The University of Washington made a calculated gamble on Wednesday when word leaked out that 34 year old USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian would become the next head football coach.
UW passed on the likes of established program builders like Fresno State's Pat Hill and Texas Tech's Mike Leach who wanted the job to take a gamble on Sarkisian. Husky AD Scott Woodward had promised an experienced program builder who would bring in a ready made staff to rebuild Husky football. He said he was going to make a big splash on the national stage. Woodward said that Husky fans get more excited over a stop on third down than they do touchdowns so he was concentrating on hiring a defensive specialist.
Rumors were they were going to pay up to three million dollars per year to bring in the right guy. Sarkisian at first glance doesn't seem to be any of these things. The reaction of most hardcore Husky fans was very predictable. They hated it and immediately started sending e-mails of protest to athletic director Scott Woodward. Steve Sarkisian isn't a proven program builder, in fact he has never been a head coach, and he has only spent two years as an offensive coordinator. The University won't be paying him $3 million per year either. His salary will be more in line with about half of what Tyrone Willingham made during his tenure.
What exactly were Mark Emmert and Scott Woodward thinking? You say no thanks to a guy like Hill who would have had the resources to build one of the finest staff's on the West coast. You say no to a guy like Mike Leach who never has had a losing season at Texas Tech and was just named the Big 12 coach of the year?
What they were thinking is that they found a true diamond in the rough in Steve Sarkisian. They believe they are getting a coach who is just starting his prime years and who will be motivated to work harder than anyone else in the conference.
They believe they aren't getting a burnt out has been like Willingham whose most important goal was picking up his pay check on Friday. They believe they got one of the best recruiters on the West coast who was tutored by one of the all time great coaches in the Pac 10, USC's Pete Carroll.
They think they hired somebody that can tutor Jake Locker and help him reach his potential. They think they hired somebody who is going to come in and get people excited once we get to know him. The reality of coaching hunts these days is that it isn't easy stealing somebody's successful head coach even if you wave a bunch of money at them. Okahoma's Bob Stoops, Texas Tech's Mike Leach, California's Jeff Tedford, and Georgia's Mark Richt were all little known assistant coaches who arrived without fanfare who breathed life into their programs almost overnight.
Washington is counting on Sarkisian to supply that type of magic starting next week when the recruiting season reopens. The success of Sarkisian at Washington will absolutely depend on what type of staff he is able to put together. It will be interesting to watch over the next couple weeks to see what type of coaching talent he can attract and bring with him.
He isn't a defensive guy so who they hire to run the defense is going to be just as important as the selection of the head coach.
Offensively I don't have a lot of concerns. Sarkisian was one of the best quarterbacks in college football when he played for BYU back in the early nineties. He comes from the Lavell Edwards/Norm Chow School of coaching. He played under Norm at BYU and coached with him at USC.
He earned his way through the coaching ranks as a QB guru with an impressive resume that includes Carson Palmer and Matt Leinhart. Steve Sarkisian understands how to coach quarterbacks and that is good news if you happen to be Jake Locker, or the next Montlake Jake in waiting, Skyline's Jake Heaps. He should be able to get a quantum leap of improvement in this area next year for Washington.
Washington players also should benefit from the way he will structure practice and conditioning. Obviously coaching under Carroll for the majority of his career has taught him how to breed toughness. Toughness is one of the many things this program lacks at this point in time.
He should also be able to bring some passion to a squad who has been muffled emotionally during the reign of Tyrone Willingham. If you have ever watched USC practice you realize that they go at it as hard, or harder than they do at game time. The best team they may face each week is their No. 2's.
Sarkisian needs to create that type of environment at Washington. Some observers feel that Sarkisian at only 34 years old may not be ready yet to be a head coach.
Washington once hired a 29 year old assistant coach named Jim Owens who was able to turn around a team that was in a similar situation and lead it to three Rose Bowls in his first six years. Husky fans have to realize that it won't turn around overnight no matter who the coach is. It will take a couple years of strong recruiting and some serious weeding of a roster made up of underachievers.
It reminds me of the situation Jim Owens faced when he arrived in 1957. Sarkisian won't be able to implement the famous Owens death march but he will have the tools to make the changes necessary to build a winning program. I have to admit I didn't know much about Steve Sarkisian when he was hired, but the more I hear about him the more excited I get about his potential as a head coach.
Obviously this guy knows how to recruit the inner city of Los Angeles. Obviously he has a built in recruiting network nationally and up and down the West coast. An influx of talent is one of the most important things it will take to turn around the program and he has the contacts to get it done.
I did hear a KJR interview where Tui described Sark's emotion and fire and I came away impressed. Like Jim Owens and Don James, he wasn't the first choice, and we all said "who?" In the end he may be the best choice. You can't discount the fire and drive to succeed. It has been a long time since we had a coach who just didn't dial it in.
So I am willing to give the guy a chance and wait to find out what Scott Woodward found so compelling about him. We may not have to wait to long to see results because his first job will be to turn around a 2009 recruiting class gone South. I am betting that he surprises us right off the bat and creates some excitement going into the spring.