BY Steve Rudman 04:24PM 12/02/2013

Sarkisian’s Loss: A Blow Or An Opportunity?

The Huskies made it official late Monday that Steve Sarkisian has accepted the job as head coach at USC. UW is already seeking a replacement.

Steve Sarkisian, far left, is shown on the sidelines in his final game as Washington’s head coach, last Friday against Washington State in the Apple Cup. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

From the feedback we’ve received, it seems that the University of Washington football fan base is less upset that former head coach Steve Sarkisian has decided to bolt to USC than it is excited — in some cases, agog — about a possible upgrade. News of Sarkisian’s jump to the Southland broke early Monday morning and the Huskies belatedly confirmed it late in the afternoon.

“I want to thank Steve Sarkisian for the past five years of service to our institution,” UW athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement. “Steve has led the rebuilding of our program to new heights and we are in a much better position than when he arrived. I am happy for Steve and his family as they can return home and I wish them the best of luck in the future.

“The search for Steve’s successor has already begun,” Woodward wrote. “I will work hard in the coming days to find the absolute best fit for the University of Washington but I will not comment on or speculate about the process. We have tremendous tradition, fan base and a world-class institution, and I am confident we will find the right man.

“We will compete for Pac-12 and national championships and we will do so with class, integrity, sportsmanship and a commitment to our student-athletes. That promise is at the forefront of my mind as I embark on finding our next football coach.”

Sarkisian, the first UW coach since Darrell Royal in 1957 to voluntarily leave the position in order to take the head job at another institution (Texas), arrived in Seattle five years ago in the wake of an 0-12 calamity carried out by Tyrone Willingham. Sarkisian was part of — as an assistant, offensive coordinator and assistant head coach — one of the greatest periods in USC history, the Trojans compiling a 74-14 record under Pete Carroll during Sarkisian’s time there.

Although he came to Seattle with no head coaching experience, Sarkisian transformed the woebegone Huskies into a bowl team within two years, one of the highlight moments of his UW career occurring following the 2010 season when the Huskies upset Nebraska 19-7 in the Holiday Bowl.

That same season, Sarkisian’s Huskies traveled to Los Angeles and shocked No. 3 USC in the Coliseum in what proved to be the biggest regular win of Sarkisian’s time at Washington. But for Sarkisian, results did not improve significantly.

The Huskies allowed a school-record 467 points in 2011, including 67 to Baylor and 65 to Stanford, embarrassments that prompted Sarkisian to fire a pack of assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Nick Holt. The switch to new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox enabled the Huskies to allow more than 100 fewer points in 2012, but Washington’s record never improved beyond a wheel-spinning seven wins per year.

This year was supposed to be different. The 4-0 start made it look good — Washington was ranked an Associated Press top-15 team for the first time in 11 years. But when it came time to measure the Huskies against the conference’s elite programs, Sarkisian’s Huskies fell short despite Sarkisian’s switch to an up-tempo offense.

Washington lost a winnable game at Stanford (31-28), suffered the annual loss to Oregon (45-24), was blown out by Arizona State (53-24) and lost at UCLA (41-31). Some fans demanded Sarkisian’s scalp after the loss to the Bruins, but most in the media counseled patience, arguing that Sarkisian deserved more time and that a change in head coaches would create too much of a disruption.

During the telecast of the Apple Cup Friday, FOX commentator Eddie George opined at halftime that if the Huskies didn’t beat the Cougars, UW would have to seriously consider replacing Sarkisian. Who knew? Sarkisian beat the Cougars, enabling the Huskies to reach eight wins for the first time sine 2001, and replaced the Huskies with the Trojans.

The USC job is not one Sarkisian actively pursued, or ever said he wanted, but one he never denied coveting. Fact is, Sarkisian, who began his athletic career not as the BYU quarterback he would become, but as a Trojans baseball player, has been a candidate for the USC job since the day he arrived at Washington to giddy cries of “Bark For Sark!”

