Gilbertson wants the Huskies to forget about Neuheisel

Updated: August 7, 2003, 2:25 AM ET

SEATTLE -- Keith Gilbertson wants his Washington Huskies to put the Rick Neuheisel firing behind them.

It's nothing personal. Gilbertson still considers Neuheisel a friend.

But it's time to start thinking about defending national champion Ohio State, the new Huskies coach said Wednesday.

Gilbertson met with his players Tuesday night.

"I told them I was expecting them to maintain a loyalty about Rick and a loyalty about the program and we've got to move on," Gilbertson said at the Huskies' annual Media Day. "That's what I expect."

Gilbertson, who was Neuheisel's offensive coordinator for four seasons, became Washington's new coach last week after Neuheisel's firing became official.

Neuheisel was fired for breaking NCAA gambling rules by taking part in neighborhood pools during the past two NCAA basketball tournaments. Neuheisel wasn't forthcoming when first questioned by NCAA investigators, Washington athletic director Barbara Hedges said.

After a summer of turmoil, Gilbertson is trying to get his team focused on football again. The Huskies will play Ohio State on Aug. 30 in Columbus.

"I told them the football season is starting, we're back to football, we have a mission and this is the way we're going to go about it," Gilbertson said.

"We've got three weeks and three days before we play the national champs," he said. "That's got our attention, believe me."

After the Huskies held their Media Day, they had their first fall practice at Husky Stadium. They will practice there until they go to Evergreen State College in Olympia from Aug. 10-16 before returning to Seattle.

Gilbertson said his players can't be thinking about all the Huskies troubles with Neuheisel when they have to be zeroing in on Ohio State and its star tailback, Maurice Clarett.

"I think our guys understand," he said. "Most of our team was mostly here when the thing started in early June. So they had a sense that something could change."

Gilbertson, 55, feels ready for the coaching challenge he faces. He had a 48-35 record in seven seasons as head coach at Idaho from 1986-88 and at California from 1992-1995. In 1991, when Washington won a national championship with a 12-0 record, he was offensive coordinator under coach Don James.

"Not that I'm some sort of expert, but I've done it before so I know where you're supposed to stand, when you're supposed to blow the whistle and when you're not," he said.

Gilbertson's top two players are Cody Pickett, who was the Pac-10's first-ever 4,000-yard passing quarterback as a junior last season, and wide receiver Reggie Williams, who was an All-America as a sophomore when he caught 94 passes for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Despite the glowing numbers posted by Pickett and Williams last season, though, the Huskies had a disappointing 7-6 record, including a loss in the Sun Bowl against Purdue.

At the session with reporters, Pickett strongly endorsed the popular Gilbertson as head coach.

"It was a bad situation, but if anybody has to take over, it has to be coach Gilbertson," Pickett said. "He's a great guy, everyone on the team respects him and he's a great coach."

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Williams, from Lakes High School in Lakewood near Tacoma, is expected to enter the NFL draft after his junior season. He said he will miss his Neuheisel, who out-recruited Michigan for him.

"The initial impact was hard," Williams said of Neuheisel's firing. "But we just had to keep working as a team because we knew we still had Ohio State for the first game of the season."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index