BY Adam Lewis 05:21PM 12/03/2013

Sark the Liar: “My message got misconstrued”

UW coach Steve Sarkisian has a worse career winning percentage than Lane Kiffin, but that didn’t stop USC AD Pat Haden from hiring the former USC offensive coordinator.

Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian dishonestly navigated his move to USC. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Steve Sarkisian lied to protect his players. Old and new.

That was his excuse Tuesday for why he told KJR-AM radio early Monday that he hadn’t interviewed for, only ‘talked’ about, the head coaching job at USC.  Hours later, Sarkisian was announced as the successor to USC interim coach Ed Orgeron. By happy hour, Sarkisian was on a jet to Los Angeles.

Tuesday afternoon he called his dishonest answer a mistake.

“The deal wasn’t near finalized at that time,” Sarkisian said in his introductory press conference in Los Angeles. “The first thought that came to mind, when the question was asked to me, was the best interests of the student-athletes here at USC and the student-athletes at the University of Washington. I didn’t want to put either of those kids in the programs in a situation of uncertainty.”

“Hindsight is 20-20. I probably should have said it was an interview.”

Sarkisian’s interview with USC athletic director Pat Haden happened Sunday. The report from ESPN exposing Sarkisian’s prevarication was online by Monday morning.

“Semantics are semantics. I probably shouldn’t have referred to it as ‘talked to,'” Sarkisian said. “If I could do it all over again, I probably would have just said exactly what the conversation was that Pat and I had.

“I’m sorry if my message got misconstrued, but it really was in the best interests of the young men.”

Sarkisian posted a 34-29 record (24-21 Pac-12) in five seasons at Washington, including four bowl invites, but was criticized by some fans for failing to surpass the seven-win mark until UW’s 27-17 win against Washington State in last week’s Apple Cup.

“When you have to go face those kids that you coached and you recruited there — I never want to have that meeting again, I can tell you that,” Sarkisian said. “You never want to get up in front of a team and tell them you’re leaving. That was brutally difficult for me.”

Sarkisian’s career winning percentage (.539) is worse than Lane Kiffin’s (.586), the coach Haden fired outside the team bus after the Trojans lost 62-41 to Arizona State in late September.

NCAA sanctions lingering from Pete Carroll’s tenure mean Sarkisian can offer only 19 of the 25 possible scholarships during the next recruiting cycle.

Sports Illustrated was among the media outlets that questioned Haden’s decision to hire Sarkisian.

“What the perception of me (beyond USC) isn’t that concerning,” Sarkisian said. “It’s more about what’s inside this building, and what’s down in that locker room, and what’s in that weight room and what these meetings are going to be about.”

“It’s about building belief. It’s about building trust. It’s about building relationships. Then the victories come.”

A story in the LA Daily News indicated that Sarkisian plans to add to his staff Huskies defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, assuming UW doesn’t hire Wilcox to replace him. Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel are rumored to be on UW AD Scott Woodward’s wish list.

Pinkel worked with late Huskies coach Don James for 13 seasons (1979-83 wide receiver coach, 1984-90 as offensive coordinator) before he took his first head coaching job at Toledo.

Pinkel declined comment Tuesday when asked about the UW opening.

Sarkisian wasn’t willing to provide names when asked who he was going to bring to LA.

“I don’t want to speak specifically on individual coaches that might come on board here,” he said. “We’re going to meet with every coach on this current staff (first) . . . we’ll also talk to coaches that aren’t here right now.”

In addition to two stints as an assistant (2001-03 as quarterbacks coach and 2007-08 offensive coordinator), Sarkisian attended USC his freshman year of college to pursue a baseball career. When it didn’t work out, he transferred to BYU, eventually becoming the Cougars’ starting quarterback.

My roommate was Nick Lachey at the time and he wasn’t even in ’98 or 6 Degrees yet,'” Sarkisian said of his freshman year. “To be at this point 20 years later is very surreal.”


