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Originally published February 1, 2009 at 2:58 PM | Page modified February 1, 2009 at 9:59 PM

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Steve Kelley

New UW coach Steve Sarkisian needs to make sure he doesn't turn into the next Slick Rick

Even though the violations the Huskies football program reported are small, the new coach has to keep it clean.

Seattle Times staff columnist

In his first months on the job, new Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian has been flagged three times for "secondary" recruiting violations.

During a campus visit from several recruits, the Washington coaching staff simulated game conditions by activating a smoke machine and turning on sirens to give the recruits a feel for what it's like to enter Husky Stadium from the tunnel on an expectant Saturday.

Big deal? No.

Violation? Yes.

In a bit more serious case, the Huskies admitted Sarkisian and assistant coach Nick Holt committed a pair of violations. They met with two high-school seniors and their coach two weeks ago in Los Angeles. A reporter for the Los Angeles Times and a junior receiver also were present at that meeting.

A coach isn't permitted to have off-campus contract with recruits before July 1 of their senior year. Also, reporters aren't allowed to be present at those meetings.

Big deal? No

Violation? Yes.

So maybe in these first weeks after he succeeded Tyrone Willingham, it would be worth reminding Sarkisian of the suspicious jitters Huskies fans still feel, a hangover from the Rick Neuheisel years.

And he should be reminded that twice in the past 15 years, Washington coaches have paid the price for sloppy recruiting practices.

Yo, Sark!

To be honest with you, I think there is a huge part of the Washington football fan base that is so tired of losing, it wouldn't care if you cheated like a card counter at The Mirage.

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Those fans wouldn't care if you offered condos and Escalades to every blue-chipper you meet. Suffer through an 0-12 season and wallow in four years of Willingham, as they have, and a lot of fans merely will demand that you just win, baby.

A lot of fans would love to nickname you "Sark the Shark." They only request that you don't get caught. After all, you've inherited a most fallow football program. Only President Obama is beginning a more difficult rebuilding process than yours.

It almost seems as if you should be spotted a couple of smoke machines and a few sirens as you begin the enormous task of putting Washington on the same competitive plane as USC, Oregon, Oregon State and California.

But the greater reality is that Washington fans are wary and still weary from the all the tricks of Slick Rick. Neuheisel always seemed like he was a violation waiting to happen. His program was full of miscreants and misdemeanors.

Fans here are hungry for a winner, but they are suspicious of anyone who gives them the impression he is willing to win at any cost.

Yo, Sark? Remember where you are.

I agree with athletic director Scott Woodward that these violations are smaller than small potatoes, although I disagree that such violations wouldn't be reported in newspapers that cover the rough-and-tumble recruiting in the Southeastern Conference.

The thing is, these are sloppy violations, avoidable violations. They are violations that shine an unkind light on Washington's program and raise suspicions at a time when the program should be above suspicion.

And as tiny as these violations are, they add up. Small becomes big in a hurry if you're not paying attention. A lot of smalls can trigger that frightening phrase: "lack of institutional control."

Believe me, the university has been there and done that and doesn't want to go there again.

We expected you would make news during your recruiting visits, just not this kind of news.

Now, it is comforting for you to know that Woodward has your back. He should. He is paying you $2 million because he believes in you. He has said that neither you, nor Holt, knew that the junior or the reporter would be at the meeting. We believe him.

But ignorance of the surroundings can't be an excuse. You have to be as demanding of yourself in recruiting as you are of your players in the weight room. You have to demand the same discipline from your staff on the road that you will demand of quarterback Jake Locker in the huddle.

So in the future, be more vigilant. These mistakes are avoidable, but if they continue, they're no longer mistakes. They're trends.

In this age of college sports, no bad deed goes unpunished.

Yo, Sark, remember that the whole football world is watching. It seems everybody has a camera phone, or a Web site, a message board, or some place to go to rat you out. Secrets can become headlines in the click of a mouse.

So keep it clean, because being slick earlier in this decade eventually sent Washington slip-sliding to 0-and-12.

Good luck.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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