at Boise State, it’s not AS bad, but they’ll still be going after a number of the same players they recruited to Washington. If they left the west coast, it would be ideal (but that’s probably not going to happen). Just figure, this recruiting class won’t be as highly rated as some of Sark’s last classes.
Which, fine. Long term, it could be a problem, but we can also make up for it by redoubling our efforts in our 2015 class. However, that 2015 class will hinge on how well we do in 2014. Of course, you can say that about literally every year, but the importance of this year outweighs any other.
You always want to put a good product on the field to show kids that if they choose Washington, they’re choosing to play for a winner. No one wants to come to college and get their shit kicked in. However, kids are going to be watching this team to get a sense of Coach Pete’s style and how they might fit. We all know that Coach Pete is great when it comes to getting the best out of the talent he’s able to bring in. Will that translate with a program that currently houses a number of blue-chip prospects – kids who never seriously considered playing for a “lesser” school like Boise State? It’s one thing to coach up some kids who are just happy to be there; but does he have the ability to coach up kids who already expect to be great?
The Huskies, right now, are a team on the rise. Sark brought us Top 25 & Top 30 recruiting classes the last few years. We have A LOT of talent on this team. But, we’re also losing some critical pieces. Keith Price, Sean Parker, most likely Bishop Sankey & ASJ, maybe even Danny Shelton (among others, who I can’t remember off-hand right now).
Whenever you’re looking at a quarterback change of this magnitude, you can’t help but think that the next year will be a year of transition. Fortunately, Cyler Miles had a chance to get some meaningful reps this year, so we won’t TOTALLY throw a greenhorn into the fire. Still, there will be growing pains.
And, on top of that, Coach Pete doesn’t get to work with the kids right now. That’s falling on Tui and the rest of our M*A*S*H unit of interim coaches. Just as Miles and the rest of our quarterbacks are fighting for the starting job in spring, they’ll also have to contend with learning a new offensive scheme. That’s BOUND to set us back, especially when you consider this will be the third scheme-change in three years (from traditional pro style, to the HUNH-hybrid, to whatever Coach Pete installs).
Even under normal circumstances, with Sark and the rest of our coaches returning, I wouldn’t have been shocked to see this team to take a bit of a step back. But, under these freak circumstances, a step back is almost expected!
And yet, we can’t have it. If we want this program to be one of the elites not just in the conference, but in the nation, we need to continue with the momentum we built under Sark. And THAT means: not having two or three down recruiting years in a row. 2014 will already be down, because Coach Pete won’t have the time he normally would as an incumbent head coach, saying nothing of the players who will be poached. To avoid a repeat down recruiting class, though, we’re going to have to show people we not only have the best head coach in the conference, but we’re already surrounded by the best talent in the conference.
There are a lot of reasons to come to Washington. New stadium & facilities, located in a major city, most beautiful gametime setting in the nation, a premiere head coach, lots of player talent already here, we’re in a major conference and play against some of the best teams in the nation. Now, we just need to win. That’s it. Sure, it starts with this bowl game next week, but there’s going to be a major asterisk next to this game. The real fight will be next season. If we’re able to show the kind of improvement I know we’re capable of, then it’s off to the races after that. We should have kids banging down our door to come to UW.