Gilbertson will finish season as coach

Updated: November 1, 2004, 11:31 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Keith Gilbertson took over Washington's football program in turbulent times, filling a void left when his boss, Rick Neuheisel, was fired for gambling on NCAA basketball.

Some would suggest it was an impossible situation.

Keith Gilbertson
Keith Gilbertson's Huskies are 0-5 in the Pac-10 this season.

Athletic director Todd Turner announced Monday that Gilbertson is stepping down at the end of the season, ending an extremely difficult 15 months as Neuheisel's successor.

"The way I got this job, when I saw Rick's situation, it was not a dream job," said Gilbertson, a Washington native who spoke proudly of his family's four-generation links to the university.

"I do love this place," he added. "I have a great passion for Husky football. I do feel I made a contribution, but this was not a dream situation."

The Huskies lost 31-6 at Oregon on Saturday, dropping to 1-7 overall and 0-5 in the Pac-10. It's the worst season in 35 years for a school that shared the 1991 national title.

"It was a very difficult play he was assigned to run," Turner said. "We gave him the ball on fourth-and-goal, but we didn't block for him."

The 56-year-old Gilbertson is 7-13 in two seasons at Washington.

With recruiting in full swing, Gilbertson and Turner agreed after three weeks of talks that a commitment of some kind -- extend Gilbertson's contract or find a new coach -- was needed to define the program's future.

"We will be back in the nation's elite," Turner said. "It will take a lot of sacrifice by a lot of people."

Gilbertson will coach the final three games of the season, then undergo hip replacement surgery. He promised to help Turner in any way to get the program back to its 14 conference championships.

"We need a boost now," Gilbertson said. "This program is suffering."

Turner will begin a national search immediately. He won't pursue sitting coaches during the regular season but said he's determined to find someone with a "Ph.D in coaching," a coach of high integrity who can add "some pizazz."

"This is a great job," Turner said. "There are coaches who dream of being at the University of Washington."

Turner refused to discuss potential candidates.

Some names that have been mentioned include California coach Jeff Tedford, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Utah's Urban Meyer, Boise State's Dan Hawkins and Missouri's Gary Pinkel.

All are either rising stars or have ties to Washington.

Gilbertson took over the Huskies six weeks before fall camp in 2003. Neuheisel was fired in July 2003, leaving then-athletic director Barbara Hedges little time or options to fill the job.

Hedges said at the time that Gilbertson was chosen because he was the only member of the staff with head coaching experience.

"It would have been easy to say no," Gilbertson said. "I had other options, but that would have been the opposite of what we tell our kids to do: Step up and take a shot."

Gilbertson previously coached Idaho (1986-88) and California (1992-95) and is 55-48 overall in nine seasons as a head coach.

He told his players Monday about the decision, showing his characteristic gallows humor when he described the meeting.

"When they stopped cheering, they carried Todd out on their shoulders," Gilbertson joked, his eyes welling. "Some of them really understood. Some of them were surprised."

Washington has fallen on tough times only four years after an 11-1 record and a Rose Bowl win over Purdue.

The Huskies went 6-6 last season and 4-4 in the Pac-10, barely avoiding the school's first losing season since 1976. Washington lost at home to Nevada and was blown out by California and UCLA.

The only victory this season was over San Jose State, and Washington is winless in the Pac-10. The last time the Huskies went without a league victory was 1973, when they were 0-7 in the old Pac-8.

This year's squad was hit hard by injuries, and the team's struggles on offense have been frustrating for Gilbertson, the offensive coordinator under Neuheisel and coach Don James on Washington's 1991 title team.

"This is really not about Keith's coaching," Turner said. "It's more about giving our program a fresh start and to reinvest in our football program."

Washington plays Saturday against visiting Arizona. The Huskies face California (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 4 AP) in Seattle on Nov. 13, then finish the season Nov. 20 at rival Washington State.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press