When a new coaching staff is brought in to a struggling program, it is a cause for optimism and hope that things will finally improve.
The Huskies have fielded four different coaches in this decade and the result has been disastrous. Now, nine seasons after the last Rose Bowl win, Husky fans are left wondering if this will finally be the coach that brings success back to Seattle.
Three games into the season, there was no questioning the Huskies looked much improved. Taking a top-10 team in LSU to the final quarter and defeating USC showed the team was leaps and bounds ahead of where it was during last year’s 0-12 campaign.
Chris Polk was running with authority and quarterback Jake Locker was hovering around the 60 percent completion percentage that was targeted at the beginning of the year.
Young wide receivers were stepping up and the defense, while statistically terrible, was showing toughness in the red zone, which has kept Washington in the majority of games this year.
So, what has transpired in the six games since?
It seems this young team has hit the wall, so to speak. While there are numerous signs of improvement, the most glaring problem is still the inability to finish-off close games.
Outside of a freak play against Arizona, this team has not won a game since the USC upset. Did that game give everyone too much hope? Give us the idea that this team was much closer than it really is to competing again for the Pac-10 title?
It should be pointed out that just staying in games this late in the season is an improvement to last year.
That is not and shouldn’t be the goal of this team, however. The worst thing to do would be to compare head coach Steve Sarkisian to Ty Willingham. That is setting the bar incredibly low and tells the fan base that it does not expect to compete anymore.
That said, you also must be realistic about the situation.
This team gave up on its coach last year and kept two games close all year. In comparison, this year’s team has been blown out twice and been in every other game of the season; that is improvement.
It is too early to judge Sarkisian as a head coach at this point. The expectations going into the season were three to five wins. With three games left, there is still that possibility, although growing more remote by that week of making a bowl game.
Did anyone honestly think going into the season that Washington would be a bowl team? Not really.
That is where the early signs of progress and a quick turnaround has lead to increasing pressure on a young coaching staff in their first season. The goal for this season was to be competitive and show signs of improvement.
The early season win against USC gave fans an unrealistic idea of how far along this team is. They still need to mature, and they need to learn how to finish close games. Coming into this season, the Huskies did not believe they could win most games—they now do. That is progress.
The time will come when the team not posting a winning record and losing frustratingly close games at the end will be a sign that a change needs to be made.
Like it or not, that is where this team was coming into this season and season one is not the year to make a change. Coaching changes one year in just perpetuate the current losing streak.
There is nothing wrong with having high expectations, but we must be realistic and understand that it does not happen in one year. If we are still doing the same things at the end of next year, then start to worry.
There is a fine line between giving a coach too much time, such as Willingham and his four-year term, and not enough time. To me, three years is enough time to tell. We should see a major change from season one to two. I still believe that this team is in for a big leap in year two of the Sarkisian era.
The coaching staff has shown some great things and some incredibly frustrating things, as well.
The key to a great coach is their willingness to adapt to changes that need to be made. Don James was great at this and if Sarkisian is going to be successful here, we will see the same willingness to adapt going into next year.
If not, then we will once again be looking for that right answer in three to four years, just not in year one.