Bill Walsh, the elocutionist, said it with the best intentions, but Bill Walsh, the Stanford football coach, might suffer the consequences.
Walsh stood up at an alumni meeting at a private club in Sacramento on Friday and criticized the University of Washington's football program. He characterized the Huskies as operating an outlaw program with mercenary players who waste their college years.
And Tuesday, Walsh became the subject of a Pacific 10 Conference investigation for making negative statements against a member school. He faces a possible public reprimand for his remarks.
Tom Hansen, Pac-10 commissioner, told The Times that conference officials will investigate the circumstances surrounding Walsh's remarks, which resulted Tuesday in verbal volleys and apologies.
"At first glance, it seems to be unusual and unwarranted conduct (by Walsh)," Hansen said.
According to conference rules, misconduct by coaches includes derogatory public comments about an institution, the conference or the conference's personnel.
Ted Leland, Stanford athletic director who attended the alumni meeting, said he alerted Hansen of the possible violation when the remarks were published.
"I think Bill has some very important things to say (about college athletics)," Leland said. "I thought he was talking generically, not focusing on the University of Washington."
Walsh only said what many in the Pac-10 apparently have been thinking for some time. He said the Huskies represent what can happen when a college football program grows beyond control.
"That's the first time I've ever said those things in public," Walsh told the Sacramento Bee, which reported his remarks in Tuesday's paper. "I didn't invent any of it. Everything I said has been in the newspapers. I thought people would find it interesting."
Washington, once the model of college athletics, faced a series of controversies last winter. Conference officials are investigating allegations that Washington boosters regularly provided Husky players with cash and other improper benefits, including summer jobs requiring little or no work. Those allegations were reported in a Times story last December.
On Nov. 10, the Huskies' starting quarterback, Billy Joe Hobert, was ruled ineligible for accepting $50,000 in loans from an Idaho nuclear scientist.
On Nov. 24, linebacker Danianke Smith was arrested on felony drug charges, accused of selling crack cocaine on campus. His case was dismissed last month in Seattle because of a technical error by the prosecution. Three other former Washington athletes were also arrested and are awaiting trial.
Also, U.S. Secret Service agents questioned some Huskies over alleged use of cellular telephones that were altered to avoid billing.
"The football players there have almost no contact with the rest of the student body," Walsh told Stanford alumni. "When they use up their eligibility and are expected to return to society, they have none of the skills you are supposed to gain in college."
After the speech, Walsh told the Bee: "(Washington brings) in football players without any kind of preparatory courses. They just throw them in and expect them to compete. How many kids are ready for that? It's no wonder only 33% (actually 35%) of their football players graduate."
As word of the remarks circulated, Walsh attempted to backpedal.
He issued a statement Tuesday, saying, "I was in error to remark on the University of Washington football program and am embarrassed over this development. . . . My rather unfortunate remarks in no way represented Stanford University or its thoughts on this matter. They were my feelings solely."
Walsh called Don James, Washington football coach, and Barbara Hedges, athletic director, to apologize.
Walsh, who declined an interview request by The Times, told the Associated Press:
"I thought I was in a setting where I wouldn't have to concern myself with the media. But that's not a very good answer. Whatever the setting, it was foolish, out of line. I was wrong, let's face it."
Hedges said Walsh's comments were "totally inappropriate and without merit."
"Why he has taken it upon himself to criticize the University of Washington, I have no idea," she told the Tacoma Morning News Tribune. "A cardinal rule is that you promote your own program, but not at the expense of others by making these kinds of negative comments.
"But if Bill Walsh feels compelled to comment on the University of Washington, he would do well to have his information correct."
The schools will meet in a football game in Seattle on Sept. 4.