Steve Sarkisian says he wouldn't have come to Washington as the new head football coach if he didn't think the Huskies could win—and win right away. He says a lot of things like that. And you know what? He's awfully convincing.
"It's not just a recruiting tool," Sarkisian says of his belief in a quick Huskies turnaround. "This place is going to be great again." Since Washington was the only winless team in major college football last year, that may sound like wishful thinking. But Sarkisian, who turns 35 on March 8, has youth and exuberance on his side, not to mention a brilliant track record as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at perennial national power USC. He knows how to win, and he's bringing a fiery new attitude to the UW.
"To be honest with you, I really don't care how it was before," Sarkisian says. "This isn't about comparing apples and oranges. It's about what we're trying to get accomplished now. It's a new day. It's a clean slate. That's the same thing I've told these kids." As a quarterback at BYU, Sarkisian won an NCAA-record 14 games his senior year (1996) and was widely praised for his playmaking ability. At USC, he coached two Heisman Trophy winners, won three straight Rose Bowls and helped guide the Trojans to the 2003 national championship. Now he's a head coach for the first time, and has plans to take Washington back to the top of the Pac-10.
"I think this football team is better than its record has indicated over the last couple of years," he says. "I think these kids are starving to be great."
Why would Sarkisian leave USC and come to the UW, which hasn't played in a bowl game since 2002 and was 11–37 in four years under Tyrone Willingham?
"I wanted to go to a place that was committed to winning. I wanted to go to a place that did have that rich tradition. And I thought this place embodied all of that," Sarkisian says. "This wasn't a case where they had to recruit me to come here. I wanted to be here."
The task is tall, but not impossible. Quarterback Jake Locker and a heap of talented youngsters should benefit from a top-flight coaching staff that includes USC's Nick Holt (defensive coordinator) and Arizona State's Dan Cozzetto (offensive line coach). Throw in Sarkisian's record as a winner and motivator and the new-look Huskies could find themselves contending for a Pac-10 title sooner rather than later.
"I've always thought of myself as an overachiever—a guy that didn't have the most physically gifted tools but found ways to battle and compete," Sarkisian says. "That's our mindset and that's the way we're going to coach our guys.
"We're going to be extremely mentally tough, and at the end of the day we're going to start winning close football games because we believe we're going to."—Derek Belt