Huskies aim high in coaching search

Originally Published: November 10, 2004
By Ted Miller | Special to ESPN.com

It's a common misconception that Washington is looking for a new coach. That's only what it looks like to outsiders.

No, the Huskies are looking for a new Dawgfather; in other words, another Don James.

Of course, there's a problem with that. There aren't many, and it's hard to find 'em and get 'em while the getting's good.

That's not what fans want to hear, though, particularly frustrated ones. When new athletic director Todd Turner talks about hiring a coach with "pizzazz," he's telling Huskies adherents that he feels their pain. He wouldn't mind hiring the next James, either.

To refresh: James, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, belongs on the short list of the all-time great coaches. From 1975-92, he compiled a 153-27-2 record (.726) at Washington, set a record with 99 Pac-10 victories, played in six Rose Bowls, winning four, and captured one half of the national title with a 12-0 season in 1991.

Many have called that team, led by unblockable defensive tackle Steve Emtman, the best in Pac-10 history.

Ah, the unfortunate standard that haunts a formerly dominant program that hasn't been the same since it was slugged with massive NCAA and Pac-10 sanctions in 1993 for offenses that, judging by the NCAA's recent enforcement handiwork, would barely cause a blip today.

Other than a magical Rose Bowl run, 11-1 record and final No. 3 ranking in 2000 under Rick Neuheisel, the Huskies have posted just one season with fewer than four losses since James left, and they are 14-20 since 2002.

And they are presently headed toward their worst season in school history.

That said: This is still a big-time job, probably the second best post on the West Coast behind USC. Depending on what happens at Penn State, it figures to be the marquee opening outside of Gainesville this winter.

So round up the usual suspects: California's Jeff Tedford, Utah's Urban Meyer and Boise State's Dan Hawkins. Or perhaps it will be USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow or Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan or Oklahoma State coach Les Miles.

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

Some selling points:

  • New school president Mark Emmert is a big-time sports advocate who will get behind the cash cow program with his checkbook. While he was LSU's chancellor, he opened the Bayou Bengals vault in order to lure Nick Saban away from Michigan State. Saban is on record as calling Emmert his favorite boss, and that will carry weight with a prospect wondering about the school's commitment to winning.

  • Like Emmert, Turner has SEC ties (OK, so it's Vanderbilt, but work with us here). He, too, knows that a hemorrhaging of season ticket holders from what use to be a base of 68,000 won't be stemmed until fans are excited again about the program.

  • Washington has cash, and that makes a job big-time. Emmert likely will be willing to approach the $2 million threshold for the right A-lister -- read: Tedford -- and also figures to be willing to offer big money and multi-year contracts for assistant coaches. Coordinators could pocket between $200,000 and $300,000.

    So while rivals are huffing and puffing about the fallen house of Husky, cracking wise about the job losing its luster, the behind-the-scenes buzz has been considerable.

    Tedford and Meyer surely top the list -- and neither has issued an unequivocal rejection of interest, like Bob Stoops has done with the Gators -- while other candidates are generally regarded as Plan B. Both have been connected to the search at Florida; Meyer, particularly, because the man who hired him at Utah, Bernie Machen, is Florida's new president.

    Because he has Midwest ties, Meyer also might hold out for future openings in the Big Ten -- Illinois, Penn State, etc., -- or even Notre Dame.

    No candidate would generate more enthusiasm than Tedford; he would be a slam dunk.

    Some kibitzers have suggested the NFL, however, will be Tedford's final destination, but that runs counter to what he has repeatedly said about wanting to remain a college coach. He spurned an offer from the Chicago Bears last year and there have been strong rumors of other inquiries that met rejection.

    Tedford also might not leave just for a bigger paycheck, though it's clear he's frustrated by Cal's inability to move forward with promised facilities improvements -- see triggers in his contract that reduce his buyout by one half to $500,000 in mid-December.

    Hawkins and Chow look like great candidates, but their Wow-Factor is considerably less.

    During a press conference announcing coach Keith Gilbertson's resignation last week, Turner said that he wouldn't contact candidates before the end of the regular season but that he'd like to have a coach hired well in advance of national signing day on Feb. 2. That adds another wrinkle because Tedford and Meyer likely will be playing in January bowl games.

    "It's all about hope," said Turner, waxing poetic before announcing that he would have no further comments before he'd made his choice.

    "Not necessarily my hope, but the hope of our followers, supporters, players. There has to be excitement, enthusiasm, passion."

    In other words, the new guy doesn't have to be Don James, just a guy who coaches -- and wins -- like him.

    Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

    Ted Miller | email

    College Football