SEATTLE -- If Washington athletic director Todd Turner's
abrupt resignation Tuesday was indeed the mutual decision that he
and his boss say it was, it could be the most lopsided one in the
history of mutual decisions.
The departure of the man credited with restoring integrity to
Huskies athletics surprised the program's coaches during a morning
meeting called by Turner. It came six days after university
President Mark Emmert retained coach Tyrone Willingham despite the
football team's continued struggles.
Turner was a staunch advocate for Willingham, to whom Emmert has
promised one additional season but no more. The many angry Huskies
fans and alumni who wanted Willingham fired after he became the
first UW coach to finish three consecutive losing seasons may view
Turner's departure, which is effective Jan. 31, as a move to
But Emmert said, unsolicited, that Turner's leaving had nothing
to do with Willingham staying. Emmert instead cited a lack of
general "fit" between Turner and all the school wants
accomplished inside its athletic department, a $60 million business
with 23 sports and about 650 student athletes within the Pac-10.
"There will be a number of folks who will want to, I'm sure,
integrate this somehow around coach Willingham. And that's not the
case at all," said Emmert, formerly the president at football
Hours later, Turner had a different view.
After saying he was "disappointed," Turner was asked if he
felt the furor for months over whether to retain Willingham -- who
was out recruiting and unavailable Tuesday -- had much to do with
"For me, it did," Turner said.
The 56-year-old former athletic director at Vanderbilt from
1996-2003 said he believed lack of football wins in his 3½-year
tenure at Washington began to trump all else he was accomplishing.
"It just was enlightening of where our society, our culture has
gone and where their expectations are about what constitutes a
quality program on a campus of higher education," Turner said in a
"Believe me, that is not to say that winning is not important,
and Dr. Emmert and I are in complete agreement on that. But the
message that our students hear, that our coaches hear, that our
leadership hears from the general run-of-the-mill fan is, the only
thing they really care about is how many games we win.
"And I have to look at that, after 32 years of doing this, and
say, 'Wow, is that really what it's all about? Have I been naive
all this period of time? Have I spent all my time working on the
student athlete experience and trying to create better lives for
people and our proper place in higher education, when all I should
have been worried about was how many games we won?
"Why didn't I go to the NFL, if that's what it was about?"
Turner was in the middle of a five-year contract worth $325,000
a year in base salary, with incentives that made the package
potentially worth up to $420,000 annually. He had also received a
low-interest, $475,000 home loan from the university.
Emmert said the school would honor all terms of that deal
through its completion.
Turner said he wasn't sure what his next job will be and that he
doesn't have to be an athletic director to be happy, but he expects
to remain in intercollegiate athletics somewhere.
Emmert, then the incoming president who was not yet in the job,
hired Turner in 2004 when Washington's athletic department was
reeling from controversies. That included the firing by then-AD
Barbara Hedges of football coach Rick Neuheisel for participating
in college basketball betting pools and his resulting lawsuit
against the school.
There was also a scandal on the softball team in which a team
doctor pleaded guilty to federal charges of improperly supplying
players with prescription narcotics.
"We had to, appropriately, really focus on integrity and morale
issues," Emmert said. "We've gotten the ship upright and bailed
"[But] we also have a lot of other things we need to get done
in the athletic program."
Washington's project for desperately needed renovations to
87-year-old Husky Stadium, the Pac-10's oldest venue, has almost no
momentum. The complicated effort, fraught with political,
infrastructure and financial challenges, is lagging in raising the
hundreds of millions of dollars Turner has said it will take to
remake the stadium to UW's liking.
Turner was spearheading that project. He said "we haven't asked
one person for one nickel for the football stadium," because of
pressure from local governments to ensure the project first meshes
with a light-rail transportation project that is to run past the
Emmert acknowledged the stadium renovation is a concern, but
that a winning football team should spark money from donors.
Turner took exception to any idea that his business acumen was
"What are the measurements of running a good business,
profitability?" Turner said. "Well, let me just give you a little
bit of history on profitability.
"The year before my arrival , we had a reserve of $13.7
million. During the Neuheisel controversies of the following year,
because we had to make settlements and make payments, that fund
balance went down to $5.8 million. Today, the fund balance is $19
million. Our contributions [from donors] have gone from about $14
million in '04 to almost $26 million this past year.
"If that's poor business management, from a financial
standpoint, then I am hard pressed to understand your definition.
"And I feel a lot of pride in the way that we have been able to
manage this team of people ... to create an atmosphere that lacked
Emmert announced Scott Woodward, Washington's vice president for
external affairs, will become the acting athletic director when
Turner leaves. The school promised a national search for a
permanent replacement. Emmert hopes to have UW's 16th athletic
director by the spring.