It naturally aggrieves Husky fans, especially those with memories of the Don James era, to view the Washington program as a stepping stone. But that’s what it has become, and that’s what it is likely to remain for the forseeable. The other inarguable: the USC job is, has always been, and will always be, better than the Washington job. At least Sarkisian elevated Washington’s status from doormat to stepping stone.

With recruiting season at hand, Washington must act ASAP is naming Sarkisian’s replacement. Every day that goes by without one compromises future seasons. Recruits are making decisions as we write. In addition, Sarkisian’s bolt to USC will certainly factor into, say, Bishop Sankey’s decision to play — or not play — his senior season in 2014.

The easy fix would be Jim L. Mora, head coach at UCLA, who has always considered Washington his dream job, and once was fired by the Atlanta Falcons because he said so on the radio in Seattle.

Washington is no doubt now trying to determine Mora’s interest and availability. Boise State’s Chris Petersen, once a candidate at USC, is also a possibility, but Mora is the more intriguing option. He’s coached successfully in the NFL and demonstrated this year he can do it at the collegiate level.

But speculation on Sarkisian’s replacement is for another day. And before we get too deeply into that, let’s address this:



  • 3 Lions

    Good riddance to Sark! We beat the Cougs & lost Sark, the proverbial win-win. I thought we would have to lose to get rid of him. Time to get a real coach instead of a cheerleader.
    We are in a better place than we were five years a go & it’s time to move on. Let’s not forget the players & recruits who have no coach for a bowl game & don’t get a dime for their commitment. It is not about the ‘student athlete’…

  • lakestevens

    Why is Sarkisian really leaving? $$$$!

    • 1coolguy

      H will earn millions more, he grew up nearby and will coach what is regarded as a top 3 program in the country. I would have left also and I presume most people would have. Other than the USC job I doubt he would have left UW.

    • steverudman

      It’s not about money.

  • bugzapper

    Can we get a new coach who can teach discipline? I’m sick of all the stupid, bonehead penalties.

  • dinglenuts

    I’ve never understood all the rah-rah around Jim Mora Jr. The dumpster fire he ignited while supposedly coaching the Seahawks should make any sane Montlaker think twice.

    • 1coolguy

      He wasn’t cut out to be an NFL coach but he’s done quite a job @ UCLA. One smart move he made was hire a few local, respected high school coaches to establish instant connections and they have really paid off in competing with USC for the SoCal talent.

    • steverudman

      No need to worry about Mora now. He re-signed for six years at UCLA.

  • jafabian

    At this point Sark leaving has to be viewed as an opportunity. That being said, I imagine the UW will go after Mora hard though I’d prefer Gary Pinkel be given an opportunity to interview. Not sure he’d want to though because IIRC he’s interviewed twice already and was passed over both times. I also wonder if Chris Petersen withdrew his name from consideration USC because he knew UW could come calling?

    The longer the Huskies head football coach position isn’t named the quicker the team’s recruiting falls behind. That’s why Sark shouldn’t be allowed to coach the team in their bowl game. Bowl games are opportunities to recruit and there’s no way he should be in contact with any potential Husky recruits.

    • steverudman

      Can’t see Pinkel returning. He turned down the UW job in 2008 and has significant family ties in the Midwest.

  • just passing thru

    At least we didn’t have to hear about it following an overheard phone call at an airport.

    • steverudman

      Rick Neuheisel was a beauty.

  • RadioGuy

    To his credit, Sark leaves the program in much better shape than when he arrived and it’s hard to fault him taking what’s been his dream job. Plus, he never outright denied he was interested in the USC job…this isn’t Rick Neuheisel or Dennis Erickson.

    Mora WOULD be the easy pick for reasons known well enough that I don’t need to list them here, and he might indeed be the right pick…you know he’d walk away from UCLA in a heartbeat to come to the UW and wouldn’t consider coaching the Huskies a stepping stone like Sark did.

    Still, Mora isn’t the only pick. Petersen is intriguing, although I think (like Mark Few at Gonzaga) he’s satisfied making good bucks coaching a successful program in a smaller city where he can raise his kids in a non-hostile environment. Why leave that? I hadn’t thought of Pinkel, jafabian, but would he want to go through the process a third time? I suppose Ed Orgeron is worth looking at because he obviously inspired USC to improve immediately, although who knows if he can recruit?

