BY Art Thiel 07:48PM 01/22/2011

Sark is secure . . . for awhile, anyway

Raise and extension for modest mark shows importance of stability

Steve Sarkisian was in great position to make the most of a volatile market for head football coaches (Drew Sellers/Sports Press Northwest)

Who would have imagined the best thing to happen to Steve Sarkisian’s football coaching future was to have his Huskies’ patoots booted 56-21 on national TV by Nebraska?

Without the magnum defeat, the subsequent rematch and victory in the Holiday Bowl over the don’t-wanna-be-here Cornhuskers would not have been seemed like an exclamation point the size of a mature redwood.

Another aircraft-carrier-sized chunk of irony was that the Huskies’ third-place Pac-10 finish and entry into the Holiday Bowl was facilitated by NCAA sanctions against his previous employer, USC, whose probation and bowl ban came as a result of rules-breaking during his time there as an assistant under coach Pete Carroll.

Nor did it hurt that USC’s program momentum and roster were undercut by the sanctions, helping the Huskies a bit in their second consecutive win over the Trojans.

That’s how it works in college ball. It isn’t just the hormones of 18-year-old kids that are unpredictable.

Randomness wrapped around good coaching helped create a freshened contract for Sarkisian. Announced Friday, Sarkisian will get a $250,000 raise for 2011 to $2.25 million, plus more money annually each year as well as a two-year extension through 2015.

The deal is significant because it helps reduce the chances of Sarkisian being poached by another school or the NFL. For Washington, that is exceedingly large, because coaching turnover has been primary culprit in flat-lining the program for most of a decade.

Rival recruiters and their surrogates were steadily turning the churn against Washington, because it was easy and accurate to portray the program and the university administration in the fashion of a circus clown car, only not as funny.

UW athletic director Scott Woodward pushed through the coach’s upgrade relatively quickly, as these things go, so that the pending recruiting class could see that UW, at 7-6 following a 5-7 first season, is attempting to retire the floppy shoes, red nose and fright wig.

“They like to know who they’re playing for,” Sarkisian told Sportspress Northwest after the Huskies’ 88-75 basketball win over Arizona State Saturday at Hec Ed.

Such an assurance has been unavailable at Montlake probably since the coaching time of Jim Lambright (1993-1998), a purple hard-core who wasn’t likely to be going anywhere – until he was fired.

Big-time coaching contracts are, of course, about as stout as a negligee against winter. With the right ingredients of football panic and budgetary crisis, some school will swallow any contract’s poison pill to get someone it believes to be a gridiron deity. Then there is the NFL, where panic is the norm, except for the NFC West. Even there, the Seahawks had their third coach in three years, and none had a winning record.

The guess here is that about five minutes after USC coach Lane Kiffin gets hit either by a bus or NCAA sanctions, Sarkisian will be the top candidate to replace him. But for now, he is secure, as much as anyone can be in college ball.

I know: Not saying much. If he goes 3-9 next season, the trip to idiot-hood is short.

Ask Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen ($2 million) Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez ($2.5 million) whether the tenuousness works both ways. Both were head coaches in the salary neighborhood of Sarkisian, but that offered no protection against their ousters after the season.

As far as the price tag itself, it has lost shock value. A decade ago, Washington blew away college football by offering Rick Neuheisel $1 million a year to leave Colorado. Then-AD Barbara Hedges was criticized within and without the industry for fueling the salary arms race by paying such a sum to a coach who hadn’t won as much as a conference championship. Turns out Neuheisel wasn’t worth it, but for different reasons (Neuheisel has recovered nicely, returning to the Pac-10 at UCLA for $1.3 million).

Yet two years ago, Sarkisian was given $1.7 million annually to jump-start the faltering UW program despite never having been a head coach anywhere. Nobody said much then, and Huskies fans are cheering now, thrilled with the achievement of a winning record.

Thanks at least in part to a heavy-lidded opponent, Sarkisian rates a 10 percent raise and a two-year extension.

Preposterous? Well, compared to what? MSBC’s Keith Olbermann just quit his job at MSNBC that paid him $7 million annually.

The sports market has never been the reality market. It wouldn’t be what it is unless a lot of us care enough to keep it that way.


  • Happy to have Sark; good riddance to Olbermann.

  • hawkdawg

    And why is UCLA a better gig than Washington, exactly? Especially given the buy-out provisions of Sark’s new deal…