UW’s coach will have a new mental challenge in his second season.
No point in picking over a carcass.
“2008?” Senior safety Nate Williams asked. “That’s our 0-12 year you’re talking about? No comment.”
Shhh. Don’t bring it up. Time can be pulverizing time to remember or a cleanser and the Huskies are hoping the past disappears faster than the calendar generally allows.
Last year Steve Sarkisian and his band of believers were tasked with expunging the feeling of that 0-12. They brought in a new system, new style, new beliefs. Sarkisian announced the renaissance would not take long. It was a year of language prefaced by “we will.”
This year is “we are.”
Therein is the new mental challenge.
Taped to the backside of one of the “football personnel only” doors in Hec Ed is a purple 8 1/2 X 11 piece of paper that says “Make no mistake, this is about one thing: championships. Expect to win.”
This despite championships not lingering in Husky Stadium since the 2001 Rose Bowl win. It was in 1990 and 1991 when the Huskies won back-to-back Rose Bowls and the school’s last national title. Current assistant coach Jeff Mills was a graduate assistant those two years under Don James.
Mills sees parallels in the way practice is run. The evaluation of every rep, emphasis on conditioning and special teams. The benefit of constant competition. He speaks with reverence about the upbeat pace.
“It’s a way of life,” Mills said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on or off the field. If you’re playing any type of game. It’s all about competing. And it’s that high level that you have to get guys to understand. You recruit to it but you also develop that high level by pushing them in that direction. Eventually, it keeps growing. It starts rolling.”
The roster is about split now between Sarkisian’s fresh recruits and the survivors of 2008. He’s building a team of believers out of all, even those who had to cast out the winless season.
“Obviously last year, everything was all new to us,” Williams, a 2010 captain, said. “So we didn’t really know, we weren’t really comfortable with it.
“Just the level of improvement compared to the way we played from ’08 to ’09, that showed us what these coaches are talking about is real. If you expect to win than you can win against whoever is out here on the field.”
The field was not the only place Washington cracked skulls last season. The foundation was drilled into brains for this year’s expectations. The 2010 challenge is maintenance. Maintenance of belief along with development of contained swagger.
“I think the thing for us now is to get used to the environment,” Sarkisian said. “To get comfortable in this environment, not try to … (he swings his hands up) to be too big for ourselves — bigger than we need to be — and not try to self-regulate ourselves and go back to where we were. This is where we are. This is where we live. Get comfortable. Get used to it.”
Williams has. It’s like Sarkisian has programmed his mind.
“We expect to win everything,” Williams said. “We expect to win Sept. 4. We expect to win the Rose Bowl. We expect to do everything coach wants us to do and what we want ourselves to do. It’s just what we expect out of ourselves. We won’t accept anything less than winning.”
Sarkisian smashed the cup with optimism rather than just have it runneth over. He says Washington was this close to being an eight-win team last season, using that bursting optimism to shun the counter of that assessment, Washington being this close to a three-win team.
But that’s what he’s here to do. The automation seen during Tyrone Willingham’s time on Montlake has gone.
“The speed of the leader determines the pace of the pack,” Mills said.
Then this program is on fast forward.