Huskies stay humble as they climb their own mountain
Coach Steve Sarkisian keeps his Huskies focused as they enter toughest part of their football schedule.
Seattle Times staff columnist
UW @ Stanford, 5 p.m., Ch. 4
Steve Sarkisian is still talking about that mountain.
It is the Washington football coach's pet analogy now. The Huskies must remain humble because they're inexperienced climbers, and they shouldn't look down because their journey is just starting, and they shouldn't look up because the distance they still must travel is daunting. Just worry about the next step, always, Sarkisian says. There's mission in the mountain. And there's modesty in the mountain.
It also makes for a gentler way to blow off any media question that Sark doesn't want to answer.
Ask Sarkisian what a victory over No. 7 Stanford would mean for his rising football team, and the coach says, "That's looking up the mountain. I'm not looking up the mountain. Next step, it's playing Stanford."
Ask Sarkisian if this next step is a gigantic one, and he says, "It's one that, obviously, is not on flat ground. It's a challenging step, for sure. But, again, we're not at the summit yet, by any means. It's a step we need to take if we want to go up and a challenging one, but I don't think it's a gigantic step, no."
Now that's how you two-step your way through disinterest without sounding bored. And all the while, Sarkisian maintained a consistent, meaningful message.
This is partly why you shouldn't fear the Huskies will fall apart now that they're nationally ranked.
More impressive than the Huskies' fabulous offense is their demure reaction to recognition. The No. 22 next to their name legitimizes their 5-1 start, but they know it doesn't signal their arrival. So, they pluck the confidence from winning and toss aside the arrogance it could create. It's a mature approach for a team that is still new to success. But it's also fitting for a team built to believe in the motto "Expect To Win."
"I think it starts with our head coach," middle linebacker Cort Dennison said. "He expects the best out of us on and off the field. When you're expected to do so well, good things normally happen. When you have a mantra of 'Expect To Win,' you're normally going to be successful. Everything about success — the approach, how to criticize ourselves constructively, how to handle winning, how to learn from setbacks — it's instilled in our heads."
Washington is a young, climbing team that is about to be held to an even higher standard. The Huskies face their stiffest competition in the second half of the season, and this ranking ensures those foes will be attentive when they play Washington.
It would be wonderful if national rankings gave teams the power to intimidate and pulverize, but they don't. So it's back to work for a team that will remain workmanlike, regardless of how good the Huskies are perceived to be.
If the Huskies have a swagger, it's because they believe in what they're doing. Sarkisian praises his team for its ability to handle fresh game plans from week to week, especially on offense. As a result, the Huskies are doing more innovative things in games. Their offense is fooling defenses regularly.
"We expect to be successful, and our coach expects it," quarterback Keith Price said. "This guy has so much confidence in our team and in himself. When you have someone with that much confidence, it rubs off."
In this case, it's a benefit that the 37-year-old Sarkisian is still a head coach in progress. This is just his third season in charge. He believes in himself, but he isn't so stubborn that he refuses to re-evaluate and evolve. Sark possesses an ideal duality: He's a coaching wunderkind, yet he maintains an enthusiastic novice's thirst to get better.
Naturally, he's always concerned about keeping his players humble without damaging their confidence.
"It's a challenge," Sarkisian said. "I don't want to knock our guys back down. They've been down for long enough. But I want them to know exactly where we stand, the good and the bad, and our kids are extremely responsive to that when we're talking through things.
"In general, we're a humble team. We don't have an arrogant sense about us."
The Huskies can see the line that separates confidence and cockiness, flair and flamboyance, and they don't cross it. They have T-shirts that scream "Finish!" so they won't make too much of this promising start.
Oh, and they have Sark's mountain analogy, too. It's an all-purpose motivator/deflector/perspective provider for an ever-climbing football team.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org,
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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