    The UW needs to make sure they’re getting someone who’ll win AND stay in Seattle rather than continue to serve as a finishing school for inexperienced coaches, but the process has to be done in fast-forward because it’s the height of the recruiting season.

    • jafabian

      I doubt Gary would want to get turned down a third time but the man bleeds purple. If he was told there’s no interview, the job is his if he wants it then I say he leaves Mizzou.

      Here’s another name to throw out: Chris Tormey. Former player, former head coach of Idaho and Nevada. He came back to Washington as recruiting coordinator under Willingham and brought in Jake. What hurts hiring him though is that he was fired this season as the Defensive Coordinator of Wyoming after two games where the team surrendered 50 points in both games. IMO, there’s bigger issues than the DC if you can your DC on that basis.

  • Effzee

    Totally an opportunity. Sark is a good fit at USC. He is clearly limited in his ability to recruit the non-skill position players, so that built-in recruiting advantage of being in LA will help him a lot.

    I’ve never been a Mora-supporta’ but he would probably be a good hire. I’m wary of his gruffness, but he did come from the DJ school, and that’s the kind of hard-ass we need right now.

    I don’t think Pinkel will leave Missouri at this point. I think he’s pretty entrenched there, and he’s getting up there in age too. Right now, it would be a step down, and a big job with a lot of pressure to bring UW “back” to 1991 levels.

    I’m not sure if Peterson wants to leave Boise either. He has had a lot of opportunities to leave, but always withdraws his name. I kind of see him as the Mark Few of football, in that he coaches at a place where he can dominate his conference every year, but has also has a fan-base that is satisfied with that and not going to demand more of him.

    My favorites are Wilcox and Nussmeier. Hiring Wilcox after Orgeron left USC would really put some pressure on Sark to find another defensive coordinator. Maybe he would reach out to Nick Holt! ;-p

    Nussmeier is my personal favorite choice. He is familiar with a lot of the current UW roster, the offense under him was far better than with Kiesau, and he is currently being trained by the best in the business in Saban, who also happens to be a DJ disciple.

    • jafabian

      If the school wants to “get to 91 levels” I think Jim Tressel is the best candidate then. It’s a matter of being comfortable hiring him after his ouster at Ohio State. I’d have no problem with that. Pretty sure he’s learned he needs to be more pro-active in getting players to adhere to NCAA rules and not take the Sgt. Schultz approach of “I see nothing.”

      • Effzee

        I had not even thought of him. That is an idea I could totally get behind.

      • 1coolguy

        This is a non-starter, as the guy has to have SoCal connections with the high schools.

    • RadioGuy

      The thing about the UW job is that the school is operating from a position of strength now with the stadium renovation and four straight bowl appearances. After that 0-12 season, the Huskies had to roll the dice a bit because that situation was borderline desperate by the end of 2008.

      The bottom line is that the Huskies coaching job is much more attractive than it was five years ago. I’d say Mora’s the early front-runner because it’s pretty clear that this would be HIS “dream job,” but he’s not a lock. It’s interesting to think of how things might be now if Mora had been hired instead of Sark in 2009, but those stars just weren’t in alignment then.

      • steverudman

        Radio Guy: You post a lot of good stuff. Please identify yourself and get rid of that “handle.”

    • steverudman

      You could be spot on.

  • Taj Bryant

    I’ve never been a Sark fan and am angered by his duplicity, but I’m very optimistic about our future (and think we’d have fired him after next season anyway). But mostly I’m commenting because I’d like to thank the writer and those commenting for having an actual discussion/conversation on this topic and not simply flaming Sarks departure. First place I’ve gone where the comments didn’t devolve into a complaint department. You guys threw out some interesting prospects my huz and I hadn’t thought of. Personally, I’m excited about our options, even more so now! Thanks for some actual food for thought, not just empty calories!

  • Huskygrad96

    How about Marques Tuiasosopo as head coach? Some coaching experience with success. Fierce competitor. Bleeds purple and gold. Family ties to NW. Crazy?