KIRKLAND – If Seattle Seahawks wide receivers coach Keith Gilbertson stands on his tiptoes on the team’s practice field, he can almost see across Lake Washington to the University of Washington campus and Husky Stadium.
Geographically, it is only a few miles away.
But chronologically, it seems like 20 years ago that he had to endure the school’s greatest athletic meltdown. It began with the end of the Rick Neuheisel era, the reverberations of which are still being felt.
Though he never will be mistaken for a ballerina, Gilbertson has some lightness to his step these days, bestowed with the responsibility of developing the Seahawks’ young corps of wide receivers who need coaching and mentoring.
It’s quite a change from Gilbertson’s last few years at UW, which were a disaster, on and off the field.
“When I came here, I was very angry, kind of resentful of how the last four years had been across the lake,” Gilbertson said. “A lot of problems. A lot of problems. I let myself get into a situation where I said I would never let myself get in that situation. But I let myself get in it because of my passion for the place.
“So when Mike (Holmgren) gave me a chance to come here, it has been an oasis, man. This has given me the passion for the game again. I have been rejuvenated. Some of that can take the edge off and let you enjoy coaching. The best time is still out here on the field.”
If he had to do it over again, Gilbertson said he still would coach the Huskies for the two years he did. Not because he would want to go through the dismal experience again, but because he felt a commitment to the school that gave him a chance as a young coach and had been such a big part of his life.
“I think back, basically I knew what was coming,” Gilbertson said. “I felt like I had a loyalty to Husky football. I had such an appreciation to Don James for bringing me in as a young coach.
“The last two years of Rick’s years were hard. We were in trouble, there were sanctions, it was just going bad. We struggled with recruiting. Then in August, when they fired Rick, I knew what was coming. There was an administrator there who said that this is not for long. I knew it. A lot was changing. The AD was leaving. The president was leaving. The paper was filled every day with stuff that was not flattering to football. But I had a great passion for Husky football.”
Gilbertson said that he would spend entire days with attorneys who were dealing with the legal mess left by Neuheisel’s participating in a NCAA basketball pool and his subsequent lawsuit, then had to go out to practice.
“There were days where we had a Wednesday and Thursday practice to prepare for a game, and we would go to practice at 4 o’clock and you had no preparation,” Gilbertson said. “You just couldn’t prepare. I told Don James that one day and he exploded. He said, ‘You have to get out.’ ”
The university hired Mark Emmert as president, and Gilbertson, with a 7-17 record, including 1-10 in 2004, was out five months later, fired with three games remaining in the season. He agreed to coach the last few games despite his lame-duck status.
“I feel good about what my commitment was to the UW,” Gilbertson said. “If they don’t feel the same, I can’t do anything about that. I did what I thought was the right thing to do.”
Soon thereafter, Holmgren called Gilbertson and offered him a job as a consultant. It turned into a spot as an assistant offensive line coach, and then as wide receivers coach.
“He’s an excellent football coach, that I knew,” Holmgren said. “So, he’s close by, they were in a tough situation over there. I thought for him, it was a little unfair, to say the least. So I was in a position to help a little bit. But I was not passing out cookies; he earned his money.”
Holmgren thought so highly of Gilbertson’s acumen that he gave him special projects with the passing game last season, asking him to infuse it with his vast knowledge of the game.
And when receivers coach Nolan Cromwell left for Texas A&M, Holmgren made the unexpected move of naming Gilbertson his replacement, adding another challenge and a new chapter to an already extensive résumé.
“It’s a good thing for him,” said Seahawks safety C.J. Wallace, who played his freshman and sophomore seasons under Gilbertson. “I’m glad that he is finally having fun – and to see his face he is a totally different guy than when he was at the UW. And I can see why; he is stress-free here.”
Jones delivers big play
The offensive play of the day was made by running back Julius Jones, who broke into the secondary on a sweep to the right and met safety Jordan Babineaux face to face.
Jones lowered his shoulder and sent “Big Play Babs” flying backward, sprawled on the ground.
On defense, cornerback Josh Wilson stepped in front of Seneca Wallace’s pass to Bryan Gilmore in seven-on-seven drills and returned it for a touchdown.
Red alert on defensive line
It appears as if rookie defensive tackle Red Bryant has moved solidly in with the second unit.
The past two days, Bryant has been in with Jason Babin, Craig Terrill and Baraka Atkins, doing a nice job of clogging up the middle.
Taylor sidelined again
Young wide receiver Courtney Taylor once again was not available for the end of practice, getting stretched out at one point because of a sore hamstring and then wearing an ice pack under his uniform for the duration.
Taylor’s health is the biggest concern about his development.
Heavy reading, but no comment otherwise
Matt Hasselbeck spoke with the media following the afternoon practice, and said this was one of the biggest playbooks he can remember having.
Hasselbeck said the coaches have added some new wrinkles to existing plays, and since it is in the playbook, they are responsible for learning it.
Hasselbeck also dodged a question about Brett Favre’s situation in Green Bay. Hasselbeck was Favre’s backup in Green Bay from 1998-2000.
Frank Hughes, The News Tribune