Washington wants next coach to make a big splash

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Tyrone Willingham was nearly fired as Washington's coach following the 2007 season, so know that the folks in power -- both inside and outside the university -- have been cogitating about who the Huskies next coach will be for some time.

School president Mark Emmert loves his football. He was chancellor at LSU when he bypassed the authority of athletic director Joe Dean, fired coach Gerry DiNardo and lured a guy by the name of Nick Saban away from Michigan State.

Remind me: Did that work out for LSU?

Emmert hung around the football team so much when things started to turn around that Tigers beat reporters dubbed him "Jerry Jones."

With Emmert's long-time right-hand man Scott Woodward recently elevated to athletic director -- think Robin to Emmert's Batman -- know that the athletic department will speak with one voice.

And that voice both wants and needs to sing an inspiring tune to the beleaguered Huskies fan base.

Two names would be sweet music to most Huskies fans: Missouri's Gary Pinkel and Seattle Seahawks assistant Jim Mora Jr.

Both have ties to Washington and legendary coach Don James. And both would be expensive.

Some might wonder why Pinkel, a finalist for the job when Rick Neuheisel was hired after the 1998 season, would leave Missouri after building it into a national power, but more than a few connected folks believe Pinkel could be in play.

Of course, the Huskies will have to substantially beat the five-year contract extension that Pinkel signed last December that guarantees him $1.85 million annually.

Mora already has been announced as the Seahawks next head coach after Mike Holmgren steps down at the end of the season, and word is he'll pocket top NFL coaching dollar, previously reported as perhaps as much as $5 million annually.

It's likely that feelers were sent out weeks ago.

But, considering that word of Willingham's forced resignation didn't leak out until Monday's press conference began, it's clear that Emmert and Woodward, both extremely media-savvy, are working very hard to keep a lid on things.

So everybody is going to trot out the usual suspects to replace Willingham:

  • Other Pac-10 head coaches: California's Jeff Tedford and Oregon State's Mike Riley.

  • Respected mid-major head coaches: Boise State's Chris Petersen, Fresno State's Pat Hill, Tulsa's Todd Graham, Utah's Kyle Whittingham and TCU's Gary Patterson.

  • Hot coordinators: Texas' defensive coordinator Will Muschamp (who was LSU's defensive coordinator when Emmert was at LSU), Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen and USC OC Steve Sarkisian.

It's also probably worth it to toss former Oakland Raiders head coach and USC assistant Lane Kiffin's name into the mix.

The general feeling is Emmert and the moneyed friends of the program will be willing to put together a hefty contract for the right guy.

The need to immediately generate positive momentum suggests they will be looking for a name that makes a splash, which means a salary between $2 and $3 million a year. Maybe even more, considering the high cost of living in Seattle.

Worrying about a "splash" might seem superficial -- just hire the right guy -- but it's not. This is a critical juncture for the Huskies. It's not just about restoring the fading tradition of winning, which could take a few years due to poor recruiting from Willingham.

The next coach will need to inspire a sagging fan base during an economic downturn to invest in a massive and necessary renovation of Husky Stadium.

The city of Seattle also needs something to get excited about.

With the Sonics bolting for Oklahoma City, the Mariners in disarray and the Seahawks sagging even in the milquetoast NFC West, Seattle is hungry for some good sports news.

The Huskies used to be the team that most reliably carried the winning banner, and they were always the team that generated the most passion -- and that includes hate coming from the city's Washington State minority.

Husky Stadium use to be one of the nation's most feared venues. Under Willingham, the Huskies have lost 13 of their last 15 home games.

In recent years, it wasn't just that Huskies fans felt frustration and even anger over the downturn. It was that some were turning away from the program.

The next Huskies coach needs to immediately inspire hope. And then he needs to win.