The Washington Huskies football team, on the heels of its wildly successful 7-6 2010 season (UW’s first winning season in eight years) once again finds itself at a crossroads.
With the departure of Jake Locker (the most over-hyped and underwhelming quarterback in the history of the Pac-10) and significant defensive losses, Washington’s 2011 season appears to be headed south. The Huskies can probably hope for no more than five wins in 2011, including a probable win against FCS defending champion Eastern Washington, and a tough showdown against Hawaii.
Worse yet, even as the university plans a $250 million renovation of Husky Stadium (aka the "Mistake by the Lake") that will include selling the venue’s naming rights (I’m hoping for “Dick’s Drive-In Stadium”), it’s looking more and more likely that the University of Southern California will hire Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian once their Lane Kiffin experiment has run its disastrous course.
Sark, like Kiffin, is a former Pete Carroll assistant at USC, but his rise to prominence in college football has been far less rocky than Kiffin’s. Sark also deserves great credit for partially resurrecting a once-proud program that had fallen to the depths of the Pac-10. Washington’s precipitous drop was the result of inept administration, terrible hiring choices and an arrogant, complacent, self-aggrandizing fan and alumni base.
Throughout the 1990s, Washington and its fans sat on the laurels of their 1991 mythical co-National Championship, ignoring the ugly and corrupt truth of the Don James era, and assumed they could plug any purple-clad assistant into the head coach’s chair with no drop off.
At the same time, the school’s administrators and alumni glibly watched as rival schools like Oregon, Oregon State and even Washington State upgraded their facilities and their coaching staffs, in the belief that Washington would continue to dominate football in the Pacific Northwest simply because it was Washington.
The cold, hard reality finally took root after the departure of Rick Neuheisel in 2002, whom Washington thoughtlessly replaced with Keith Gilbertson, a nice guy and great assistant who had no business being a head coach.
After a decent start to the 2003 season against admittedly horrible competition, Washington lost five of their last eight, and the Huskies’ slide began in earnest. Washington produced a pathetic 12-47 record over the ensuing four seasons, including mortifying 1-10 and 0-12 seasons. By 2008, Washington was arguably the worst football program in the history of the Pac-10.
Then came Steve Sarkisian, a young, handsome Pete Carroll apprentice, and the first intelligent head coaching hire at Washington in 39 years.
Unfortunately, entering just his third season as head man at Montlake, the honeymoon between Sark and the Huskies is almost over.
Washington fans are notoriously impatient, and 2011 does not stack up to be a successful campaign. The result of another poor-to-mediocre season will be the rapid disillusionment of the Husky fan base, and Sark’s inevitable realization that Washington has neither the support nor the weather to retain a coach of his caliber.
Meanwhile, Kiffin will likely have burned more than enough bridges for Pat Haden to give him the heave-ho, and the Sarkisian-USC marriage will become reality, its ceremony presided over by his eminence, Pete Carroll.
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