Scott Woodward on rebuilding UW football: "I like the way we're doing it."
From 0-12 to Thursday's Holiday Bowl, Washington athletic director Scott Woodward reminds us how far the Huskies have come. Soon he'll talk to coach Steve Sarkisian about a contract extension.
Seattle Times staff columnist
SAN DIEGO — The skies were optimistically blue. The sun was as bright as a smile. And as the Washington football team returned to its plush hotel by the bay, after a luncheon aboard an aircraft carrier, every Husky finally understood how it felt to be part of bowl week.
This team was as far away from 0-and-12 as a team could get. Far removed from the misery this program felt just two seasons ago.
"The most important thing (about the winless 2008 season) is that they didn't have fun," Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said Tuesday, two days before the Huskies' Holiday Bowl date with Nebraska. "They weren't having fun. They were miserable.
"They were embarrassed to wear their colors, their gear. You'd see them with their hoods on, walking around campus. They were embarrassed to be football players."
As Washington prepares for its rematch against the Cornhuskers, it is easy to forget about how far down this program was just two seasons ago. It's easy to forget how much it had to grow just to become bowl eligible at 6-6. Just two seasons ago Washington was as bad as a program could get.
"In my opinion, what was done last season was incredible," Woodward said of a 5-7 2009 season. "Our team was not only physically inferior to the teams that they played in that season, they were mentally scarred from losing. And they (coaches) had to change a whole mind-set.
"That was a very, very difficult thing to do. Learning how to believe in coaches and to win and to do so in an emphatic way is a hard, hard thing to do. You just don't turn it on a dime."
In two seasons under coach Steve Sarkisian, the Huskies have gone from 0-12 to the Holiday Bowl.
"We're here to win the game. We're here to get better as a program, but I also want this to be a celebration," Woodward said. "I want the kids who have been through the depths of misery to really experience some sunshine in a metaphorical and a literal way. I just want them to experience joy and a real celebration, because it's been a rough road for the seniors.
"This is great for them. Now you see the players, walking around with their garb and their gear on. They're jacked up to be a part of the bowl festivities and celebrations. They're proud to be Huskies. That's a great thing for me to see."
Weeks like this practically were guarantees before the program began unraveling in the final year of Rick Neuheisel's reign. It is part of Woodward's charge to return those expectations to Washington football.
"I'm not afraid to say that we are striving to win championships," said Woodward, who came from the hot house world of Louisiana State football. "And I think Steve's the right guy to do so. But I'm not as optimistic as Steve on the quick turnaround.
"I'm a believer in getting it right from the foundation. I like incremental improvement. It proves that you're stable. Sure, I want to be a 10-plus-wins-a-season guy. You strive for that. But I like the way we're doing it."
When they began the search for Tyrone Willingham's successor, Woodward and then-university president Mark Emmert were looking for the next brilliant, young coach.
"We really were looking for the next Nick Saban, believe it or not," said Woodward, who had worked with Saban at LSU. "We were looking for a good guy. That goes without saying. A guy who follows the rules, graduates his kids, all that stuff."
But the next Nick Saban had to be more. He had to recruit and he had to be a master of the game.
"Clearly Saban was a master of defense," Woodward said, "and after we interviewed him (Sarkisian) twice, Mark and I came away with the impression that he was an offensive expert. I don't want to get crazy and call him a genius and overstate it. That's a bit much, but he's a master of the offensive game and he's a great recruiter and the ability to have those two things is rare."
Woodward was so impressed with Sarkisian, he gave the rookie head coach a five-year deal that started at $1.75 million and laddered up to $2.3 million. It was the third-best contract in the Pac-10.
Sarkisian was the first big hire in Woodward's short tenure as athletic director. He had to get it right and he did.
The next step for Woodward is to keep Sarkisian for the long haul. To that end, Woodward and Sarkisian will begin talks soon on a contract extension.
"We will have that conversation at the appropriate time," Woodward said. "I don't perceive one problem with that whatsoever. I think Steve wants to be here. We, in my opinion, did a very generous deal for him his first go 'round.
"And, in my opinion, it's been proven to be worth it. And we'll be fair and we'll pay market (value) to keep this guy for, hopefully, a very long period of time."
Another reason for the Huskies to celebrate, on a day that felt bright with possibilities.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
email@example.com | 206-464-2176
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