Sark Smelling Roses?
The question that is ferociously discussed by University of Washington fans every year. Is Coach Steve Sarkisian the man to return UW to the promise land?
Hardened critics will tell you that he’s the next Rick Neuheisel, that he can recruit the talent positions but the lack of top tier talent on the offensive and defensive lines is going to continue to keep UW’s success modest at best, much like the past two seasons.
On the other side of the argument you have those who relentlessly defend Coach Sark by citing the fact that he took over an 0-12 team and took UW to two straight bowl appearances in years two and three of his tenure.
I tend to be the latter, sort of a Sark apologist if you will and here’s why…
The most important position in football is the quarterback; I think all football fans have come to this conclusion as it’s apparent on the field and pounded in to our heads via analysts everywhere. With that in mind, what Steve Sarkisian has done with Keith Price is nothing shy of a miracle in my opinion.
Those of us fans who watched this kid practice even a little during his freshman year barely noticed him.
Not just because of Jake Locker and the hype that accompanied him was the biggest story on campus, not just because everyone was focused on Steve Sarkisian, Nick Holt and the rest of the new staff but in all reality it was because he wasn’t very good.
To put it simply, Price was a smallish QB prospect with quick feet but an ugly release.
Keith Price, by all accounts was as raw as raw gets to the trained eye.
Fast forward three years, heading in to the 2011 season all of the talk surrounding the offense was Chris Polk, for good reason.
The running back was coming off of a stellar season and with the star QB of the past on his way to Tennessee to play in the NFL, whenever Keith Price’s name was discussed the overwhelming thought was that he needed to be serviceable, hand the ball off to Chris Polk 30 times per game and limit mistakes in the passing game.
Instead, his accuracy had us in awe; his ability to keep the play alive, keep his eyes down-field and make accurate throws was nothing shy of incredible. He set school single season records for touchdowns, completion percentage and overall efficiency ratings.
While I don’t want to take any credit from Keith himself, all of this was due to the fact that Steve Sarkisian and Doug Nussmeier molded this raw talent in to the Heisman hopeful that he is.
The Huskies finished the season 7-6 after a loss to Robert Griffin lll and his Baylor squad that torched the Huskies defense for 777 yards and 67 points. This leads to my next point.
The UW defense has been bad, really, really bad since the Sarkisian regime has taken over.
While I feel there are some legitimate claims to be made in regards to the talent or lack thereof on the defensive side of the ball, I certainly don’t believe this is the only factor in the equation.
Lack of talent doesn’t explain missed assignments; it doesn’t explain what appeared to be a lack of effort on some accounts and the look of defeat in the eyes of the defensive players on many occasions during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
There were also legitimate concerns about Holt’s defensive staff and their ability to recruit the talent necessary to compete in the PAC-12.
These are coaching problems, defensive coaching problems. While Nick Holt may have been a good coach with the top talent in the country at USC, I think the evidence is fairly obvious that his defensive schemes do not work unless he’s got that kind of talent and speed at his disposal.
It was very clear by seasons end in 2011 that Nick Holt and his defensive staff had to go.
Best of friends
The problem with this is that Sarkisian and Holt were close friends, very close friends who were the first two to arrive at Husky Stadium every day and the last two to leave, every single day. The question in my eyes was not whether Holt had to go, but whether Sarkisian could come to that conclusion and make it happen.
Steve Sarkisan fired Nick Holt. By the Coach’s own admission it was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do, but in the end, he did it.
Coach Sarkisian then proceeded to hire some of the hottest and most sought after defensive coaches and recruiters in the country. (Yes Mike Silver, Tosh is now on a boat!)
Recreating a winning culture
Steve Sarkisian in my eyes is a proven commodity on the offensive side of the ball.
Not only did he turn Keith Price into the most efficient QB in school history, but he also just recruited the best QB tandem in the country according to many of the top scouting and recruiting experts for the 2012 class in Jeff Lindquist and Cyler Miles.
I’m an absolute buyer when it comes to what coach Sarkisian says about the top in state talent in that the kids heading to college right now didn’t grow up with a burning desire to attend the University of Washington.
The last time UW was competing on a national level, most of these kids were no more than 10 years old.
The quickest way to change this culture is by doing what Sarkisian is best at, making sure he’s absolutely set at the most important position in football and also having the stones to make the toughest of decisions, like firing his best friend when it needed to be done.
This culture change mixed with a shiny new facility to begin the 2013 season is the reason UW is headed back to the top, sooner rather than later.