Steve Sarkisian's fiery style could be good for Washington
Washington athletic director Scott Woodward chose Steve Sarkisian, the 34-year-old offensive coordinator from USC who apparently wowed Woodward with his energy at their initial meeting.
Seattle Times staff columnist
So you say you wanted Jim Mora.
Wanted a young coach with an incendiary style. Wanted somebody who could resuscitate Washington's RIP football program. Wanted a coach who could make the Huskies a player again on the national stage.
You wanted Mora. A coach-motivator. A wunderkind with street cred. A Knute Rockne for the 21st century.
Well, you got him. Or the next best thing. Or, who knows? Maybe the next-even-better thing.
Steve Sarkisian, who is expected to be named the Washington football coach early next week, isn't Jim Mora, but he's Mora-esque.
Think of him as what Mora would be if Mora coached offense. Sarkisian doesn't have a Washington pedigree, but he knows the Pac-10 conference.
After inquiring about practically every coach in the country but Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, after being turned down by some of the best and brightest coaches in the country, it appears Washington got the right man.
After making a lot of other coaches wealthier when rumors indicated the Huskies were interested in talking with them — guys like Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and Oregon offensive coordinator Chip Kelly — Washington athletic director Scott Woodward chose the 34-year-old offensive coordinator from USC who apparently wowed Woodward with his energy at their initial meeting.
Washington football needs a lot, but more than anything it needs energy. It needs a coach who can relate — to players, to boosters and, yes, to the Seattle sports media, in a way that Tyrone Willingham couldn't.
This Waiting-For-Godot coaching search has been sobering for any Huskies fan. It showed, as if anyone needed another reminder, how far the program has fallen.
When coaches at schools such as Utah and Boise State rightfully believe their programs are closer to appearances in BCS bowls than Washington, it says a lot about the state of the sport in this state.
When a coach chooses Lubbock over Seattle, it speaks to the severity of the problem.
Before Thursday night's basketball game against Oklahoma State, Woodward was acting as coy as one of his former mentors, political strategist James Carville, and said no decision had been reached.
And late Thursday, after USC's practice, Sarkisian said his interview with Woodward went well, but he denied national reports that he had been offered the job.
So it isn't official and this search has been so convoluted and confused, few Huskies fans would be surprised if Sarkisian backed out and took the job at Auburn, or Eastern Michigan.
More likely, both sides are waiting until USC finishes its regular season Saturday against UCLA.
And after this soon-to-be 0-and-12 season, every Washington fan wants to think optimistically. Every fan wants some good news.
Every fan who has suffered through the last six seasons wants to believe that Woodward got this right. Maybe he didn't want to be a gambler, but Woodward is taking a calculated risk on a young guy who never has run his own program.
That strategy worked at Oklahoma (Bob Stoops) and it worked at Georgia (Mark Richt).
Woodward, who has closely watched this final Willingham season collapse on itself and who quietly seethed after Willingham's poor coaching performance in the unforgivable loss to Washington State, understands that the players who return for the 2009 season will need a wake-up call.
This team accepted defeat too easily. It lost its fight when it lost quarterback Jake Locker in October.
Sarkisian will rid himself of all the quitters. He will rebuild the team in his fire-breathing image. Think of him as the next Jeff Tedford, who turned around California in a Berkeley minute.
Tedford inherited a 1-10 team. In his first year, Cal was 7-5, and by his third season, the Bears were 10-2 and ranked ninth in the country. Like Sarkisian, he is a quarterback guru having mentored Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers.
Sarkisian would be the best thing that has happened to incumbent quarterback Locker since he came to Washington. And he could be the final push that convinces Skyline junior quarterback Jake Heaps to come to Washington.
Sarkisian can come to Washington and hit the ground running. He knows the West Coast. He knows how to win, knows how to recruit. And he will connect with the Washington high-school coaches in a way Willingham never did.
Let's put it this way: He won't be playing golf in the heart of recruiting season. He won't take a vacation, as Willingham did, after he takes the job.
It isn't official and, if we've learned anything from this ordeal, we should know that the coaching search isn't over until it's over.
But let's take a gamble, along with Woodward, and say it's done. And let's also say that, if it is done, he got the Mora-like personality the boosters want and this program absolutely needs.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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UPDATE - 9:02 PM
Steve Kelley: What happened to the once-scary Huskies?
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