BY Art Thiel 07:43PM 01/05/2011

No gripes now about ex-SC coaches here

Seattle fans can thank Mike Garrett for this unusual football week

Steve Sarkisian took lunch meat and made more of meal than anyone had a right to expect. (Drew McKenzie/Sportspress Northwest)

So, USC haters in Seattle, how’s that working for you this week?

When Steve Sarkisian became Washington’s head football coach two years ago, a minority of fans groused about his USC assistant coaching pedigree, as if he were a sort of varmint.

A year later, when his mentor, Pete Carroll, also slipped out of Los Angeles prior to NCAA sanctions against the Trojans, anti-USC sentiments speckled the conjecture that surrounded his ascendancy to the Seahawks throne.

But here they are, engineers on two little Seattle engines that could – and did.

Somewhere besides LA.

It’s football validation week.

Sure, the Huskies were merely 6-6 prior to the Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska, and the Seahawks are in the playoffs with a guffaw-inducing 7-9 record that includes four wins over their own withered NFC West kin.

But Sarkisian and Carroll don’t make the reward systems. They just coach up to them.

Recruiting in his home grounds of Southern California, Sarkisian Wednesday held a teleconference with reporters for the first time since the 19-7 shocker over Nebraska. He said he and Carroll had talked extensively.

Said Sarkisian: “For us, the biggest thing was that was that our coaching beliefs hold true with different kids in different places.”

Key point, that one. The biggest criticism of the Carroll regime at USC that included Sarkisian was that most anyone could coach the talent they had into the BCS.

But in their brief times in Seattle, they took the lunch meat they inherited and made more of a meal than anyone had a right to expect.

Not saying it’s a forever thing. The Seahawks stand a reasonable chance of being splattered Saturday against the New Orleans Saints, and there’s no overwhelming evidence that the Huskies are on a permanent uptick.

What can’t be denied is that Carroll and Sarkisian coached the hell out of their teams in each’s seasonal crucible.

“We talked a lot about how you finish, not how you got there,” Sarkisian said. “There’s lots of ways to skin the cat, lots of different roads to take.

“We’ve finished third in the Pac-10 and won a bowl, and it’s a tribute to Pete that he’s been able to keep things together to get the Seahawks to the playoffs.”

After a second season of relative success, Sarkisian is eligible for the coaching carousel, the annual shuffle of jobs that takes place in the pros and colleges. But his name has yet to surface in the rumor mill, partly because UW athletic director Scott Woodward said this week that his coach’s contract will be upgraded.

Sarkisian made $1.8 million in his first season, and is scheduled for $2.3 million in the final year of 2013. While the handsome sums figure to cover his fish taco bill from San Diego, at least 10 college coaches are making north of $3 million annually, and the coach at Woodward’s former employer, LSU, makes $4 million. Woodward understands the expensive landscape.

Carroll’s take in his final year at USC was about $4.5 million. He’s pulling around $6 million annually from the Seahawks. And that reportedly is the sum being sought by Jim Harbaugh, the coach at Stanford who is now, as the college game’s hottest coaching property, entertaining suitors from the many NFL teams with vacancies.

Back at Montlake, Woodward must keep poachers at bay. He already extended the contracts of coordinators Nick Holt and Doug Nussmeier, and was himself rewarded with contract extension in September from outgoing president Mark Emmert. Woodwward will have to bump Sarkisian well over $2 million.

Absurd as the numbers are in relation to real life, UW is helping keep the salary freight train moving fast for one reason.

“I think continuity is important,” said Sarkisian, referring to him and his staff. “I’m not aware of anyone on the staff who is leaving.”

As for his absence from the carousel, Sarkisian claimed innocence.

“I haven’t done anything one way or another,” he said. “I love my job, I love Scott Woodward and I love Washington. I’m not concerning myself with it at all.”

The absence of coaching staff continuity is as big a reason as any for UW’s football demise. UW can ill afford to let it happen again. The justification is as it has always been: The financial success of the football program keeps the athletic department from being subsidized by the university’s general fund, to which the state contributes tax dollars. Particularly these days, no legislator or university administrator wants an athletic department on the public dole.

Coaching churn loomed as recently as last season. Almost a year ago to the day, Carroll shocked the football world by taking the Seattle job, creating a vacancy at USC that many believed was coveted by Sarkisian.

People close to Sarkisian believed that USC would be the one job he would find worth risking the wrath of an aggrieved fan base abandoned after a single year.

But according to a source familiar with USC’s situation, then-USC athletic director Mike Garrett had always preferred another former Carroll assistant, Lane Kiffin, to succeed Carroll. He got his man, but NCAA sanctions also got USC, putting the Trojans on a bowl-less probation. Garrett, a lightning-rod for criticism inside and outside the program, was fired.

Had Garrett taken back Sarkisian, the permutations would have been many. But it seems likely that his successor would not have had, in his first year, a bowl team. The main reason: quarterback Jake Locker would have tossed up his hands at another change and gone to the NFL.

Whether you are amused or bemused by the confluence of events that brought Carroll and Sarkisian separately but together to Seattle, the MVP of the best week in Seattle football in a while is Mike Garrett.


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  • Mickey Mouse

    Another good column Art –

    2011 QB

    Having been to a number of UW practices this year, I haven’t been impressed with Price nor Montana as to either being an “A” QB of a D1 team. Both need a LOT of work.

    That said, is there a JC prospect in the offing? I have not read about any, yet I can’t believe Sark is planning to leave the program in the hands of either of these 2.

  • Frank

    Credit where credit is due on Sark, but let’s be clear, Carroll is two (2!) Leon Washington kickoff returns for a touchdown from a Top 10 draft pick. (or St. Louis Receivers catching the ball…)

    You can tell me it was Carroll’s coaching that got us the playoffs, but it’s unclear to me that Pete Carroll has done anything besides simply being lucky.

  • bigyaz

    Frank: And there are lots of teams out there who were one or two plays or alleged bad calls away from winning that game or two that would have put them in the playoffs. You’re playing a fool’s game cherry-picking potential losses that way.