Keith Heyward

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“There’s never a good time for this,” OSU Head Coach Mike Riley said, referring to Keith Heyward’s decision to head north.

According to Riley, Heyward did not let the decision-making process draw out.  Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian and newly hired Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox considered a number of candidates for defensive backs coach.  Wilcox liked Heyward.  It turned out: so did Sarkisian.  Wilcox made the telephone call on Thursday, Jan. 5, asking Mike Riley for permission to speak with Heyward.  Riley obligatorily granted permission.

Wilcox spoke at length to Heyward.

Heyward thought it over and on Tuesday, January 10th, told Riley he was seriously considering the offer.

On Thursday, January 12th, one week after initial contact, Heyward accepted the job and left for Seattle.

There were no hard feelings on the part of Riley.

“For Keith this is

new territory,” Riley said. “He’s only been with [OSU], basically. He described it to me that he’s ready for a new challenge, a new place and to spread his wings a little bit. For a young coach, that’s pretty natural.”

Why did Heyward – who, as with Lupoi at California, loved the school he had played and coached for – decide to leave?

“I’ve been at Oregon State going on 12 years as a player, graduate assistant and assistant coach,” Heyward told the Portland Tribune.  “It was time for a change, for me to grow and get better as a coach, to accept a new challenge.”

In addition to having only experienced OSU, Heyward has only experienced the defensive backfield.  Heyward knows the defensive backfield like the Cohen brothers know cinematography.  A four-year OSU letterman, Heyward started 35 straight games as a cornerback, playing on what was arguably the best OSU team of all-time, even going back to the Terry Baker days in the early 1960s.  The 2000 team certainly had the best starting receiver tadem in OSU history: Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.  Throwing to them was an undersized but outstanding QB, Jonathan Smith.

That OSU team gradually improved as the season went on, finishing 11-1 and dominating Notre Dame 41 – 9 in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl.  While formally ranked 4th in the country, many knowledgeable sportswriters and sports announcers considered OSU unbeatable by the end of the season and, with a little more help from East Coast pundits, Heyward might have been on a team of national champions.

The single 2000 OSU blemish, a tight 30 – 33 loss, came at the hand of the University of Washington in Husky Stadium during the 5th game of the season.

Following his college career, Heyward played corner for the BC Lions and the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe.  He was invited to Seahawks training camp but did not make the team.

After Heyward quit playing but before he started coaching, he sold cars for a short while.  That was temporary while he sorted things out.  Football was his love, his calling.  Like former Husky QB Jake Locker, Heyward has never been greatly motivated by money but by things that add up to a quality life, eventually leaving the earth a better place.

“I’ve been at Oregon State a long time and never asked for more money,” said Heyward.  “I’m grateful to have a job and always have been.  I know you have to make a living but I coach because of the relationships I build with these young men, to try to make them better people and better players.”

With regard to his relationships with players, many Husky fans are wondering what Heyward’s hire might do for the 2012 Washington recruiting class.  His reputation as a recruiter is unsurprisingly excellent, and his recruiting style admirable.  Words and phrases used by recruits to describe Heyward’s style include “straight-forward”, “honest”, ‘intelligent”, and “down-to-earth.”  That style appealed to OSU cornerback recruits Devian Shelton and Cleveland Wallace.  Now both Shelton and Wallace are reconsidering their OSU commitments in favor of Washington.

“Keith is a bright, young coach and a terrific recruiter,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said in a press release.  “I think he’ll be a great fit with our new defensive staff, in particular Justin Wilcox, our new coordinator.”  Again, Wilcox wanted Heyward.

While Heyward is a good recruiter, his record as a defensive back coach at OSU has also been favorable.  Two of his former cornerbacks, Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis, are NFL starters, and two of his 2011 OSU defensive backs received Pac-12 acclaim.

As Mike Riley implied, OSU’s loss is Washington’s gain.  And apparently Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox couldn’t be happier.  He’s Defensive Coordinator at Washington with a coaching crew of Keith Heyward, Tosh Lupoi and Peter Sirmon, people he respects personally and professionally, a team within a team.  As the 2000 OSU team showed, improvement can be a game-by-game progression.  Hopefully under Wilcox, Heyward, et al, the Husky defense – the apex of Washington football under former Head Coaches Jim Owens, Don James and Jim Lambright – will improve to a level comparable to that of Washington’s 2011 offense led by Keith Price.

National sports writers have written that the changes at Washington during the past two weeks have been remarkable – and ominous for the rest of the Pac-12.  Washington is coming back.  From the perspective of the rest of the Pac-12, like Mike Riley said in a different context, “There’s never a good time for this.”