Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian has a contender building in the Pac-12 Conference. But the challenge for reclaiming Rose Bowl glory and national prominence at Washington is a tall one, with divisional rivals Oregon and Stanford as gatekeepers.
Sarkisian made his name on Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans staff, and the current vacancy there has to be tempting.
The Husky head coach waved off the immediate and obvious suggestions during his press conference Monday.
Per Adam Jude of the Seattle Times:
"I’m proud to be the head coach of the [No. 15]-ranked team in America right now, and all the hard work that we’ve put in to this program for the last five years to get to this point, to be in an awesome matchup on national television on Saturday night against a national-championship contender in Stanford. And that’s where my focus is.”
Still, there’s logic in such a move for both parties. USC would get a proven winner in the conference and someone familiar with the intricacies of the program, and Sarkisian steps into a ready-made powerhouse in a division ripe for the taking.
Washington is ranked No. 15, its pinnacle in Sarkisian's five seasons as head coach. Yet in back-to-back weeks, the Huskies face a two-game stretch indicative of the current glass ceiling in the Pac-12 North.
Saturday is the aforementioned trip to Stanford, followed by a home tilt against Oregon. While Washington scored an impressive win against the Cardinal a season ago, it was the program’s only victory against the Pac-12 North’s two pace-setters during the Sarkisian era.
Oregon has proven particularly vexing, winning its four matchups with Washington since 2009 by a 27.3-point per game average.
Sarkisian has done an outstanding job in his time there, but the current sledding in the North is simply more difficult than in the South.
USC's crosstown rival, UCLA, is fast taking the inside track in the South. USC can make up that ground quickly with the right leadership, and the two Los Angeles programs reestablishing national powers would prove to be a boon for the entire conference's national profile.
Sarkisian could provide that necessary leadership.
He was among the nation's most celebrated assistant coaches during his tenure at USC. Guiding the Trojan offense as coordinator in 2007 and 2008, he oversaw teams that scored 32.6 points and 37.5 points per game.
Sarkisian has proven his chops as a head coach, too, managing Washington's resurgence with the CEO-decisiveness necessary of a successful college program's leader.
When the defense struggled, he replaced coordinator Nick Holt with Justin Wilcox. After the offense sputtered, Sarkisian introduced a hurry-up, no-huddle that has the Huskies scoring nearly 40 points per game.
He inherited a program fresh off an 0-12 finish and made immediate strides. Rebuilding a team from absolute rock bottom pales in comparison to what faces the next USC head coach.
USC is just a few short years removed from carrying the conference’s banner, and not far from returning to that level.
No, the Trojans are not at the Rose Bowl level reached when Sarkisian was an assistant. But the cupboard is stocked with plenty of talent, and the USC brand is one that can sell itself on the recruiting trail.
Not that Sarkisian needs to rely simply on a brand name. His recruiting acumen is evident in Washington's recent signing classes.
Among the savvy personnel moves he orchestrated was the addition of defensive line coach and recruiting phenom Tosh Lupoi before the 2012 season.
Lupoi's addition helped Washington land the nation's No. 21 overall recruiting class that winter. Members of that class, including Shaq Thompson, are key contributors to the Huskies current success.
With a roster stocked with young talent and the program on the rise, no one could fault Sarkisian for remaining in Seattle to see his efforts through to completion.
Yet, at the very least, he makes sense for USC, and the Trojans make some sense for him.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.