- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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When Washington hired Rick Neuheisel in January 1999, one of the first moves that he made was to bring Keith Gilbertson in as assistant head coach. Washington alumni loved the move. Gilbertson had been a top assistant under the Top Dog, Don James, through the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Huskies shared one national championship (1991) and contended most years.
Gilbertson left Washington to replace Bruce Snyder as coach at California in 1992. He inherited a top-20 program and proved incapable of keeping it there, getting fired after four seasons. Granted, Washington needed someone to plug the hole when it fired Neuheisel in the summer of 2003. But Gilbertson had proven once he was a good assistant coach and no more. At Washington, with a 7-13 record, he has proven it again.
University of Washington president Mark Emmert is a hands-on chief executive. He made the decision to hire the head coach at his previous campus -- LSU, where he reached outside the Southeast to bring in Nick Saban from Michigan State following the 1999 season.
That lack of geographical concern is a noteworthy distinction, because west of the Rockies, there aren't a lot of head coaches who draw attention. Urban Meyer of Utah, of course, will be mentioned for every job between now and whenever he signs a lifetime contract to stay in Salt Lake City. Jeff Tedford of California might be on the market, especially if the university doesn't begin badly needed improvements to Memorial Stadium and its football offices.
An obvious candidate might have been Gary Pinkel, the former Washington assistant who was expected to take Missouri to the Big 12 North championship. However, the Tigers are 4-4 this season and 21-23 in four seasons under Pinkel.
Oklahoma State coach Les Miles, coaching in the toughest division in college football has turned around the Cowboys and made them a top-20 team. If Emmert were to search for a successful coach who may be interested in moving from the "other school" in a state to the top school in a state, Miles would fit.
One other name to remember is Boise State's Dan Hawkins, who is 43-6 in his fourth year coaching the Broncos.
But the most obvious coach that Emmert should consider knows the high schools in the area, has won two Pacific-10 Conference championships and has proven that knows how to perform a reclamation project. He did it at Washington State -- twice -- and he's doing it this season at UTEP.
Mike Price's problems in his brief stay at Alabama are well-known, but the last place he has to defend himself is in the state of Washington. The possibility that Price might switch sides in the Apple Cup is an irresistible story. But it makes X-and-O sense, too.
Among assistant coaches, the most prominent in the nation is way down I-5 -- USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow. If he is still interested in becoming a head coach, and interested in staying west of the Rockies, several jobs may come open this year. None of them have the prestige of Washington.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.
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