Sark, Shaw and Faked Injuries

"I didn't realize you had so many drama majors on your team David..." - Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE

Steve Sarkisian set off a media firestorm after the Stanford game with his accusation that Stanford coaches were instructing their players to fake injuries. Today, Stanford head coach David Shaw responded, and as you might guess, he wasn't happy.

In the aftermath of a frustrating loss to Stanford last Saturday, Steve Sarkisian spoke aloud - on KJR radio to play-by-play man Bob Rondeau no less - what many of us were saying in private during the game:  that Stanford players were taking dives at the end of plays to stop the clock and slow down the Husky hurry-up offense, specifically calling out "their d-line coach", aka Randy Hart, former long-time UW assistant coach:

"Their defensive line coach was telling them to sit down. I guess that’s how we play here at Stanford, so we’ll have to prepare for that next time. At some point, we’ll get repaid for it. That never serves a purpose for us, and we’ll never do that."

Check out the incidents in question for yourself:

This isn't the first time Stanford has been accused of faking injuries against a HUHN offense - as our feathered friends down South reminded us after the game, there was this famous incident in 2010:

Predictably, the accused players didn't take kindly to the accusations:

It was rather surprising to hear Sark make a public accusation like that - usually with these kinds of issues between coaching staffs, calls are placed and discussions are had in private.  And when given a chance at his Monday press conference to walk back his accusation, Sark declined the opportunity:

"As far as the injuries were concerned - we saw what we saw. And I'm gonna leave it at that."

While he didn't address the issue yesterday, Stanford head coach David Shaw was emphatic and stinging in his responses this morning on the Pac-12 Conference call:

"We don’t fake injuries. We never have and we never will. I don’t condone it, we don’t teach it, I don’t allow it. And I don’t care what Steve Sarkisian thinks that he saw. We’ve never done it. We didn’t do it against Oregon. So why in the world would we do it against Washington?"

"The only assistant coach I've ever known to order players to fake injuries coaches at Washington," Shaw said, referring to defensive-line coach Tosh Lupoi, who admitted to asking a player to fake an injury during his time on Cal's staff.

So, what to make of all of this hullabaloo?  One thing to keep in mind here is there's a history of antagonism between members of these coaching staffs.  Everyone recalls how Jim Harbaugh as coach at Stanford loved to tweak Pete Carroll, including running up the score against the Trojans in 2009 leading to the famous "What's your deal?" quote from Carroll.  The next year, Harbaugh could be heard outside the visitor's locker room at Husky Stadium crowing after the Cardinal had dominated Washington 41-0, saying of Sark & his staff:

"What are you guys, 5-1, 6-1 against that group (in his four-year tenure)? That's the highest-paid coaching staff around!"

No doubt part of what has fueled that rivalry is the presence of Randy Hart on the Stanford coaching staff starting in 2010.  Hart had been a long-time fixture at Washington, hired in 1988 by Don James and retained by Jim Lambright, Rick Neuheisel, Keith Gilbertson and Ty Willingham.  Hart appeared to be a Husky lifer, but when Sark was hired in 2009, he opted to not keep him around, and Hart reportedly did not take it well.  Feelings were strained enough that in the wake of Washington's upset win over Stanford last year, Sark & Hart were said to have had a heated post-game exchange on the field.

In my view, it was the wrong move to make for Sark to call out Stanford like that in public, for a couple of reasons:

  • It comes across as sour grapes, especially in the wake of a loss
  • It's nearly impossible to prove, and he could be wrong

Why did he do it?  If you watched the videos above, you can see there's reason to be suspicious of whether those stoppages of play were actually necessary, or whether the Stanford players were deliberately staying down on the field specifically to slow down the Husky offense.  The example from 2010 vs. the Ducks is particularly egregious, and makes Shaw's claims to the contrary look very hollow.  And for all we know, Sark (or his assistants or players) saw Hart signaling to Gardner and/or Skov to stay down on the turf after they first fell down, or perhaps some of his players overheard instructions to do so or were highly suspicious themselves based on what they were seeing from the Stanford players up close and personal.

Or it might simply have been frustration boiling over for Sark after a game full of annoyances that kept his team 3 points shy of a huge road win.  Knowing that Sark and Chip Kelly are friendly, it certainly wouldn't surprise me if Kelly had at some point warned Sark to watch out for Stanford using that trick to slow down Washington now that they're running a HUNH offense.

It's also worth noting that Sark didn't exactly say that he thought the Stanford players were faking their injuries - he specifically said Hart was "telling them to sit down", which could mean he thought they were staying down on the field to stop the clock rather than jogging off the field to get medical attention.  It's a small but important distinction - there's a difference between saying you don't think a guy is hurt vs. saying you think he's stopping the clock for an injury that doesn't warrant it.

Still, Sark is a smart guy, and perhaps he figures that making this accusation public - and not backing down from it - will prove to be more fuel towards an effort to reform the rulebook in a way that discourages behavior like this in the future.  Though I would also agree with Ted Miller that this story is in danger of becoming a distraction during a week in which the Huskies need to be fully focused on Oregon.

One thing is for sure - Sark and Shaw are clearly not on the best of terms right now, and this incident will only serve to make next year's tilt that much more hyped up.

-------------------------------------------------

A hypothetical phone conversation this week between Steve Sarkisian and David Shaw:

Shaw: Hello?

Sark: David?  It's Steve Sarkisian...

Shaw: Go f--- yourself.

Sark: David, I know you're pissed-off about this...

Shaw: Go f--- yourself.

Sark:

Sark: Look, I want to have a serious conversation about...

Shaw: Go f--- yourself.

Sark: ...this because it's a problem...

Shaw: Go f--- yourself.

Sark: ...that's going to continue with all of the...

Shaw: Go f--- yourself.

Sark: ...no huddle hurry-up - WOULD YOU LET ME TALK PLEASE?!?

Shaw:

Sark: Thank you.  Now level with me...

Shaw: Go f--- yourself.

Sark:

Sark: You know, for a Stanford grad, you sure seem to have a limited vocabulary.

Shaw:

Shaw:

Shaw:

Shaw: Go f--- yourself. *click*

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