SEATTLE (AP) -Michael Jackson songs blared from the speakers next to the field. Tyrone Willingham still wore a purple cap with a white ``W'' on the front, bouncing around to various players and clapping encouragement during the beginning stages of Tuesday's practice.
But the air of awkwardness surrounding Washington's program was hard to ignore a little more than 24 hours after the school announced Willingham would be out as coach at the end of the season.
``We put our heads down and go back to work for the next five weeks and do what is right by this football program and what is right by these players,'' said offensive line coach Mike Denbrock, who went through a similar stage of uncertainty four years ago at Notre Dame after Willingham had been fired.
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Internet messages boards have brimmed with jubilance from disgruntled Washington fans since the announcement Monday that Willingham would be fired, effective the end of the season. Speculation is growing about the candidates athletic director Scott Woodward and university president Mark Emmert are likely to target as the coaching search escalates in the next few weeks, providing a little bit of excitement to a program that's lost nine straight games.
Willingham is 11-32 in his four seasons with the Huskies and would need to win the final five games of his tenure in Seattle to avoid owning the lowest winning percentage in school history. Those bold numbers made Monday's announcement not much of a surprise to a realistic group of players and coaches.
``There has been so much speculation around for weeks now; the coaching staff in general we took it in stride,'' said running backs coach Steve Gervais, who joined Willingham's staff last winter. ``I don't think it was anything foreign to us. There were expectations coming into the season of what we had to do for coach Willingham to be here in the future.''
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Many players were matter-of-fact about the situation. Both Jermaine Kearse and Kavario Middleton - highly regarded freshman that went to high school together - said their connection was to the school and not necessarily Willingham.
Center Juan Garcia, who was around when Keith Gilbertson was fired in 2004, said he tried to stress to his younger teammates earlier in the season the massive changes that come with a new coach.
``I told the younger guys after we went 0-2, 'You guys don't want to go through a coaching change. It's bad. Coaches will try to come in here and change the whole mentality,''' Garcia said. ``That's what I tried to tell those guys. But a little bit I feel like I am responsible. I wish I could have done more.''
Almost the entire Washington roster found out secondhand of Willingham's firing, although the coach sent out an e-mail to his team just moments before Monday's announcement.
Some learned through cell phone calls during class. Others via text messages from teammates. Injured star quarterback Jake Locker arrived to meet with the media Monday afternoon and gave a smirking ``you could have told me,'' to a Washington sports information staffer.
or football and men's basketball when he joined Lorenzo Romar as the leaders of the two most high profile programs at the school.
Romar was solemn on Tuesday talking about his friend.
``He's done so many things right for this program,'' Romar said. ``It's unfortunate in this profession that these decisions have to be made.''
During Tuesday's Pac-10 coaches conference call, Willingham said he would address the situation briefly during a team meeting, then immediately make sure the focus was toward Saturday's game at No. 7 USC, where the Huskies are 43-point underdogs.
``Hopefully it eliminates some of the outside negativity that's been surrounding our program,'' Willingham said. ``Hopefully our guys - even though it does raise some questions - will still have some idea about what's going to happen, what's going to take place, so that people can start to focus on what's really important, which is a very, very good opponent that we have in front of us.''

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