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Originally published Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 6:54 PM

Steve Kelley

Steve Sarkisian's tough-talking news conference sends message to his players

Sarkisian wanted his players to know that he was calling them out, publicly challenging them in every newspaper, every television outlet, every Husky message board, every blog and every sports talk show. This type of lethargy won't stand.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Saturday

Hawaii @ Washington, 12:30 p.m., ROOT Sports

quotes Watched Hawaii play CU and they looked pretty good. Dawgs need to bring it this weeken... Read more
quotes this is what i'm talking about. these players are too relax. i love what sarks doing... Read more
quotes in the opener against lsu this team played like they had nothing to lose, everyone... Read more

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Coaches often use the media as messengers. We can provide the podium for their displeasure. We can be the harbingers of a difficult, uncomfortable week of practice.

And so it was at Washington coach Steve Sarkisian's Monday meeting with the media. It was a news conference that sounded almost like a locker-room speech, minus the decibels.

It wasn't a pep talk as much as it was an ultimatum.

After studying the tape from Saturday's problematic, 30-27 win over Eastern Washington, Sarkisian told us that his team lacked energy and enthusiasm in its season opener. The Huskies weren't physical enough. They didn't play Washington football, which at its best is aggressive and relentless.

He said his team is supposed to attack, but against Eastern, it was attacked. Unlike many Mondays, there were no one-liners this week, no joking around.

"It will be a great week of teaching," Sarkisian said about practice, which is euphemistic. What he really meant was "Welcome to Hell Week, guys."

"This is much more about us than Hawaii," Sarkisian said. "It's getting back to our brand and style of football."

The tone of this news conference was intentional. Sarkisian chose his words carefully. He wanted to make sure there was no ambiguity. This still is a new program and the players have to be reminded, over and over again, what Washington's brand is.

In this news conference, Sarkisian wanted his players to know that he was calling them out, publicly challenging them in every newspaper, every television outlet, every Husky message board, every blog and every sports-talk show.

This type of lethargy won't stand.

"We could have had more energy," junior cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "We could have had a more dominant frame of mind."

This is, by far, the most talented of Sarkisian's three UW teams. But it is painfully young and still hasn't found its identity. With all of the freshmen and sophomores, this is a team that needs — in the jargon of Sarkisian's profession — to be coached up.

For Washington's football future, these practices are as important as any game that is played this year.

Against a very good Eastern team that is ranked No. 1 this week in the Football Championship Subdivision, Washington's young players did too much thinking and not enough reacting. It was like they were trying to remember the choreography when they should have just flowed with the music.

The Huskies played scared. Not afraid of their opponent as much as they were afraid of themselves, afraid they might make mistakes.

Sark's bark on Monday was calculated to awaken his players, to scare the fright out of them, to let them know what he expected this week and what he expects every week for the rest of their Husky lives.

"As crazy as it might sound, I'm glad the (Eastern) game was this close," said Keith Price, who made his first start as the No. 1 quarterback against the Eagles. "That's a wake-up call. We know we're a better team than that. We're going to come out ready. Trust me."

Sarkisian, who calls the offensive plays, said he was too cautious with his play-calling. Price suffered a slight knee sprain in the first half and Sark said he wanted to protect his quarterback "physically, not mentally."

But the fact is that deep in a tense, 50-50 game, Sarkisian's calls got especially conservative. After Price threw an incompletion intended for Michael Hartvigson at the end of the third quarter, Sarkisian decided to put the ball in the hands of his best offensive threat, Chris Polk.

In the fourth quarter, Price threw just five passes and Washington ran 11 times, eight by Polk.

Sarkisian had to win this game. Just three seasons ago this program went through a winless season. At this point in the growing process, every win is precious. Learning to win is part of building a program.

Real change happens in a week like this, before Saturday's game with Hawaii, when the practice field turns as serious as a calculus classroom.

"It's going to be intense," Trufant said, looking ahead to practice. "Our mentality could have been different (Saturday). We could have been a tougher team. Our coaches know that we can easily be better, and they're going to be hard on us. But it's going to be all for the good."

It's all part of growing up.

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