LOS ANGELES – Washington football coach Tyrone Willingham acknowledged Thursday that questions about his job security are causing high school recruits to delay commitments to the Huskies.
“We’re in good position,” Willingham said at Pacific-10 Conference media day. “But the key is, they’re waiting. They want to see how we do. Everybody’s talking to them about the situation with the head coach. They’re just waiting to see, that’s all. But the vibes are all there: They’re ready to go; they’re ready to jump.”
The first one jumped Wednesday when high school quarterback Keith Price of Bellflower, Calif., became the first oral commitment of UW’s 2009 freshman class.
However, every other Pac-10 school has at least four commitments, and Southern California has more than a dozen.
Coaches aren’t allowed to discuss specific prospects. But Willingham said that some of the players UW is interested in are waiting for some clarification of his job status. A fast start by the Huskies might be enough to convince some. Others might be holding out for official word on the fate of this coaching staff.
Willingham is beginning the fourth season of a five-year contract, and conventional wisdom holds that the Huskies will need at least a winning record and a bowl bid this season for him to return.
“The kids have to deal with that,” he said “They have to work their way through that maze, and right now that situation is giving them pause, a little bit. … I’m a focal point of it. You say you (commit) to a university, which is true. But it’s the people who make a university. The people make the difference, and the recruits are tying into those people also.”
More instability results from the fact that UW has been without a full-time athletic director since Todd Turner left under pressure in January. Since then, Scott Woodward has run the athletic department as the interim director.
“You always like to know where your leadership is, there’s no question about that,” Willingham said. “But the first thing is, Woodward is doing a heck of a job. He’s been accessible. He’s been creative. We haven’t missed anything. But everybody likes to know what your direction is, what are the goals, with complete focus and not part-time focus. But my job has not been easier or harder, because I think we know what we have to do. So, minimal impact.”
Across the Cascades, first-year Washington State coach Paul Wulff said he isn’t sure that troubles for the Huskies necessarily benefit the Cougars.
“I don’t know if it helps Washington State,” Wulff said at media day. “It may affect everyone in the Pac-10. Whenever there’s anyone at any school that rumors are spread about, it’s definitely not helping that school and it may give an advantage to the other ones that aren’t in that boat. So, yeah, it could help us and Oregon and anyone else that they’re recruiting against.”
When Wulff succeeded Bill Doba at WSU, he seemed to enjoy stirring up the cross-state rivalry by volunteering his distaste for the color purple and by pointing out that, “Dogs hunt and bark, but Cougars fight and kill.”
However, Wulff acknowledged Thursday that the comments were intended mostly to fire up the base in Pullman, and that his aims for WSU success don’t need to be accompanied by any particular eagerness to see UW fail.
“I would love to have Northwest schools be successful in the Pac-10 and take it away from the California schools or Arizona,” he said.
“I’m kind of a Northwest fan, to be quite honest. But in terms of (Washington), I don’t know. We’ve got enough of our own issues bringing our program back to where we want it.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808