  • giorgio547

    Now, in recent history, we’ve been “Schultzed”, “Sarked” and “Moraed”. Do you feel a trend here? Can’t wait to get to be “Hansened”. Shouldn’t fans start thinking about contraception? The problem with all this is there aren’t enough women in charge to let everyone know what to expect…

  • RadioGuy

    “It’s about building belief. It’s about building trust. It’s about building relationships…”
    I hope I’m not the only person to see the irony in that statement. Good luck in LA, Sark, and hopefully you won’t get canned the way Kiffin did (with all his players and assistants looking on from the team bus at an airport after losing at Arizona State). Even Barry Ackerley wasn’t that cold-blooded.

    • oldfan

      That’s coach speak for, “It’s about easier recruiting, bigger market, and bigger bucks.” Words like tradition, loyalty, and commitment are used by coaches to lure recruits and entice fans and boosters but don’t carry any weight with coaches themselves. LA is a bigger market and California is rich recruiting ground, both Sark and Mora know it.
      Unfortunately for us Husky fan, we got to get used to the fact that we actually a mid-level “stepping stone” opportunity for young coaches. On a par with Boise State (which is why we won’t lure Peterson away) and slightly above Oregon State, and yes, even WSU.

      • RadioGuy

        Hey. I’m a Cougar fan who lived through the Dennis Erickson departure as he denied wanting to leave Pullman all the way to the airport….Sark’s got a way to go to catch up to Denny.

        • oldfan

          Interesting. The Coug fans I knew at the time defended Erickson choice – Better climate, recruiting, national profile, and chances to win it all.
          You see this hair-pulling and gashing of teeth everywhere, anytime a coach moves on. But it’s a job, a business decision. Nobody in the “real world” tells there boss they’re interviewing for another job before they get it just in case they don’t. But in sports you get speculation and rumors and coaches have to say something when asked.
          Players do it too. They jump to the pros at the first chance, even if the program is built around them.
          Loyalty is only for the fans, and then it’s only to the jersey or the decal on the helmet. You hate the guy from the other team ’til he’s on yours (Think Maurice Lucas as a Sonic/Blazer).
          I love football and rooting for my teams, but sometimes you’ve got to bow to reality.

          • RadioGuy

            I can’t dispute anything you’ve said and, yes, Erickson would’ve been nuts to turn down the Miami job to stay with a program that doesn’t get nearly the support and money the Canes get (not to mention the sunshine, beaches and warm winters). I was just giving credit to Sarkisian for not insisting that he had no designs on another job all the way to the end, like Erickson did.

            You’re right about loyalty to a point…the only people something like that matters to are the fans, but it’s the fans who buy tickets and merchandise or watch games on TV. Without fans creating a demand as consumers for their particular product (and at this level, college football IS a product more than it is a sport), the Washington Huskies or Washington State Cougars might as well be the Puget Sound Loggers or Whitworth Pirates. None of these teams matter until we’re willing to make them matter to us.

  • 3 Lions

    That certainly was some Neuheisel quality lying on KJR Monday morning. Sark didn’t sound the least bit guilty. What is interesting is how this went down. Did Haden ask Woodward for permission to speak w Sark? I assume Haden has been dealing w Sark’s agent for a while & it was a done deal .It would appear the UW was caught unaware, which is disapointing. Sark was been incredibly fortunate in his career but now he is really going to have to produce. This is a crucial hire for Woodward.

  • jafabian

    Didn’t Neuheisel lie about being interviewed for another coaching position? And how’d that work out for him?

    I’m surprised USC did a quick hire in Sark. Being USC they can have the cream of the crop in candidates. And after the disaster that was Lane Kiffen they decided to go to the well again and go after another young protege from the Pete Carroll stable in Sark. It’s not like Kiffen worked out for them so why repeat that formula?

    If there’s any formula for UW to follow it’s the one that WSU used: get an experienced, proven head coach. They couldn’t do that after several losing seasons, including an 0-12 season but they have some bowl seasons under them now.

  • New York Vinnie

    If you continue to believe in the college sports myth then you get what you deserve.

  • Route9

    So, let me get this straight: Haden fired a guy after he lost 62-41 to ASU, a 21 point margin of loss, and replaced him with a guy who lost to ASU 53-24, a 29 point margin of loss. Makes sense.