This weekend affords Tim Lappano a unique opportunity to coach against the school where he spent four seasons as offensive coordinator.
And, too, it gives Lappano a chance to go home.
When Lappano joined the Washington Huskies coaching staff as an assistant to Tyrone Willingham prior to the 2005 season, Lappano and his wife, Sandi, purchased a home on the Sammamish plateau.
They still own it. The family still lives there. And when Tim is done coaching, that’s where he’ll live full-time again, too.
For now, he lives in an apartment in Atlanta, where he coaches receivers for the Georgia State Panthers, the Huskies’ opponent in a 3 p.m. Saturday game at Husky Stadium (Pac-12 Network). He lived in an apartment in Detroit, too, where he coached tight ends, and then receivers, for the Lions for five seasons after Willingham and his staff were fired at UW in 2008 after finishing with an 0-12 record.
His true home, though, is in Sammamish.
“The area has everything that my family likes,” said Lappano, who grew up in Spokane. “We like the recreation, outdoor stuff, the water’s there, the mountains are there. It’s got everything we like to do.”
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Georgia State’s trip to Seattle might be a more literal homecoming for Lappano, but he is not the only member of the Panthers’ coaching staff with direct ties to UW.
Head coach Trent Miles was Willingham’s running backs coach from 2005-07 before leaving to coach at Indiana State.
J.D. Williams, GSU’s secondary coach, held the same position at UW from 2006-08. He is also an older brother of former Huskies safety Curtis Williams.
The Panthers’ quarterbacks coach is Luke Huard, the former Puyallup High star and younger brother of former Huskies quarterbacks Brock and Damon Huard. He was also a graduate assistant at Washington in 2007 and 2008.
And Ronnie Fouch, the former Huskies quarterback who started most of that fateful 2008 season after an injury to Jake Locker, is in his second year as a graduate assistant under Miles.
Miles is the primary connection here. The cupboard was bare when he arrived at Indiana State in 2008. An 0-12 season was followed by a 1-10 record in 2009.
That’s when Fouch, heading into his fourth-year junior season, decided to leave UW — an amicable split, by all accounts — in search of more playing time. He called Miles, who needed a quarterback, and transferred to Indiana State.
With Fouch starting at quarterback, the Sycamores finished 6-5 in both 2010 and 2011.
“There was no issues regarding coach (Steve) Sarkisian or anything like that,” Fouch said of his decision to leave UW. “I actually learned a lot from him and broadened my knowledge of the quarterback position. I just wanted to be able to play for two years.”
He held NFL aspirations for a time, Fouch said, but a rookie minicamp opportunity with the Chicago Bears didn’t work out, so his focus now is on becoming a coach.
“It’s been awesome,” Fouch said. “It’s a lot different than being a player, but you’re still around the game. You get to watch film all day, help kids and teach them how to be successful in this business, and teach them things you learned along the way.”
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Luke Huard took a roundabout path to the University of Washington, unlike his two older brothers. Luke wanted a change of scenery in college, and when he was being recruited in the late 1990s, North Carolina was enjoying a resurgence under then-coach Mack Brown. Luke liked the fit in Chapel Hill. So that’s where he went.
He references “adverse situations” during his injury-plagued UNC career — he graduated in 2002 — but says “I learned a lot about myself,” and will never regret his decision to leave home.
Eventually, Huard made his way to Washington as a graduate assistant working with the offense under Willingham. That’s where he met Miles and worked with Lappano, Williams and Fouch. And Miles, after taking the GSU job prior to the 2013 season, convinced Huard to leave his post as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Illinois State, where he worked from 2009-12.
“That’s obviously a major reason why I came here,” Huard said of his relationship with Miles.
And while the Huskies only won four games (all in 2007) in the two seasons he was at UW, Huard says “my time there is something that I look back on with fondness.”
Miles says similar things about his time in Seattle. Two of his four children were born at the UW Medical Center, and he only recently sold his home here.
“Obviously, I wish we had won more games when I was there,” Miles said, though he takes pride in having coached Louis Rankin, who in 2007 became the Huskies’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Rashaan Shehee.
Lappano called his stint at UW, and the 2008 season, “water under the bridge. We did the best job we could in the situation we were in. I’ve moved on from that, and I’m sure everybody has.”
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Georgia State is in its fifth season as a football program, and only its second year in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). The Panthers, members of the Sun Belt conference, are still 15 scholarships short of the limit of 85 for FBS teams. They finished 0-12 in 2013, and the Huskies are roughly 35-point favorites in Las Vegas casinos that bothered to list a betting line for Saturday’s game. For making the trip — by far its longest ever, and its first west of the Rocky Mountains — Georgia State will receive $900,000, a figure significantly higher than Miles’ 2013 salary of $510,000. (Georgia State’s assistant coaches were paid a total of less than $1 million in 2013, according to USA Today, which is more than three times less than UW’s assistant salary pool of a little more than $3 million.)
They know what they’re up against. But each coach enjoys the challenge of trying to get a fledgling program off the ground.
“I’ve told a lot of people this — I’m extremely proud of these kids,” Lappano said. “They work really hard. They didn’t win a game last year, and here we are — I think we’re 8th in passing offense, top 30 in offense (23rd) right now. They’re very coachable. They try to do what we’re telling them. They’ve gotten a lot better.”
Huard acknowledges the difficulty of taking a program from FCS to FBS — especially one that had only existed for three years before making the jump — but is hopeful that the talent-rich Atlanta area will yield better recruits in the coming years.
“I think the biggest challenge is just developing a culture of winning,” Huard said. “We have the right head coach to do that. He’s done it before at Indiana State, so he has the blueprint for it.”
And that blueprint included bringing together a handful of guys he spent so many days and late nights with on the shores of Lake Washington.
“Hopefully,” Miles said, “our kids go and play against an extremely talented Pac-12 team, and play the best we can and make this trip to the Pacific Northwest and Seattle area a great experience.”
Huskies 2015 schedule out
Washington plays three weeknight games, including the Apple Cup, as part of its 2015 schedule.
The Pac-12 announced its full 2015 schedule Tuesday night. The Huskies open either Thursday, Sept. 3 or Friday, Sept. 4 at Boise State, coach Chris Petersen’s former school. They play at USC and former UW coach Steve Sarkisian on Thursday, Oct. 8, and the Apple Cup game against Washington State at Husky Stadium is again on the Friday (Nov. 27) after Thanksgiving.
UW does not play UCLA or Colorado in 2015. Its bye week is Oct. 3.
2015 UW football schedule
Sept. 3 or 4 – at Boise State (Thu. or Fri.)
Sept. 12 – Sacramento State
Sept. 19 – Utah State
Sept. 26 – California
Oct. 8 – at USC (Thu.)
Oct. 17 – Oregon
Oct. 24 – at Stanford
Oct. 31 – Arizona
Nov. 7 – Utah
Nov. 14 – at Arizona State
Nov. 21 – at Oregon State
Nov. 27 – Washington State (Fri.)
Dec. 4 – Pac-12 Championship Game