Husky players stand by their coach

SEATTLE — In a little over three hours Saturday night, Tyrone Willingham’s seat went from hot to scorching.

Washington’s 44-10 loss was just the first of 12 games on the Huskies schedule, but the manner in which the Huskies lost has many UW fans up in arms. The contingent of fans who wanted Willingham fired after last year’s 4-9 finish are angrier than ever, and even some people who wanted Willingham to get another year are starting to question the fourth-year coach.

Now, with BYU coming to town for Washington’s second of three straight games against ranked opponents, Washington’s players have to try to tune out the cries for their coach’s head.

“It’s one game,” said quarterback Jake Locker. “I really don’t think there needs to be any panic amongst anybody, any kind of extra stress on anybody. Like I’ve said before, he’s our head coach, he’s our leader, we look to him, and he doesn’t let it bother him, and we treat it the same way. He’s here to win games and so are we. We all understand that and we know that, and that’s our main focus. We don’t worry about all that other stuff.”

In a bit of an awkward scene, Willingham sat just a few feet away from his quarterback Monday, listening as Locker was asked about the coach’s job status. Willingham has always said that the pressure doesn’t bother him, that it’s always there, but even he had to acknowledge that his players have to deal with it.

“It’s very difficult in the modern era to keep things away from your football team,” he said. “Our kids are so connected with the Internet and all these other forms of communication that it’s impossible to try to shield them from what’s out there. What I hope with our football team is that it always looks at its leadership and sees where our leadership is focused. I am focused on and my eyes are fixed on what is next, and what’s next this week is BYU.”

Players admit to hearing the talk, but try to move forward rather than dwell on it.

“I heard a lot of talking, but I don’t pay any attention to it, because I’m not going to gain anything from it,” said redshirt freshman cornerback Quinton Richardson. “So I might as well just keep going and let the past be the past.”

And while many fans seem to have given up on Washington’s coach, his players say they still believe in Willingham’s ability to lead the team.

“I love coach Willingham, and I play for him regardless,” said linebacker Mason Foster. “We’ve just got to win. Hot seat or not, you’ve got to win games regardless. If he’s on the hot seat or not, it’s about winning games.”

Winning, they say, will ultimately solve the problem.

“We’re just worrying about winning games,” said defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. “And I think all that stuff will take care of itself if we just bring some wins to Seattle.”

Possible redshirt for Wells: Senior safety Jason Wells, who tore his ACL against USC last season, is still struggling to come back from that injury. As a result, Tyrone Willingham said, Wells could sit out this season and aim for a 2009 return.

“There are two schools of thought,” Willingham said. “If Jason is not fully ready to go, then maybe take this year and redshirt him, or just kind of work through the year and see exactly where he’s at. I haven’t exactly made up my mind on either of those, but I’m probably leaning toward taking the year and redshirting.”

Injury update: One of the few bright spots from Washington’s loss was that the Huskies came out of the game relatively healthy. No major injuries were reported, just typical bumps and bruises. Center Juan Garcia, who defied the odds to be ready in time for the opener, played the whole game and reportedly had no setbacks.

Locker said his hamstring was a little sore on Sunday, but that he’s fine and looking forward to being healthier against BYU. He admitted that, while he had no problems with the injury during the game, he may not have been at full speed.

“I don’t know if I was struggling, but I didn’t feel as fast as I normally am,” he said. “But I think that’s just something that’ll come with time. It didn’t bother me, it didn’t catch or anything, it didn’t feel sore while I was playing. I think another thing is just being able to trust that I can open up and sprint like I have in the past. I think just with time, in the next week, I’ll be able to regain that with being able to go hard at practice every day.”

Senior tight end Michael Gottlieb, who missed the Oregon game with a hamstring injury, was classified as probable for this weekend’s game. Willingham did say, however, that they will be cautious with Gottlieb because, “When we get him, we’d like to keep him and not be in and out of the lineup.”

A pair of new faces: The Huskies added two walk-ons to the team. Marek Domanski is a freshman tight end from Shorecrest High School, and Andrew Lutton is a punter who previously played at Azusa Pacific Junior College. He is a graduate of King’s High School.

Punting woes: Jared Ballman struggled at times Saturday, twice shanking punts and hitting a few others short. For now, however, there are no plans to bench Ballman, who also had some good punts, including a 57-yarder.

“Right now, no,” Willingham said when asked if a change could be coming this week. “I don’t anticipate that, even though I like some things from our backup punter Kiel Rasp. Jared hit some very good balls that night and what we have to do is get him back to being consistent. It was the first game for him and he didn’t quite get done what he needed to get done, but I think he can get done some exciting punting for us. I’m not ready to pull the cord yet.”

Contact Herald Writer John Boyle at For more on UW sports, check out the Huskies blog at /huskiesblog

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