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USC FYI

Willingham's firing changes dynamic

October 28, 2008|Gary Klein | Klein is a Times staff writer

Washington Coach Tyrone Willingham on Monday was fired effective the end of the season, meaning seventh-ranked USC will face a Huskies team with a lame-duck leader on Saturday at the Coliseum.

Washington Athletic Director Scott Woodward said that Willingham would step down at the end of a season in which the Huskies are 0-7 after a 33-7 loss to Notre Dame.

Willingham is 11-32 in three-plus seasons at Washington.

"We didn't win enough football games. That's it," Willingham said at his weekly news conference.

Willingham did not consider resigning.

"It's just not in my makeup," he said.

Willingham has a year remaining on the contract he signed in 2004 after being fired by Notre Dame. He will receive a $1-million buyout, Woodward said.

Willingham is 4-9 against USC in stops at Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington.

"He's got to be sick about it because he set his sights on turning this thing this year," said Trojans Coach Pete Carroll, who is 6-1 against Willingham. "I'm sure it's a crusher for him.

"The other side of it, I expect, is . . . [the Huskies are] going to come out firing and try to do everything they can with the most emotional effort to try and show how they're not happy with that."

Several USC players who had been recruited by Willingham at Notre Dame or Washington expressed surprise and disappointment when informed of his firing.

"He's a straight-up honest guy," senior linebacker Brian Cushing said. "It didn't seem like he played around too much. He knew what his job was and he respected honesty and his guys knew what he wanted."

Junior tailback Stafon Johnson said he chose USC over Washington and Georgia, but "I love Coach Willingham, not just as a coach but as a person. He's a genuine dude."

Junior safety Taylor Mays, a Seattle native, also considered playing for the Willingham.

"It's too bad," Mays said. "I think wherever he goes, if he has some people, he can be successful."

Don't let it linger

Quarterback Mark Sanchez and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian acknowledged that Sanchez's incomplete pass on the Trojans' first play against Arizona stayed with the junior and caused him to struggle.

Sanchez was angry with himself after overthrowing receiver Patrick Turner for what could have been a 25-yard scoring play.

"I definitely hung onto it a little too long," Sanchez said of the emotion.

Sanchez, who continues to lead the Pacific 10 Conference in passing efficiency and total offense, is still maturing, according to Sarkisian.

"Mark's such an emotional, charismatic, energetic guy and sometimes that kind of stuff harbors within him," Sarkisian said. "He'll be fine. It's part of the growing pains of playing the position."

Carroll agreed. He also said that Sanchez's ability to play conservatively when the situation called for it would improve with practice.

"He's still a young guy," Carroll said.

Quick kicks

Defensive tackle Averell Spicer (ankle), defensive end Everson Griffen (toe) and receiver Damian Williams (shoulder) did not practice. . . . Washington has not defeated the Trojans since 2001.

--

gary.klein@latimes.com

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