Seven of the nine assistants from UW's 2008 staff have landed jobs in the NFL or with Division I college teams. Tyrone Willingham, head coach of the team that finished 0-12, has relocated to the Bay Area and does not have a new job.
You can’t blame the 10 men who made up the 2008 Washington football coaching staff for not wanting to reflect a whole lot.
After that 0-12 debacle, who would?
But the reality is also that most of them are too busy in their new jobs to worry about it.
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While the winless season will provide a permanent smudge on UW’s record, it apparently didn’t make much of a dent on the résumés of most of the men on the coaching staff.
None were retained by new coach Steve Sarkisian — the first wholesale turnover of a Washington coaching staff since Jim Owens took over for Darrell Royal in 1957 — but seven have found coaching jobs, either in the NFL or at other Division I schools.
“I’m the luckiest man you know,” said Randy Hart, who was UW’s defensive-line coach from 1988 through 2008 and is now the defensive-line coach at Notre Dame. “I’m an old guy that was unemployed and here I am. I’m excited to have this opportunity and I appreciate it.”
Linebackers coach Chris Tormey is special teams and safeties coach at Hawaii. Tight-ends coach Brian White has the same job at defending national champ Florida. Secondary coach J.D. Williams is coaching cornerbacks at Utah.
Three landed in the NFL — defensive coordinator Ed Donatell as defensive backs coach for Denver; offensive coordinator Tim Lappano as tight-ends coach for Detroit; and receivers coach Charlie Baggett at the same position with St. Louis.
Running-backs coach Steve Gervais, who had been with UW and in college ball for just one season, has returned to the high-school ranks as athletic director at Blanchet. The only two coaches without jobs are offensive-line coach Mike Denbrock and head coach Tyrone Willingham, who moved to the San Francisco area.
That so many of the coaches were able to so quickly land good positions might prove a head-scratcher to those who wonder how they could have collectively overseen the worst UW season in history. Some close to the program point out that assistants can only do what a head coach allows.
That’s a debate the assistants of last year, however, aren’t willing to enter.
“You can’t put it all on any one person,” said Tormey, who was an assistant at UW from 1984-94 and again from 2004-08. “We had some talented coaches on our staff, some good players. For whatever reason, it didn’t come together. It was a painful, painful time for the fans, but also for the players and coaches involved. I don’t think people really see that side of it. But I don’t think you can just say it was this or that. It was a combination of a lot of factors that started several years ago.”
Asked what those are, Tormey points to UW’s facilities, which continue to undergo an upgrade.
“Oregon’s gotten by Washington,” he said. “As much as people want to deny that, that’s the fact in terms of facilities, and they’ve gotten by Washington on the field now too, so where Washington used to be the school of choice in the Northwest, that’s no longer true. So until Washington can beat Oregon on the field and match up facility-wise, it will be tough to change that.”
But Tormey is among those who doesn’t spend much time looking back in anger. He wanted to stay at UW, and having survived the firing of Keith Gilbertson to remain under Willingham, hoped he had a chance. But he found out pretty early on that Sarkisian intended to clean house.
Says Sarkisian of why he decided not to retain any holdovers: “I knew basically every guy that was on the staff and it’s difficult when they are good guys. It’s not so much a reflection of [them] but just the culture. We had to come in with a fresh, new start and wipe the slate clean. Guys like Chris Tormey and Randy Hart and Charlie Baggett and J.D. Williams, all the guys were good guys and good coaches. But I thought for the future of our team and our football program we needed to come in with a fresh start. We needed to bring in nine new coaches that could just instill the energy that I wanted to instill.”
But Tormey wasn’t sidelined long. He quickly got in touch with Hawaii coach Greg McMackin, a longtime friend who had been a coach at Idaho in the late ’70s when Tormey was a player there.
Interestingly, Tormey replaced former UW player Ikaika Malloe on the Hawaii staff as Malloe left for Yale. Until he gets more permanent housing, Tormey is living in the 34th floor of a condo overlooking the ocean, 10 minutes from campus. “So life is good,” he says.
So it is for Hart, who, like Tormey, was one of the two members of Willingham’s staff whose UW tenure dated to the Don James era. Though he’s now 61, Hart had no intention of retiring once he wasn’t retained. A native of Cleveland who played at Ohio State, he knew a few members of the Notre Dame staff, which helped provide an in when the school’s defensive-line position opened.
Reports when he was hired indicated he was brought in to help groom former Notre Dame and NFL player Bryant Young, who is in his first year as a graduate assistant. Hart says that is part of his duties but that doesn’t mean there’s an end point to his job at Notre Dame.
“We get to keep working as long as we are winning games, same as any place,” he said.
Both Tormey and Hart will have reunions of a sort this season — Hawaii will play WSU at Qwest Field while Notre Dame hosts the Huskies on Oct. 3.
Hart said simply, “It’ll be the next game on the schedule.”
Originally, that date at Notre Dame figured to also be a return for Willingham. But an 11-37 record instead meant he didn’t last long enough to get there.
For now, Willingham is on the sideline, having been mentioned for a couple of head-coaching jobs, notably New Mexico State, though yet to be hired.
“He’s basically just looking around,” Hart said. “He’ll surface some time.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.