Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ty Willingham and Tommy Amaker

So I was driving from work in Northern Virginia to the Verizon Center, where I sit typing this post at the moment. I'm here to catch the Caps first home game in awhile when they drop the puck against Nashville tonight. Speaking of which, the game isn't televised because Versus picked up the rights to the game but has subsequently decided that the Atlanta/Philadelphia game was much more interesting. How does that happen, a game not being televised (for non-blackout purposes ... for shame Detroit Lions, look at what you've done to your fan base)

But as I was driving into the city a couple hours ago, I was listening to the radio and out of nowhere I heard a DJ go "and here's a new track from Gavin Rossdale. You may remember him from the band Bush. Now I should have figured out immediately that this song would be crap considering it was being played on the hits station here, but sI was being naive thinking about past greatness like "Glycerine" and "Machine Head". But like I said, this song was garbage, I'm not even going to include the title in this post. That's how bad it was.

But it got me thinking about another used to be pretty good, but now terrible coach — the one and only Tyrone Willingham. Remember, he was pretty damn good at Stanford, racking up a 44-36-1 record and leading the Cardinal to a Rose Bowl. The 44 wins were the most by any Stanford coach since the 1960s.

We all kind of know the rest. Ty went to Notre Dame to be the first African American to coach the Golden Domers, had a mixed bag of success and mild failure, and promptly got fired once fatboy Charlie Weis became available. He then moved onto what was supposed to be a much more comfortable job up in Seattle. Eleven wins and 32 losses, it looks like we now reside in a world that won't involve Tyrone Willingham being the head coach of a major college football program.

Oh and you thought I forgot about the title of this blog post. I'm gonna have to put a little disclaimer here because I'm about to go back to the old days of this blog and rip on poor Tommy Amaker again. See, I sort of knew Tommy in an awkward once-a-week press conference kind of way back when he was making underachieving an art form as coach of the Michigan basketball team.

I say all this because the rise and fall of Ty Willingham bears a striking resemblance to that of one Thomas Amaker. Ty's coaching career began as a hotshot assistant under Dennis Green, first at Stanford and then with the Minnesota Vikings. Tommy Amaker started his coaching career as a hotshot assistant for Mike Kryzewski at Duke. Ty then moved onto his first head coaching job at a then-doormat (Stanford), raised the level of recruiting, and subsequently the level of play to the point that people thought he was an up-and-coming coach. Tommy Amaker began his head coaching years at Seton Hall where he raised the level of recruiting, and subsequently the level of play, so much so that people thought the Pirates Sweet 16 appearance in 2000 was the beginning of a some new Amaker era.

I think this answers the age old question of why no one reads Sporting News anymore. Ty had his ups with Notre Dame, but I think this is a bit much.

Then, as we all know, Ty's success led him to the promised land of Notre Dame, where he was supposed to transform the Golden Domers back into the national spotlight where they think Fighting Irish football belongs. Willingham proceeded to be up and down with one relative high (2002 Gator Bowl appearance), but mostly pure unadulterated mediocrity. Tommy Amaker was brought into Michigan in almost an identical position as Willingham's South Bend experience — a program on an undeniable downturn that felt it belonged back in the national spotlight. Amaker responded with some relative successes (2004 NIT Championship) but mostly pure unfiltered middle of the packness.

Accordingly, both mamajamas got fired from their illustrious institutions (Willingham in 2004 and Amaker in 2006). Some argued neither deserved to get fired, but both were replaced by "offensive geniuses" — at least they were at the time (That was a subtle dig at Weis because I think it's pretty obvious now his success in New England had a lot to do with Tom Brady. Get back to me about Beilein after this season).

After the disappointments of getting canned, both kind of went back to their roots. Willingham returned to the Pac10 to coach Washington, while Amaker became the head coach at Harvard went back to his "smart white kids and rich black kids make the best players" route that was so successful during his days as an assistant and player at Duke.

Look what Mark happened to dig up. The random story is Tommy Amaker went to W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, an area my newspaper company still covers. This is youngster Tommy when he decided to become a Dukie.

That brings us to today. Willingham is now done at Washington after an awful record. And ol' Tommy is well on his way to getting whacked at the Ivyest of Ivy League Schools. I say on his way because of his stellar 8-18 record in his first season with the Crimson. Oh yeah and he kicked a bunch of kids off his team after this school year began, effectively eliminating the possibility of them transferring elsewhere for this season. And the players he recruited to take their spot may or may not have been obtained illegally.

It's eerie how parallel their two careers have been. Both are African American, both aren't the most charismatic, and both have proven unequivocally that they shouldn't be head coaches in their respective sports. Except Ty Willingham went down with dignity, choosing to coach the rest of the regular season even though his contract was terminated by Washington.

So now as we sit in a new era, the sans Willingham era if you will, when will the inevitable final downfall of Amaker happen? I'm saying it's inevitable, maybe not next year, maybe not the year after that (This is Harvard we're talking about. They aren't exactly chomping at the bit to fire their only black head coach.

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