“Hello everybody,” Bob Gregory said, facing a ragtag crew of assembled reporters.
One second passed. Two seconds passed.
“Hello everybody,” Gregory repeated Tuesday, piercing the sleepy silence.
“Hello, Bob! Good morning, Bob!” responded the previously apathetic media masses.
“There we go!” interjected the 58-year-old assistant, entering his second week as the Huskies’ interim head coach. “A little energy right here. I like it.”
Maybe that makes Gregory the right man for a difficult moment.
Because, considering the circumstances — a 4-6 record, a two-game losing streak, a fired head coach and offensive coordinator — it would be easy for Washington to surrender the season, to sink into the distraction of a coaching search. It would be easy to sleepwalk through Saturday’s noon game at 3-7 Colorado. To wave a white flag. To float with the current.
It’s Gregory’s job to attack the apathy.
“It’s about being here now, and that’s what we’re talking about,” Gregory said. “There really is no choice. But it’s hard. They’re kids, and there’s anxiety. As a staff we have anxiety, and we’re adults. So it’s our job to help these kids navigate through a tough time.
“It’s not easy for these guys. Their world is changing a little bit. So that’s the focus, what do we do today? What did we do in our meetings this morning, and in practice? We’ve got a 5 o’clock meeting this afternoon, and that’s all we can do is keep these guys focused. We’ve still got a lot of really cool stuff to play for. We can have a winning season, Apple Cup, bowl game, all that kind of stuff. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
But before Washington can win the Apple Cup, or a subsequent bowl game, the Huskies first have to conquer Colorado. That’s something UW failed to do in 2019, when the Buffs bullied their way to 207 rushing yards and 5 yards per carry in a 20-14 win.
This time around, Colorado has lost three of its past four games — including a 44-20 defeat to UCLA last weekend that the Buffs led 20-10 at halftime. Likewise, UW has been outscored 88-73 in the fourth quarter this season and 44-20 in the second halves of back-to-back losses to Oregon and Arizona State.
It’s about finishing the season … and finishing the game.
“It’s about life. It’s life lessons,” Gregory said. “You’ve got to finish what you started. There’s no quit. These are adult things that come on in life, and so now young men have to figure out how you handle adversity. Again, this is our job as coaches to help these guys through this.
“We’ve just got to keep those guys focused that way. It’s hard with the social media and everybody in their ear and all that. We’ve just got to keep pounding the message home.”
And have fun while doing it.
At his news conference Tuesday, Gregory wore a black shirt with three words printed across the chest in highlighter yellow:
PLAY WITH JOY
UW’s defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach is attempting to inject some into what’s seemed like a generally joyless season.
“We’re trying to have a little bit more fun at practice,” Gregory said. “(Strength and conditioning coach Tim) Socha set up a couple fun drills for us. Normally we’re in full pads. We’re just in shells today, shells tomorrow. This is the time of year we do that anyway, to try to get their legs back. We’re a little bit beat up as a team generally. So we’ve got to make sure we’re smart in practice.”
Like Gregory said, that’s all they have — practices, meetings, two (or three) more games, fleeting opportunities to have fun, to play with joy.
This coaching staff has been assigned an expiration date. Gregory has been here for eight seasons, and an era is ending. A door is closing. It’s almost over.
He’s intent on attacking the apathy first.
“We tell our players, ‘We’re in this, too,’” Gregory said of UW’s difficult situation. “But again, like I mentioned, we’re the adults. We’re the leaders of the team. We’re the coaches. We just have a few more weeks to go and hopefully a bowl game. We’re better at this. We kind of know, taking these coaching jobs and me being in this for over 30 years, this is kind of part of the deal. We’re all fine as coaches. Everybody is going to be fine.
“It just goes back to us leading these kids and modeling the right example. So if we’re out there dragging at practice, they’re going to drag at practice. If we don’t have energy at practice, they’re not going to have energy at practice. So it’s up to us to make sure we model that right behavior. And it’s been good so far. The kids had a good practice today.”