Gilbertson has no hard feelings

  • John Sleeper / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, November 13, 2003 9:00pm
  • Sports

It’s been a curious week for Washington head coach Keith Gilbertson.

And not just because his Huskies are coming off a 27-22 loss at Arizona.

On one hand, Gilbertson said that the UW’s game at Cal on Saturday isn’t about him returning to his old stomping grounds for the first time as a head coach, but about him coaching a team in a crucial game that will say much about the bowl fortunes of his 5-5 squad.

That said, Gilbertson has easily elaborated on his feelings about coming back to Cal, where he coached the Golden Bears for four years and a 20-26 record before he was let go in 1995.

“Am I (ticked) off at them? No,” Gilbertson said. “They gave me a good chance and we did some good things. I think we left a pretty good football team behind. I didn’t walk out kicking and screaming. It was time to go, and I knew it.”

Gilbertson’s tenure at Cal started rough and got rougher.

He said he sensed the players felt abandoned by Bruce Snyder, who left for Arizona State after 1991, but not before telling his players at a team meeting that he was staying with them. Days later, players found notes taped to their lockers that he was taking the job at Tempe.

Gilbertson said he thought he might have gone easier on the players than he would otherwise have done because of Snyder’s awkward exit. And anyone who knows Gilbertson now knows he’s not easy on anyone.

“I don’t think that was really me,” Gilbertson said. “I was probably a little too willing to accept how things were and how they’d been done and not say, ‘This is the way it’s going to be. End of story.’”

Gilbertson’s hiring came on the heels of Washington’s 1991 national championship, a team on which Gilbertson served as offensive coordinator. Cal had graduated a large number of seniors from a 10-2 team that beat Clemson 37-13 in the Citrus Bowl.

Gilbertson’s first season went 4-7 and the heat already was on. Many who thought assistant Steve Mariucci should have gotten the job were Gilbertson’s most outspoken critics.

Not even a 9-4 year in 1993, which included a victory over Iowa in the Alamo Bowl, helped much because the perception in Berkeley was that the Golden Bears could have gone to their first Rose Bowl since 1959. Quarterback Dave Barr, however, was injured, which led to a four-game losing streak.

Cal was 4-7 in 1994, 3-8 in 1995 and Gilby was gone.

It’s been eight years and three head coaches later. Gilbertson simply doesn’t know what type of reception he’ll get. He mentions the names of some of his former players: Tony Gonzalez, Tarik Glenn, Bobby Shaw, Regan Upshaw, Je’Rod Cherry.

Not bad.

“I know I got released, but it wasn’t a total failure,” Gilbertson said. “We recruited some really good players and the team I left behind was a heck of a lot better than the one I inherited, I believe. It wasn’t like it was a total failure from any standpoint.”

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif.

TV: none.

Radio: KJR radio (950 AM).

Stars to watch: Washington – Quarterback Cody Pickett is 188 yards shy of becoming just the fourth Pac-10 quarterback ever to throw for more than 10,000 yards in his career. Receiver Reggie Williams, only a junior, is second in the conference in all-time receptions and receiving yards. Tailback Kenny James is hurting with a slightly torn quad muscle, but he and Shelton Sampson have done a great job of giving defenses different looks at the position. Sampson is a superb outside runner, while James makes people miss inside. Terry Johnson is having a year that could land him major post-season honors. He’s third in the conference in sacks (nine) and tied for third in tackles for loss (15 1/2), despite constant double-teaming. Linebacker Marquis Cooper leads the team in tackles with 77, 50 unassisted.

Cal – Sophomore quarterback Aaron Rodgers has established himself as the starting quarterback, throwing for 11 TDs and just four interceptions. Until the end of the Oregon game last week, he had a streak of 105 straight passes without an interception. Tailback Adimchinobe Echemandu has a bum ankle, but may play against the Huskies. He is the second-leading rusher in the conference. Junior Burl Toler III and Vinny Strang have filled in for injured wideout Jonathan Makonnen, combining for 53 receptions, 676 yards and six TDs. Donnie McCleskey has 92 tackles, 5 1/2sacks, two picks and 12 tackles for loss.

Breaking down the game: The Huskies look to bounce back after a loss at Arizona. Overlooking the Golden Bears shouldn’t be a problem. Again wanting a balanced offensive scheme, the Huskies want to run James and Sampson, then throw to Williams, Charles Frederick, Isaiah Stanback and tight end Jon Lyon. Defensively, the Huskies will want to pressure Rodgers and shut down whoever the tailback is, be it Echemandu or backup J.J. Arrington. This is a big challenge for Washington’s front line, which has been inconsistent in the pass rush and was burned at Arizona because of faulty gap integrity. Cal’s motivation is clear, because it needs to win its last two games to get bowl-eligible. The Golden Bears will want to prevent Williams from breaking a big play, knowing that he’ll get his 10-plus catches. Echemandu’s health keys the offense. If Cal can show an adequate running game, Rodgers can give the UW secondary trouble.

Bottom line: Washington’s wild inconsistency makes this impossible to predict, but look for Cal to beat the Huskies for the first time at home since 1975.

Pick: Cal, 31-27.

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium, Pullman.

TV: ABC (Channel 4).

Radio: KRKO (1380 AM).

Stars to watch: Washington State – Quarterback Matt Kegel may not have enough workable limbs to play, so freshman Josh Swogger may have to step in. That puts pressure on WSU’s receivers, who simply have to catch balls that may be a tad quicker and more off-target than they’re accustomed to. Wideouts Devard Darling, Sammy Moore and Scott Lunde have to come up big. So does tailback Jonathan Smith, who can keep the Sun Devils off balance if he approaches 80 yards rushing. Defensive backs Jason David and Erik Coleman figure to have a busy day, but they’re used to it, with six interceptions apiece. The Cougars’ pass rush, one of the best in the conference, is led by defensive end D.D. Acholonu and linebacker Will Derting, who have combined for 15 sacks and 21 1/2tackles for loss.

Arizona State – Quarterback Andrew Walter, has been inconsistent, but has managed 20 TD passes this season. Wideouts Skyler Fulton and Derek Hagan have 101 catches and 16 TDs between them. Safety Jason Shivers has 86 tackles, second in the Pac-10, and three interceptions.

Breaking down the game: Expect the over-under in attempted passes by both teams to nudge 80. WSU isn’t going to toss away its air game, even in the event that Kegel can’t go. Coach Bill Doba has been talking up Swogger for weeks. The difference lies in WSU’s defense, which may be on a par with USC’s in terms of quickness. If ASU can keep the pass rush off Walter, this could be a close game.

Bottom line: Not this time. ASU’s gone so far into the tank that the Cougs should win comfortably, even without Kegel.

Pick: Washington State, 38-17.

USC at Arizona: We’re sure that the Wildcats are pretty geeked about beating Washington. USC, however, isn’t Washington. Pick: USC, 43-9.

Oregon at UCLA: Funny feeling about this one. UCLA is horribly banged up and shows signs of sputtering, perhaps to a stop. Pick: Oregon, 27-24.

Stanford at Oregon State: Only danger to the Beavers is the Beavers themselves. Pick: Oregon State, 34-19.

Sleeper pick of the week: Michigan State 30, Wisconsin 20.

John Sleeper is the Herald’s college football writer.

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