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Originally published September 9, 2009 at 7:41 PM | Page modified September 10, 2009 at 7:32 AM

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UW football coaching staff has strong Idaho ties

A dozen members of the Huskies' football staff either played or coached at Idaho

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Idaho @ UW, 12:30 p.m., FSN, KJR 950

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In reality, it was just like any other job hunt in any other profession — it was mostly about who they knew, not where they had been.

Still, the fact that so many of the new coaches at the University of Washington either coached or played at Idaho was hard to miss at the time they were hired last winter, and gives some added flavor to UW's game Saturday against the Vandals.

"It wasn't intentional that we've got this many former Vandals on our staff," said coach Steve Sarkisian, a rare non-Vandal. "But I am keeping an eye on them this week; I don't want any game plans being faxed to Idaho."

In fact, including strength coaches and graduate assistants, there are 12 members of the current football staff who played or coached at Idaho.

Of the nine full-time assistants, seven either played or coached at Idaho, including defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who was head coach in 2004-05.

Two both coached and played at Idaho, including running-backs coach Joel Thomas, UI's leading career rusher and linebackers coach Mike Cox.

"I still pay alumni dues," Thomas said with a laugh. "Obviously you always take pride in your alma mater. This year, I just happen to root for them 11 weeks instead of 12."

Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier played for Idaho and was the leading passer in Vandals history.

Johnny Nansen, who coaches the defensive line and special teams, has the most recent tie to Idaho, having worked there the last five years before coming to UW as Sarkisian's first hire last December. Nansen downplayed the reunion, saying he hasn't talked to any of his former players since departing.

Holt's imprint is also still heavily on the Idaho program as the two full recruiting classes he signed at Idaho now make up the bulk of the fourth- and fifth-year players on the UI roster. Fourteen players signed in those two years, however, were junior college recruits and are already gone, and there was some other attrition, leaving an unofficial total of 14 scholarship players on the Idaho roster signed by Holt.

Still, that number includes some of the team's best players, including starting quarterback Nathan Enderle and left guard Mike Iupati, who may be UI's top NFL prospect. Overall, 10 of Idaho's projected starters are Holt recruits.

Iupati, though, said this week the topic of facing Holt hasn't been a big one among the Vandals.

"He's a great guy," Iupati said of Holt. "We're just looking past the coaching staff and just looking forward to playing football."

Holt was 5-18 in two seasons at Idaho and left after signing day in 2006, initially to take an assistant's job with the Rams, then to return to USC with the new title of defensive coordinator.

"I'm sure they were disappointed and mad at the time," Holt said Wednesday. "But it was so long ago, I'm sure they have moved on. And some of them might have been happy with some of the change, who knows? Looking back on it, and it's unfortunate. I really enjoyed those kids. They were great kids, played [hard] for us and would love to have seen those guys through and seen them graduate. But they are doing a nice job and coach [Robb] Akey is doing a really good job with that program. So it's worked out for the best."

As for the UW-Idaho connection, Holt is the essential conduit. Nansen, Thomas and safeties coach Jeff Mills all were assistants under Holt at Idaho. Holt also worked there with Cox and coached there when Nussmeier and Thomas were players. And it was Holt who knew Sarkisian from their years together as assistants at USC.

"That's how Sark and all of us kind of knew each other," said Nansen.

Sarkisian also wanted coaches with Northwest ties, and the fact that so many knew each other meant they could jell fast as a new staff.

"They knew how it was when they were working for myself, and coach Sark is very similar to me," Holt said. "So they knew the structure of things. So these guys just picked up where they left off."

NOTES

• DE Darrion Jones, who suffered a bruised knee in the LSU game, did not practice for a second straight day and is questionable for Saturday. Sophomore Kalani Aldrich would likely get his first career start in his place.

• Sarkisian said the safety spot remains unsettled with Greg Walker, Victor Aiyewa and Justin Glenn all competing to work opposite Nate Williams.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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