Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Bown Down to Willingham book review
"Without history we are doomed to repeat it"-George Santayana(1863-1952)
This quote applies to the book that I recently purchased by author Derek Johnson Bow Down to Willingham. Johnson is the author of Husky Football in the Don James era and War of the Roses which was about the 2000 Rose Bowl championship season. I enjoyed both books and in the past few months have had some good football related talks with him while on facebook. In fact in my book Johnson wrote me a personal message in there which was pretty night and that meant a ton to me. Now for those wondering why I would read such a book about the worst era in Washington Huskies football history? Well as the quote says without history we are doomed to repeat it. I also read it because I was curious what really happened behind the scenes to cause the football program that is my favorite sports team in all of sports to go 11-37 in a four year period. In this book Johnson touches on how race played a huge role in why head coach Tyrone Willingham was brought back for year four. I already knew that but what I didn't know was how mean of a coach he was to his players and how he disrespected the greatest Husky football player in the last 50 years.
Now I'll do my best to review this book without giving away too much. The part I found most alarming was the way Willingham treated not only his current players but former players. At a school with so much tradition like what current head coach Steve Sarkisian does is he embraces the tradition. While Willingham made most former players feel like outcasts to the program and was especially disrespectful to former #1 overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft Steve Emtman. Emtman a two-time all-ammerican was the assistent strength and conditioning coach for the Huskies. Willingham demoted him then let him go. That wasn't a very smart way to win over fans right off the bat. I don't understand Willingham's motives at all to be so disrespectful towards a Huskies legend. If you noticed in Willingham's years the offensive line was all fat and out of shape. The team often showed no strength at all and perhaps having a guy like Emtman around could have produced a few more wins. As Johnson shows throughout the book it the Willingham way or the highway(Sadly he would refer to himself in the third person). For Willingham though the losses kept creeping up as did the excuses.
The book does a good job illustrating the pain all the former players who Willingham constantly threw under the bus suffered. I was born in 1985 so up through my high school years the Huskies had never suffered a losing season and that streak started eight years before I was born. So for my father and myself to experience that run of crap from 2004-2008 was just down right dreadful. At least my grandpa passed away in 2004 to miss this run of shittyness that hadn't been seen ever before. Willingham was also a wimp as a coach as the book talks about how he didn't allow swearing. Now I'm not saying every coach needs to be like Rex Ryan but this is football last I saw. His wimpy philosophy showed on the football field as the Huskies were often punched in the mouth under his watch. The players without any reason even to them would find themselves in Willingham's doghouse. Once a player was in there he was stuck there forever as Johnson pointed out. Willingham was a prick to his players but that isn't a crime his worst offense was his shitty record including his 0-12 last season.
Back in 2007 there was a huge divide over to keep Willingham or not. I have never seen a fan base more divided on such an issue before. At the time Willingham had completed his third season which saw the Huskies 11-25 and Willingham had seen his teams take last place, second to last and last place in the conference. This is when the "doogs" got their wish and Willingham was brought back. You can often seen this "doogs" on Softy Mahler's facebook page. These are the people who will support their team and all their decisions no matter what. These people will clam you aren't a "true" fan if you disagree with any moves. Softy Mahler himself during that time supported Willingham to be brought back so keep that in mind when he talks about if a Husky football coach should be retained. Now this book does a great job of painting you back in that time. Johnson brings up the dawgman message boards, other message boards that were created due to Willingham being brought back, talk show hosts and newspapers. I felt like I was back in 2007 he illustrated that time period so well.
After reading this book I'm not surprised the Huskies went 0-12 in 2008. In fact I'm surprised they didn't do to Willingham what happened in Varsity Blues to Bud Kilmer where they ditched the coach at halftime. In fact had the players did that in the 2008 Apple Cup they probably win that game. Willingham is the only coach in the last 60 years to have a losing record to the bottom feeding Washington State Cougars. That is when you know you've hit rock bottom when you can't even beat the Cougars and was 0-2 at Husky Stadium. The book in more than a few chapters talks about the 2007 apple cup which was strange. Willingham who lost the game kept his job while the Cougars fired their coach Bill Doba. It was scary time for the true Huskies fans as they realized the Cougars had raised their expectations higher than the Huskies. Thankfully now the Cougars one upped the Huskies by bringing back Paul Wulff and his 5-32 record so I can sleep easy knowing that.
This book I think also shows why the Huskies are in good hands with Steve Sarkisian. I know I was critical of Sarkisian during his 3-6 start in year two. I mean the same people who were responsible for the Willingham disaster had their hands on the Sarkisian hire so it was hard to not be skeptical unless you blindly support your team no matter what. You soon realized that Sarkisian didn't necessarily take over a team void of talent but mainly a team who was mentally beaten up. The Willingham coaching staff taught the players absolutely nothing while breaking their spirit. The Huskies players weren't allowed to be college kids as Willingham would spy on their myspace pages, who they hung out with, would go to various bars making sure his players who were legally old enough to drink weren't served, etc. Willingham destroyed their college experience while not producing any wins at all. The players were poorly developed as there have been several players who went undrafted who remain in the NFL today from the Willingham era. Sarkisian has built his players spirits up and most importantly made football fun. Now the Huskies are winning games especially the close games this past season. The Huskies care for their head coach and he cares for them which wasn't the case in the Willingham years.
In conclusion, when I picked up this book I couldn't stop reading it. Chapter after chapter you hear a player who was screwed over by Willingham. Yet the press who was there on the inside supported him to be brought back for his fourth year. Like Johnson states when Keith Gilbertson was fired after just his second season there wasn't a controversy it was just another failed coach. With Willingham like the O.J. Simpson case it turned into a race war. People wanted Willingham to be successful because he was the first black coach in Huskies history and they ignored his constant late game mismanagements. I give Johnson credit for taking on the race issue head on. I've read mixed comments on the dawgman pages(probably bitter fans who were wrong about bringing back Willingham) about this book. This book was a fun read and it was definately worth my money. I look forward to his next Huskies football book as so far he is three for three on very enjoyable books to read.
For those who want more information on Johnson's book here is the site link. Derek Johnson Books: Bow Down to Willingham