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Times reporter Bob Condotta keeps the news coming about the Montlake Dawgs.

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January 9, 2008 6:56 PM

Turner wanted to extend Willingham before season

Posted by Bob Condotta

That's one of the revelations uncovered in a story that will run in tomorrow's paper (and on-line) that attempts to shine some light on some of the factors weighed by UW president Mark Emmert when he made recent decisions to keep football coach Tyrone Willingham and fire athletic director Todd Turner.

The story focuses largely on the role played by boosters, and the influence of e-mail campaigns by those who both supported Willingham and Turner and those who were critical of the coach and athletic director.

In an interview for the story, Turner said he wanted to extend Willingham's five-year contract before the season began as an indication of the school's support for the coach, who recently concluded his third season.

"I thought it was the right thing to do,'' Turner said. "It was before the season started. It would show the job was just getting started, it would be a real indication of our support. I knew how tough the schedule was, how difficult it would be in some of those games.''

Emmert, however, said no.

"We talked about it,'' Emmert said this week. "I’m trying to remember the details of when it occurred. But we talked about it, and he’d expressed an interest in it, and we talk about coaches and their contractual arrangements fairly often, and one of the arguments in favor of it, of course, is to send a clear message to recruits and make it somewhat easier in that sense. And it didn’t seem to me at this time that that’s a prudent thing to do and so we didn’t do it.''

Asked if that was because of the on-field performance of the football team, Emmert said yes.

"Obviously no-one, including Coach Willingham, was satisfied with the wins and losses that were occurring there, and so I didn’t think at that point it merited an extension,'' he said.

Turner said an extension could have been for as short a period as just one season. "Even just one year, it had a symbolic nature,'' Turner said. "It said look, this guy (is doing a good job, even if he has a tough road).''

Turner said he went along with Emmert's decision not to give Willingham an extension because "he wasn’t comfortable with it. I work for him. He has the ultimate call.''

Emmert and Turner also each denied some of the rumors that have continued to linger, including whether there was a decision made to fire Willingham that was scuttled by Turner, as well as whether Turner was fired because he disagreed with Emmert over keeping Willingham.

"No, absolutely not,'' Emmert said when asked if Turner was let go because he wouldn't fire Willingham. "Todd and I talked about the Willingham situation a great deal and we talked about it all through the season, of course. And at the end of the season after the Hawaii game, I talked again with Todd, and with coach Willingham on a couple of occasions, with both of them, and Todd and I were in agreement that keeping Tyrone as our football coach was the right thing to do. And coach Willingham effectively persuaded both me and Todd that he was willing and able to make the appropriate adjustments in the team that were going to make it successful in the coming seasons. The rumor or notion that Todd's leaving his current position was tied directly to Tyrone is not accurate at all.''

Asked if he was fired because Emmert told him to fire Willingham and he refused, Turner said, after a long pause: "The fact of the matter is, it was clear to me that it was not really a great fit. And it just wasn’t going to work.''

Turner said firing Willingham "never entered my mind … well, it did enter my mind because everyone kept talking about it … but I never entertained it as an option for us, and I never recommended it.''

Asked if there was an effort by big-money boosters to help pay for a buyout of Willingham, Turner said "I don’t have any knowledge of that personally.''

Both also said an e-mail sent by local NAACP president James Bible requesting a meeting had little influence.

Emmert said he ultimately was made to feel comfortable in talks with Willingham that the coach would make the moves necessary to restore winning.

Asked what those adjustments were, Emmert said: "Anyone who was attentive to the program this year knew that we were underperforming in defense and in special teams. And I’m not a football nut and I don’t have any particular expertise in those arenas, but obviously those were areas that he was most concerned about and that he understood what he thought needed to be done there, and was going to begin to address those, and that was obviously what he decided to do around coaching changes. I know there’s also been speculation that his retention as coach was contingent upon this or that assistant coach being fired, and that’s not true either. What I did want to see, of course, was that he had a game plan in mind and that he was committed to making whatever changes were necessary to have the team be successful.''

Emmert, however, said he knows the rumors remain persistent.

"It’s quite amazing the level of interest people have in these things,'' he said. "And the need for folks to put clear, neat and tidy explanations on everything … when in fact personnel decisions are rarely neat and tidy. So people would see a decision to keep the coach, make a change with the athletic director, and want to tie things back to that.''

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