Steve Sarkisian arrived on the UW campus today as the 23rd head coach in the history of Husky football. It was evident from the onset that a new sheriff was in town. For the first time in over four years, the Seattle media witnessed a UW football press conference that actually was worth going to.
The new head coach actually took the time to directly answer questions rather than reply with a bunch of unintelligible nonsense and vacant stares. So we know one thing after day one: Steve Sarkisian will be a much better public communicator than Ty Willingham.
Willingham was never a charmer, and while being charming never helped win a football game, it sure does help you buy a little time while you are trying to rebuild a struggling football program. Most people I have talked to weren't initially excited about Sarkisian because they really don't know much about him.
What they are truly excited about is that Willingham is gone. I have been following Seattle sports for over 40 years, and I can't remember a single sports figure that was disliked as much as Willingham was on his way out the door.
At Washington we like our football coaches to win and be entertaining. Jim Owens won early and had a lot of natural charisma. That charisma carried him through some tough times, and he now has a statue of himself outside the stadium.
Don James wasn't nearly as charismatic, but he won more games and held his own with a microphone in front of him. Most of us who grew up in the area at the time considered him a second father. James commanded respect and he also gave respect back to the fanbase who adored him.
Lambright and Neuheisel both won over 60 percent of their games while they were here. While they will never be held in the same reverence as Owens or James, they were pretty easy guys to get along with. Even the grumpy Keith Gilbertson was able to summon up more personality than Willingham.
When Willingham was hired four years ago, he blew off recruiting and building a staff to take a trip to Hawaii to coach in a college all-star game and even extended his stay so he could golf four more days. His first and second classes were a disaster that he could never recover from.
Steve Sarkisian is starting his tenure at UW with a lot more urgency. In fact, he did a lot of right things his first day on the job that were absent the last four years under Willingham. First of all, he let everyone know that Willingham's Purple Curtain was no more. He is going to open up practices more to the students, fans, alums, boosters, and media.
"I want our practices to be fun and exciting. I want people there. I want students at practice. I want alumni at practice. I want media at practice," Sarkisian said. "We've got 105 kids on this football team, but they're not the only ones making this thing and making this experience what it's going to become."
Sarkisian also served notice that he was bringing in a new strength and conditioning coach. This means the days of Trent Greener are over, which must have been met with a huge sigh of relief by present squad members. It was no secret that Greener was unpopular and had lost the confidence of most of the players in the program.
"We need to get a guy in here who will get these guys bodies changed. We need to become leaner and faster and then get a mindset of being a physical team, that when we get to the point of making tackles we play at the point of attack in the run game that we are an extremely physical football team, no question."
After his press conference Sarkisian headed over to the Eastside to introduce himself to the coaches at Bellevue and Skyline. Among Skyline's prospects in the coming years are senior WR Gino Simone, junior QB Jake Heaps and sophomore WR Kasen Williams.
Restoring pipelines with the traditional powers such as O'Dea, Bellevue, and Skyline are huge keys to turning around the program in the short term.
In a down year for in-state talent, most of the top talent already signed despite the terrible record. Sarkisian's ties in California will obviously help turn around the 2009 recruiting class over the next 60 days.
From now until Dec. 20, it will be open season for high school recruiting. Expect Sarkisian to spend most of his time out on the road talking to potential recruits. The dead period runs from Dec. 2 to Jan. 4, and he will spend his time during that period getting USC ready for the Rose Bowl and filling out the balance of his coaching staff.
"Growing up in Southern California I know a lot of those high school coaches, and then coaching at USC I know a lot of them. I've had two different areas down there so I'm excited about it. I think a lot of those coaches are, too. The opportunity to get kids to come to the University of Washington, to come to Seattle again, is exciting for them.
"They know my coaching style, the way I handle the kids. I think it's exciting for them and it's exciting for me to go down there with a W on my shirt and go get players. We need to be detailed and go after the guys we think we can get and not be spread too thin, driving all over the place. Be detailed and earmark the guys we think we can really go after and put a full-fledged effort and go get them."
As far as putting a staff together goes, Sarkisian didn't drop any names yesterday, but he admitted a couple of coaches may be following him from the USC staff. Even though he is known as a QB guru, he will be bringing in a QB coach to assist in their development.
"We will have a quarterback coach title because it takes a lot of work to mentor a quarterback, takes a lot of offseason work, in-season work. So we will have basically two of us heading this thing up. But I will work hand-in-hand closely with Jake and Ronnie [Fouch] and the guys we bring in. They will play well."
My initial impression of Sarkisian is very favorable. He seems to have a plan and a sense of urgency. He was one of the leaders of one of the hardest-working and most successful football programs in America. Obviously working with Pete Carroll for the past seven years is a very good thing.
"It's the year 2008, it's about time to get back to the Rose Bowl, to Pac-10 championships, competing for a national championship, that's our goal, no question," Sarkisian said. "I can't wait to get this thing going."
Like any young coach, he has a burning desire to be successful. At only 34 years old he has a lot to prove and isn't here only because of the paycheck. He wants to make a name for himself and the program as quickly as possible, and he understands that can only happen with a lot of hard work.
I watched the press conference today, and I also watched a special on Sarkisian on Fox this evening, and I came away impressed. He speaks well, he has fire, seems confident in his abilities, and he comes across humble, which will be a welcome change. I think Washington may have found a true diamond in the rough.