The inevitable booing that enveloped Rick Neuheisel upon the former University of Washington football coach’s return Saturday night to Husky Stadium was distinctly lacking in volume, venom, and vigor. It sounded about as inspired as the chorus of cat calls aimed at A-Rod during his fourth trip to the plate at Safeco Field now that nearly a decade has passed since the one-time Mariners star took a quarter-billion to play elsewhere.
Neuheisel is getting considerably less as mentor at his alma mater, UCLA, which deftly accommodated the Huskies’ 10th defeat this winless season. The 27-7 score is but another footnote as the team plods toward a Dec. 6 date at Cal-Berkeley. That’s where and then the ’08 season loss clock will strike 12 unless UW can prevail Nov. 22 over 1-10 WSU, 31-zip losers to Arizona Saturday.
As for Neuheisel, presumably many have long since memorized the Wiki on Ricky — the bad-boy acquisition by misguided UW athletic director Barbara Hedges, who overlooked his recruiting transgressions while he was at Colorado. Several screw-ups into his Husky career, Neuheisel was involved in a college-basketball betting pool and lost — his job, that is. Later he won — a $4.5 million legal judgment against his former employer and the NCAA, that is. He then went into the wilderness of pro-bono high-school and low-profile pro-football coaching. Last winter he was awarded something like a dream job when the team (which he once quarterbacked and where he won the most-valuable-player award at the ’84 Rose Bowl) took another, ahem, gamble on him.
Booing him at Husky Stadium was inevitable (though not so much among many of those who sat in my section), even if it made about as much sense as a Sarah Palin speech read backward. (Or, come to think, read forward.) Yes, Neuheisel left the beloved-by-boosters Husky-football program in a shambles worthy of something that might have been done by the Bush Administration. But the team’s current condition no longer has much of anything to do with Neuheisel, no more than the woes of the Seattle Mariners bear any relationship to the loss long ago of Alex Rodriguez. Slick Rick hasn’t worked at UW for more than five years.
The soon-to-be-former head coach is Tyrone Willingham, who doesn’t seem to have worked here for nearly the same amount of time. Willingham’s four seasons at UW have produced just six wins in front of local fans. And he’s only part of the team’s problem, which extends to next year’s dubious recruiting prospects and the apparent need for a new or renovated stadium.
Oh, yeah, and the team needs another new coach.
Beyond its own failings, the Husky football program’s collapse sometimes seems to have brought down nearby structures with it. The men’s basketball team, which had been a source of local pride and perennial entrant in the NCAA tournament, was just 16-17 last season. There has been a lot of hope for the basketball campaign that commenced in Portland at about the same time as the UW-UCLA football game. The UW hoopsters were to get an early-season breather against the University of Portland. The game narrative was about the debut of a Husky guard with the bling marquee name Isaiah Thomas. But the latter got into foul trouble and, despite all-planet senior forward Jon Brockman’s 30 points and 14 rebounds, UW lost 80-74. Maybe coach Lorenzo Romar should’ve recruited, in addition to Thomas, a "Michael Jordan" and "Larry Bird." He may indeed wish he had all of the above a week from now when the UW hoopsters travel to play Kansas, merely last season’s NCAA champion.
By then, of course, the world (or what few of its occupants care) will know the outcome of the Nov. 22 Apple Cup. There’s a perverse belief here that there remains but one appropriate result for teams with a combined record of 1-20. When the Dawgs and Cougs finally leave the field in Pullman that afternoon, here’s hoping they will have endured the requisite overtime periods that will lead to that rarest of outcomes: a scoreless tie. It would be the proverbial parting gift for Willingham, who at least would be able to say he didn’t lose ‘em all in ’08.
Perhaps more important, headline-writers everywhere would need only to place a capital “B” in front of the final score to form the fitting appraisal of the worst season of the state’s century-plus engagement with “major-college football”: B-0-0!
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