Huskies' Steve Sarkisian faces his former boss: USC's Pete Carroll
The Washington coach plays his former team Saturday, just as previous Huskies head coaches did.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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The job description for Washington football coaches apparently says that in their first season they will take on the school at which they formerly worked.
Each of the past three Huskies coaches faced one or both of the schools at which they had previously been the head man.
Most memorable were Rick Neuheisel beating his former team, Colorado, for the first win of his UW career in 1999 in the third game of his Husky tenure, and Tyrone Willingham getting defeated soundly by his most recent former employer, Notre Dame, in 2005. Keith Gilbertson also faced both Idaho and California — his other two head-coaching stops — in 2003, beating the former, losing to the latter.
Now comes Steve Sarkisian, who in his third game at Washington gets a visit from USC, the program where he made his name working as an assistant for seven of the past eight years, the last four as offensive coordinator. The Trojans, ranked third in this week's Associated Press poll, face Washington on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Husky Stadium.
And it's not just Sarkisian making a reunion this week. Sarkisian also brought with him defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who initially turned down the job before later accepting, as well as a few other staffers, notably strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis.
The pilfering of USC's staff has led to speculation of hard feelings between Sarkisian and USC coach Pete Carroll.
Sarkisian emphatically denied that Saturday after the Huskies defeated Idaho 42-23 for his first career win as a head coach.
"No, no, no," Sarkisian said.
As proof, he offered up how he and Carroll still stay in contact often. Sarkisian said they talk once or twice a week, and were texting each other Friday. And at Pac-10 media day in July, Sarkisian picked up Carroll and drove him to a function the previous night.
Does Carroll give advice on being a head coach?
"He tells me all sorts of stuff," Sarkisian said. "But that's been going on for years. He's been my mentor for seven years."
Holt also denied recently there was any hard feelings.
"I don't know that to be true," he said, adding that he still talks to Carroll, though not as often as Sarkisian.
Ultimately, Sarkisian said that any emotion doesn't last long, and the game ultimately becomes about the players.
Neuheisel and Willingham had similar sentiments in the buildup to their reunions. The obvious difference this time is that the head coach at USC remains the same.
In Neuheisel's case, he had left Colorado voluntarily, with some players initially stating they were upset with his departure, though any anger seemed gone when dozens of CU players lined up to shake his hand afterward. Willingham was controversially fired. In Sarkisian's case, he made an understandable move for a promotion.
If it is, ultimately, about the players, at least one Husky has his own battle to fight against the Trojans — tailback Chris Polk. The freshman from Redlands, Calif., initially committed to USC, and Sarkisian handled much of his recruiting, before changing his mind late and signing with Washington. Polk says he has heard the claim that "I was scared to compete" and that's why he didn't want to play at USC.
"They didn't take it too lightly when I decommitted to come here and they were kind of talking stuff last year when I was hurt," he said.
"So I feel like I've got to go out there and prove it to them. ... There's something a little personal about it for me this week."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
UPDATE - 10:18 PM
Washington State's Klay Thompson will play Thursday against Huskies
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