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Originally published Sunday, December 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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New Washington coach Steve Sarkisian aims to reverse the program's "belief in losing"

USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian came clean Saturday about his hiring at Washington. He reportedly will sign a five-year contract worth $1.85 million per year.

Seattle Times staff reporter

PASADENA, Calif. — Before the game, Steve Sarkisian shook hands with Pete Carroll and they shared a man-hug, one of the last times they'd do this as USC coaches. And there he was again, onto the field several yards in the third quarter, chest-bumping quarterback Mark Sanchez after the Trojans' clinching touchdown pass against UCLA.

When it was done, Sarkisian came clean. He emerged from the USC coaches' dressing quarters, wearing a gray-green suit, a burgundy striped shirt and a smile. He conceded that yes, he's going to be the next football coach at Washington.

He talked at length. He said some political things, and he said some things that might chill those associated with a Washington program that just finished an 0-12 season.

"The biggest thing we need to get back is a belief in winning," said the 34-year-old Sarkisian. "Right now there's not a belief. There's a belief in losing."

And this: "It's one of those jobs you look at [and say], 'They're a better football program than they're putting out there right now.' "

The Sarkisian hire broke Thursday night. And though he and Washington did their best to mask it, the choice had been made and accepted. As Sarkisian put it a little clumsily, "The agreement had been made [Thursday], with the understanding we were going to agree after the ballgame."

The Trojans got some digs in on Sarkisian. As Carroll put it, "We had some fun with it."

Nobody would talk very specifically about what that meant, but some of it had to do with losing a coach who was going to head up an 0-12 program.

"We had to jump him," said receiver Patrick Turner, smiling. "Let him know he can't just walk out of here."

"We saw the score tonight," said backup quarterback Mitch Mustain, referring to the 48-7 Cal victory in the UW finale, "and gave him a little crap."

Sarkisian, who reportedly will sign a five-year contract worth $1.85 million per year, will do double duty for the next four weeks.

"I'll be recruiting up until Christmas," he said, "and also game-planning for the Rose Bowl. It's a dead [recruiting] period after Christmas, so we'll be full-fledged with bowl preparation. And after the game, we'll move forward with Washington."

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He said UW president Mark Emmert had a major hand in conducting the Thanksgiving Day interview with athletic director Scott Woodward. One of the things he told the two was that he'd be calling plays next season for the Huskies.

As for USC staff members he might take to Washington, he said, "That's yet to be determined."

Asked what seemed most on the minds of Emmert and Woodward, Sarkisian said, "There are a lot of things hopefully I can offer. One is an energetic atmosphere, and an environment that develops mental and physical toughness. And I think recruiting is a big factor."

There is some local skepticism associated with the hire. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote Friday that the Trojans haven't been the same offensively since the departure of offensive coordinator Norm Chow after the 2004 season.

Saturday, on USC's pregame radio show, former Trojans and NFL wideout Curtis Conway said, "Nothing against Steve Sarkisian, but he's only been calling plays for two years. For him to get a head-coaching job so soon really shocked me."

Actually, post-Chow, there was something of an overlap of roles for two years. Lane Kiffin was offensive coordinator, Sarkisian was quarterbacks coach, and Sarkisian had some input into play-calling.

Regarding the Chow comparison, Sarkisian said, "It comes with the territory. This is a very high-profile football program, and it's obviously sitting in a very large media market. You're going to deal with that stuff. Having to deal with it has been a great learning tool for me.

"I've been very proud of our offense here the last four years."

Some believe USC's shuffle of running backs — Carroll's approach — has prevented the offense from peaking.

The Huskies are lucky, insisted center Jeff Byers: "To be able to handle the amount of talent Coach Sark has is unreal. To be able to handle a stable of running backs and getting them not to complain about how many carries they're getting ...

"People don't realize, Coach Sark was a 'war daddy' out there. He's been there, done that. He's got a lot of experience. BYU was 14-1 when he was a starter [in 1996]."

Sarkisian helped recruit Mustain after the quarterback left Arkansas. Mustain has been a reserve here, but said Sarkisian has "absolutely" been fair.

Soon, that USC offense will be somebody else's, and Sarkisian will be tutoring Jake Locker.

Soon, that will be somebody else's, and Sarkisian will be tutoring Jake Locker.

"I think he's a fantastic athlete," said Sarkisian. "He's a guy that's shouldered a lot of that program the last two years. Hopefully, we can surround him with enough good people so he can play quarterback and not have to play Superman."

Sarkisian is to be introduced at a Monday news conference at Washington. He might want to appear with his sleeves rolled up.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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