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Originally published Friday, January 13, 2012 at 6:23 PM

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Steve Sarkisian says it was difficult to fire Nick Holt

Sarkisian talks about active postseason

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Heck, I liked Nick Holt as well. There is no question about his passion or dedication... MORE
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Hectic days and sleepless nights.

That's been Steve Sarkisian's life since Washington's 67-56 defeat against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29. He has fired one defensive coordinator and hired another, among myriad other happenings with the Husky program.

Sarkisian said firing defensive coordinator Nick Holt, his longtime co-worker and good friend, was "extremely difficult. And I think that as you go through this, you have to try to take your personal emotions out of it the best you can and put on the CEO hat of the organization and do what's best for our football organization. I think the world of Nick Holt as a person, I think the world of Nick Holt as a coach. But it didn't work. It just wasn't right for a variety of reasons, and we just felt like the time was right to make a change."

Roughly 48 hours after Holt was fired, UW announced the hiring of Justin Wilcox as defensive coordinator.

Asked how the transition came together so quickly, Sarkisian said: "I didn't sleep, quite honestly. It was 48 straight hours of trying to find the right guy to fit what we wanted to do here, of where I felt like I needed our program to go. It was a dead period in recruiting and I wanted to work diligently, quickly but yet make sure we made the right hire. And I think we hit a home run with Justin and I couldn't be more happy about it."

The switch in coordinators is just part of what will be a wholesale change in the defensive staff. Of five full-time assistants last year, only one remains — defensive line coach Johnny Nansen.

But Sarkisian said Nansen could be moved to a role in which he would concentrate more on his other duties as special-teams coach, allowing UW to bring in another assistant to coach the line.

"Johnny Nansen still will be part of that, but obviously Johnny working with special teams, that's a great deal of time and energy," Sarkisian said. "So we are going to hire somebody to work with the defensive front that has good pedigree as far as from a recruiting standpoint and has a good knowledge base of the kinds of things Justin wants to teach on the defensive side of the ball up front, as well."

That comment only further heightened rumors that UW is making a serious push at luring California defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi, who is also regarded as one of the top recruiters in the Pac-12, if not the country. Lupoi, who grew up in the Bay Area and played at Cal, has been thought unlikely to leave. But the rumor mill has it that UW is attempting to make Lupoi an offer that would be tough to turn down — he reportedly made $164,000 last year at Cal.

Washington already has shown it is willing to pay assistants well, as Wilcox was due to make $750,000 next year at Tennessee with the speculation he is likely making more now at UW, though contract details haven't been released.

Sarkisian said he didn't make the move to fire Holt until returning to Seattle and didn't contact Wilcox until "almost 24 hours after the bowl game."

But he said it didn't take long to know Wilcox was who he wanted, saying his schemes might be a better fit for UW's personnel.

NOTES

• Sarkisian said all players expected to be on the roster in 2012 were back with the team.

• He said three players have had surgery — OL Colin Porter (shoulder), S Travis Feeney (shoulder) and receiver Kevin Smith (knee). He said "as of right now" quarterback Keith Price was not scheduled to need any surgery.

• Sarkisian said it is expected safety James Sample and running back Johri Fogerson will get redshirt years after suffering injuries in 2011. That means Sample will return next year with four years of eligibility, while Fogerson will be a fifth-year senior in 2012.

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

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