Husky Talk With Tyrone Willingham
Jan. 24, 2007
Following the Husky football team's thrilling 35-32 season-ending victory at Washington State in the annual Apple Cup, the University of Washington coaching staff quickly turned its attention to recruiting one of the top recruiting classes in the Pac-10. Apparently their efforts have been fruitful as many of the experts who cover recruiting have lauded this year's Husky class as highly respected and rated among the best nationally.
After weeks of chasing him down, GoHuskies.com finally caught up with Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham and discussed recruiting, the upcoming spring drills and a few other Husky-related topics.
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GoHuskies.com: Coach Willingham, can you describe for us a day in the life of a University of Washington football coach since the season ended nearly 10 weeks ago?
Tyrone Willingham: 'That's a good question. Every day changes depending on the responsibilities are. There are some days where we need to be in the office to catch up with paperwork, phone calls and other duties that require personal attention. Those days usually begin before sunrise and almost always end after sunset. Then there are a number of days on the road that begin early in the morning and generally end in the homes of prospective student-athletes at the end of the day and into the evening.'
GoHuskies.com: Obviously there is a certain grind of traveling, working from home, working on the road seven days per week without much of a break. What are some of the concerns that come with such a stressful time of the year?
Tyrone Willingham: 'In my opinion, it is critical to be in good mental and physical condition. It is a long ride because there is really no break from the end of the season and we go right into recruiting. It would seem fortunate to have a break because of the holiday season, however that is the most dreaded break in all of football (due to the absence of a bowl appearance). We want to be in good mind, body and spirit so that we can give the energy that the young people and families need to feel good about our program.'
GoHuskies.com: What is your favorite thing about recruiting?
Tyrone Willingham: 'I really enjoy everything about recruiting. But, probably the most enjoyable part of it is when you are dealing with families that have strong values and strong ethics and have a really well thought out system of making decisions. I've always felt that when we find that, it plays really well for us. We think we are really sound fundamentally as a football program and it really helps us make the perfect match with that particular student-athlete.'
GoHuskies.com: How many high schools have you visited since the end of the season?
Tyrone Willingham: 'Well, it is a little different that that. Frequently I don't make it to the actual school because of various reasons, such as schedules, location and things like that. We like to get into the high schools and make that connection with the coaches because those relationships are so important. But, on most days we try to visit with student-athletes and their families in their homes or at other locations that make it as convenient for them as we can.'
GoHuskies.com: You spoke earlier about conditioning, both mentally and physically, of you and your staff as it relates to the stressful time of the year. Is that a big concern?
Tyrone Willingham: 'It is a concern, but really we leave it up to each individual to determine how he deals with their well-being. Unfortunately, we've seen so many coaches across the country over the last few years with health-related issues. Coaches have to be concerned about their health because they can't do the kind of job that is demanded if they aren't in good physical shape, although some are not and they do a great job. But, good health does prolong your career. And, it is always a good thing to serve as an example when you go into a home a visit with a prospect, to give them a positive feeling about what it means to work hard and be the best they can be.'
GoHuskies.com: How have you and your staff been received when visiting with prospective student-athletes during the recruiting process?
Tyrone Willingham: 'I think the most consistent thing we hear as that the young people we visit with like the direction of where we are going with our program and the things that we are doing. Then, once they get a chance to visit our campus, we hear a lot about the beauty of the campus, the character of our coaches and our players and things of that nature.'
GoHuskies.com: Conversely, what are some of the concerns that prospects or their families express?
Tyrone Willingham: 'One of the areas of concern, especially when you compare it to our competitors, is facilities. However, that is one things that is currently being address and we hope to upgrade in that area in the near future. The direction of our facility planning and the plans that have been announced are exciting and it will undoubtedly help us attract the players that will help us be even more competitive than we already area.'
GoHuskies.com: Can you expand on the importance of UW's facility upgrades?
Tyrone Willingham: 'I think it is vitally important that our administration and our fanbase move forward on the renovation and upgrades to our existing and future facilities. That is the kind of commitment it takes to be the best and without that, it makes it more difficult to convince people of the strong belief throughout our community that we can be a great program. As I said, the facility study that Todd Turner presented to the board of regents and announced publicly a couple of months ago are exciting and I think it is critical that we continue the momentum that we have gained.'
GoHuskies.com: There was a great deal of attention given by the media and Husky fans to the fast start of this recruiting class. You received a large number of commitments early in the process. How has that affected the continued efforts to land a top class?
Tyrone Willingham: 'I fully believe the momentum that we gained early in the recruiting process has sustained itself. We have been very fortunate that everything has been so positive. I think that as you look through this class, it is one that is very solid from top to bottom. I'm usually not one to pay a lot of attention to rankings and such, but I think this class so far has been very well received across the country.'
GoHuskies.com: Looking a couple of months ahead, can you talk a little bit about the spring and how you will approach the quarterback position with Carl Bonnell rehabilitating from shoulder surgery and Johnny Durocher going through the surgery to remove a brain tumor? It appears there is only one healthy quarterback to lead the Huskies during the spring.
Tyrone Willingham: 'I can't provide all of our plans on what we will do with the quarterback position during the spring because we expect some additions to our team in time for the spring quarter. When all is said and done, we feel there will be a couple of guys who will be in a position to make an impact and help our football team improve. As I've emphasized pretty consistently, in our system, not necessarily in the spring but in the fall primarily, our starter gets almost all the reps. That is the way it has been designed and we really try to give a game-like feel to what we are trying to do. So it is critical that we are as efficient as possible in the preparation of our quarterbacks and have a player at that position that can lead our team to success.'
GoHuskies.com: What are some of the things that players who were freshmen or just joined the team in the fall will be facing during spring drills?
Tyrone Willingham: 'So much growth takes place during the entire year that it is hard to say exactly. Each player develops a little bit differently. But, for a number of the new guys, they probably feel like this is their opportunity since so much growth takes place at this time of the year. I think the critical piece is to take them through the strength and conditioning program through the winter and get through the spring. At that point we will have a better gauge of exactly who we expect will make an impact for us next season.'
GoHuskies.com: Recently it was announced that the 2007 season would feature an open date early in the Pac-10 schedule as well as the addition of a 13th game at Hawai'i. What are your thoughts on these changes?
Tyrone Willingham: 'First off, I thought that adjusting the schedule to create a bye week was a wonderful move by our administration. That will give our team the best chance to be successful. We try to give our team as much rest as possible on Fridays to get them into the right mood, or focus, for the upcoming ballgame. Adding a bye week does very much the same thing. It allows us to rest, cool-down and not have to ramp back up so quickly for another game so quickly. Adding the bye week puts us on the same pages as the other teams in the conference and around the country and it gives us the best chance to be successful. Adding the 13th game is something that our young men are excited about. The biggest part of that is the question of is it the right timing to add the game. Hopefully this team is in a better place and a better position to be ready to accept that kind of responsibility.'
GoHuskies.com: During the offseason, a position opened up on your staff as wide receivers coach. Can you share some information on where you are with the hiring of that position?
Tyrone Willingham: 'I've conducted a number of preliminary discussions. I want to make sure we get exactly what I am looking for and the right person that can impact our program in a positive way. Once that person is hired, it has an immediate impact on our team from a short and long-term perspective. The good thing is that I didn't feel that we have been negatively impacted in our recruiting. We already had receivers, running backs and skill guys in place. From the standpoint of what we are going to do offensively, we have a great deal of consistency since our coordinator is still in place, although we will make some adjustments. So, there aren't a lot of questions to answer and I think our patience in finding the right person will prove to be the right path.'