So much can happen in the span of a single year. It was only twelve months ago that Washington was coming off a 0-12 season and the school was looking for a replacement for the unpopular Tyrone Willingham.
Most Husky fans had their hearts set on names such as Jim Mora, Mike Leach, and Kyle Whittingham. Scott Woodward on the other hand had fallen in love with a USC assistant coach named Steve Sarkisian over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Sark was never the first choice in this coaching hunt but as time went on he became the best choice. Jim Mora pulled out to reaffirm his allegiance to Paul Allen and the Seahawks. Leach was interviewed twice and wasn't what Emmert and Wooward were looking for. Whittingham who was preparing for a victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl felt Utah was a better fit for his family and future.
A year later it is hard to imagine anyone other than Steve Sarkisian coaching the Huskies. The young coach has captured the imagination of the Northwest in a way that hasn't happened since the first days of Jim Owens.
Owens and Sarkisian arrived under similar circumstances and faced similar challenges. Both were relative unknowns and neither had head coaching experience. Both of them were young. Owens was only 29 while Sarkisian is only 34. Neither of these guys were the first choice but they both earned the job by blowing away the administration during the interview process.
When the public was introduced to these guys approximately 50 years apart any question marks seemed to disapear during that first press conference. We all saw what the administration had seen during the interview process. We saw guys who were on fire and who were going to work extremely hard getting the program turned around.
We all know what Jim Owens did. He didn't win big the first two years of his tenure but he recruited well and changed around the culture of his team with the infamous "Death March". By his third year he had upset Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and had turned Washington into a national championship contender.
Steve Sarkisian impressed all of us in his first season which finished 5-7. Close losses to Notre Dame, ASU, and UCLA prevented the team from going to a bowl game but a season ending thrashing of California paints a clear picture of the direction this program is headed. A stellar top ten recruiting class waiting in the wings also signals that the days of staying home to roast chestnuts during the holiday season is coming to an end.
We like our sports figures to be bigger than life in the Pacific Northwest. Back in the early 1960's Owens could have run for Governor and one in a landslide. They used to say that he walked on water to get to work each day from his waterfront Laurelhurst home.
Don James was just as popular during his 17 year tenure at Washington. James didn't have quite the personality that the big fellah did but he was a straight shooter who was respected by both the fans and players. Most kids growing up in the region at the time had a pecking order of God, their own father, and Don James.
Seattle is a much bigger city in 2009 then it was in 1957 and 1974 but Steve Sarkisian has the same type of opportunity on a more crowded stage to take it to the same level and beyond. It all starts with winning of course but he has shown that he is more than capable of understanding, respecting, and communicating with the fan base.
2010 is a year of high expectations. Jake Locker returns to lead the charge one last time on the football field while Scott Woodward, Mark Emmert, and Dan Evans will be leading the charge in Olympia to secure funds for the remodeling of Husky Stadium. The landmark stadium is overdue for a complete overhaul to allow it to serve future generations of Husky fans.
The bowl which was built in 1920 will be ninety years old this coming season and has come to the end of its useful life. With construction ramping up in the South parking lot of Husky Stadium for the light rail project the time to start the stadium remodeling project is now. Construction and material costs will never be lower. A region that has lost many jobs in the economic downturn could use the stimulus that such a project can provide. Most importantly preserving the legacy of the public stadium on the lake for future generations simply makes sense for the region.
There are still challenges to face in 2010 but I firmly believe we have the right team assembled on the field and in the administrative offices to achieve those goals and return Husky football and the athletic program as a whole to the forefront of the conference where it deserves to be.