The Huskies' loss at Arizona State seemed to be a turning point for a lot of people who were on the fence about coach Tyrone Willingham -- at least judging from what I've been hearing on sports-talk radio and reading on Internet discussions, including this blog.
Many people seem to think that 24-point loss shows a lack of progress midway through Year Three, and the third-quarter problems strike a lot of people as an indication of a coaching staff adjusting less quickly or effectively than the opposing coaches.
Bottom line: Jim Mora Jr. is looking a lot better to a lot of fans.
However, the opinion that counts most is the one that belongs to Washington athletic director Todd Turner, so I gave him a call Monday, and he stood as firmly behind his coach as he ever has.
Some highlights from that conversation:
OVERVIEW ON WILLINGHAM AND THE PROGRAM:
"Obviously, we're not happy anytime we don't win on the field, but I like what I see with the overall progress the football team is making. If I had to do it over again, I would do everything I could to make our schedule more compatible with where our football program is. Clearly, that's been a challenge for us. And even though we won two our of three of our non-league games, I think that took a lot out of us. We played two No. 1 teams in the nation to the very hilt for most of the games. I think I'd rather judge our team by their competitiveness against teams more like ourselves, and we won two of those games. The UCLA game was a lot like Arizona State, where we had some big plays go against us and we couldn't recover from that. But you can't assess the total progress of the team in half of one season in the third year."
ON HIS SUPPORT OF WILLINGHAM FOR NEXT SEASON:
"There's nothing in my mind that would change that. He's got a really tough job. It was even more difficult when he came in. All you have to look at is similar situations around the country. A great one to look at is Rich Brooks at the University of Kentucky. His first three years they were after him big-time. There was a lot of controversy when they extended his contract. But his first three years he won nine games – and you ought to see the (weak) teams that he beat. In his fourth year he got them into a bowl game. And this year they just beat the No. 1 team and he got them in the Top 10."
ON THE INSTANT UPGRADES BY JEFF TEDFORD AND DENNIS ERICKSON:
"You've got to remember Erickson stepped into a situation where (ASU) went to a bowl game last year. And he's got a veteran quarterback, and their team is very good. He's made them better, no question, but I think the situation at Washington was more difficult than people could ever imagine."
ON WILLINGHAM'S STAFF:
"I'm not displeased. I think their preparation and effort is as good as it could be. These guys are an experienced lot. The head coach has been national coach of the year at two different schools. Tim Lappano called plays for Dennis Erickson. I've got guys with NFL experience. I've got two Division-IA former head coaches, so they know the game. They know how to scheme and they know how to organize. What their challenges are is finding ways to compete with teams that are deeper, faster and stronger. And those are the problems we need to correct. ... You can take one game and say we made a bad call here or there. But it's not because our analysis is poor or we're not creative. At the end of the day, we need to be sure that we look like the team we're playing."
ON WHETHER HE MIGHT ORDER STAFF CHANGES:
"When that happens you're panicking. ... How can I hold (Willingham) accountable if I tell him what plays to call or who to hire or who to recruit? That's something that the coach needs to do."
ON WILLINGHAM'S RECRUITING:
"Recruiting is the key to our future success. The thing that I've got to keep in mind and I think all of us do is, what has the University of Washington done to help over time. Are we positioned the same as the other teams that we're recruiting against? Some of them, yes, no question. But others, we've got some challenges. Facilities. Things that are just fundamental here: How do we combat the perception of our weather? We can't change that. Go back to when Washington was really good – back in the early '90s. What we had here was as good as what anybody else in our league had. And I think we got behind. That doesn't mean that you can't overcome that. Notre Dame won for decades without the best facilities in America. They did it with tradition and good coaching. We can overcome that, and it's not an excuse, but it's something that we as a university are working on. It starts with things like the locker rooms and their training facilities and meeting rooms and things like that. We can get the job done with what we've got. But do they look like some of the things we're recruiting against? No. ... Where was Oregon in 1991? They weren't the same marketing juggernaut that they are today. They invested in all that, and you can either like it or not like it, but the fact is it made them a better football team."
ON PROGRESS REGARDLESS OF THIS SEASON'S FINAL RECORD:
"I am excited about our future, I'm positive about it. I think the foundation is being laid in a way that we'll be able to build upon that in really positive ways in the future. The culture of the football program here has taken a 180-degree turn, and that's where you start. You go back and look at programs that have come off probation, have got controversy and lots of issues that a coach would inherit a program that has lost a lot games, which is our case. The rebuilding process is slow, particularly when you play teams that are as good as the teams in the Pac-10 are today. So, while you may not see the progress on the scoreboard, I see it every day. And I'm positive about our future and I'm excited about it, and I'm eager to see the Ducks show up in our stadium on Saturday and we'll see what happens."