BY Doug Farrar 07:24PM 01/01/2011

Carroll thrilled for protege Sarkisian

Holiday Bowl win gives Carroll’s former assistant the validation the Seahawks coach seeks in a do-or-die game Sunday against the Rams

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll discusses the Holiday Bowl win notched by former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian (Doug Farrar/Sportspress Northwest)

When USC head coach Pete Carroll had Steve Sarkisian on his staff from 2001-2003, and again from 2005 through 2006, he probably didn’t have a clue that he’d be playing second fiddle to his old quarterbacks coach and offensive assistant half a decade later. But here they both are again, both in the Emerald City, trying to turn around Seattle’s two marquee football programs from years of neglect.

Carroll at least brought hope to the Seahawks in his first year as head coach/majordomo. His return to the NFL produced a scenario by which the team can become the first in a non-strike season to make the playoffs with a losing record if they win their season finale against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday night.

But unless the Seahawks cut a wide and entirely unexpected swath through the playoffs and beat the AFC’s best in the Super Bowl, nothing he does this season will match the rebuilding effort that Sarkisian has put together with the Washington Huskies. Admittedly, we’re talking about two years for Sark and one for Pete, but talk about operating with an opening handicap!

Sarkisian inherited a feckless team that went 0-12 in 2008, and brought them ahead at light speed to Thursday’s Holiday Bowl upset over the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The feat is almost without precedent – the NFL equivalent would be for the Detroit Lions, who also went winless in 2008, to roll off a couple of playoff wins in 2010.

That’s not going to happen. Carroll, who’s been through the wars at every level of the game, understood precisely how special the accomplishment was, and talked about it after Seahawks practice on Friday.

“I thought it was an extraordinary demonstration of hanging together and execution and energy – excitement and toughness,” Carroll said. “Those guys put it together in such a beautiful fashion — hardly any penalties, no turnovers.”

What did the game tell him about the Sark he knew?

“This is the guy I thought he could be. Sark has total command, and he understands all aspects of the game.”

Carroll sounded like a man with some pride of ownership in the feat through Sarkisian’s development; a man who won’t mind playing second banana in Seattle football … at least, until Sunday night.

And certainly, his protégé has set the bar ridiculously high for Carroll’s Year Two.