Brotherhood: Putting the Sarkisian Era to Rest

Yes, I actually just hired Steve Sarkisian. Next question... - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Well, crying isn't gonna bring him back, unless your tears smell like dog food. So you can either sit there crying and eating can after can of dog food until your tears smell enough like dog food to make your dog come back, or you can go out there and find your dog.

Brad to start:

What a hell of a couple of a weeks for Husky fans. Once Sarkisian left, I really thought that Washington was going to end up with either Justin Wilcox or Doug Nussmeier as the head guy. While I don’t think I would’ve been disappointed with either after the dust settled, I fully admit that it would’ve taken me some time to get over that underwhelmed feeling that the Huskies had simply replaced Steve Sarkisian with a clone that probably didn’t realistically have much greater chance to succeed (especially in the short term) than Sarkisian did. I would’ve been on board with Jim Mora. I would’ve been totally fine with that hire. But taking even a small step back, he really only had the favor he did with Husky fans because of on interview he gave with what amounts to a couple of drinkin’ buddies 7 years ago, and a faint connection with the greatest coach that ever walked the sidelines at Washington.

I never really thought Chris Petersen was a realistic option. And based on transcripts of some interviews I read from him, I wondered about his fire to continue to be a head coach. In that regard, I liked his press conference last Monday. A very personable guy. Nothing about him seemed forced the way it did with Neuheisel, Willingham, or Sarkisian. I liked his sense of humor. He’s definitely comfortable with who he is, and what he’s doing. I still have some concerns with him – most notably how he fills out his staff, and how he transitions to recruiting Pac 12 caliber athletes. I’m probably a little bit jaded with the “sports educator” coach simply because of Willingham’s tenure as well. I admit that. But I like Petersen. I don’t think the Huskies could’ve done much better. But how do we assess Sarkisian’s time here? Universally, I think Husky fans agree he did a very good job digging the Huskies out of the crater left here following the Willingham Error. I’ve seriously grown tired of the debates surrounding the way Sarkisian handled his exit. To me, it’s such a non-story. In a market like Seattle, there’s simply no right way to handle job denials, media obligations, and Twitter speculation. It’s only in hindsight that anyone could’ve handled that situation perfectly. Too many leaks, too much speculation, and too many ways to parse every single word that he utters to possibly please everybody. And there’s a lot of retrospection about words and phrases he used, even repetitively, to describe the team’s performance, progress (or lack thereof), and wins and losses. The fact is, any human that has a microphone in front of his mouth every time he opens it is going to sound clichéd in short order. But it’s the sort of thing that nobody cares about when a team is winning, and becomes a major indictment when the coach loses. Just the facts of living in a fishbowl.

Sarksian assembled a pretty damn good coaching staff. I have no real issue with him doing everything in his power to get those guys to USC with him. I know I’d do the same thing. And ultimately, I think he’s going to do pretty well with the Trojans. Maybe not by their standards, but if I put the over/under for him through five years at 10 wins a season (on average), which way would you go?

We disagree at least a little on his ultimate trajectory here at Washington. I think he would’ve ultimately failed here, and maybe you’d bet that way with your own money if you actually had to. But I’m pretty sure you’d give him higher odds for success than I would’ve. It doesn’t really matter now, I suppose. The question now sort of becomes, what’s his ultimate legacy at the University of Washington? He took over the program at its absolute lowest in terms of productivity, and probably in terms of talent. He raised both substantially, especially the talent. Probably most importantly, though maybe it’s only a byproduct of being a better team, he raised the profile of the program. It’s a good place to be as an athlete. It’s a good job to have as a coach.

I don’t have any disdain for him for leaving. I can’t go as far as to wish him success in the future, either. I thank him for his time and efforts, for which he was compensated very well. But to me, he’s a non-entity moving forward. Grading his time here, I’d give him a low B.

Darin's up next:

My basic starting point is that nobody knows who will be a good coach or who will be a bad one. Even a guy who has had success somewhere else is not a lock to continue that success when he changes schools. Darin Johnson Rule No. 2: Hiring coaches is a crap-shoot. (Rule No. 1 is that the Sun Devils always disappoint. Let's see what happens in their bowl game.) That being said, this seems like the third most-likely-to-succeed kind of hire we could make. Number 1 would be retaining a coach who was already succeeding (I'm not talking about Sarkisian). Number 2 would be hiring a guy who was having success at another, comparable school. Number 3 is hiring a guy who was having success at an inferior school. That's Petersen.

I have never quite understood the love affair with Jim Mora. I get that he's a Husky, but he's had mediocre success in Atlanta and Seattle. He had two good years so far at UCLA. Yet there's certainty among Husky fans that Mora would have been just the Moses to lead us out of the wilderness. Maybe. Anyway, I'd have been fine with that hire, but I'm happier with Petersen, especially given the irritating dance we've had with Mora lately.

I'm with you: it didn't even cross my mind that we'd be able to hire Petersen. He wasn't on my radar, except in the sense of being a guy I'd probably like to have. This is a big score for Woodward. You put your finger on something that makes Petersen attractive -- he knows who he is, both personally and professionally. This isn't his first rodeo, and although I think Sarkisian was remarkably mature given his lack of experience, there's some sense in which he was making some of it up as he went along.

I'm a little outspoken in defending Sarkisian. I believe the jury was still out on his ultimate success, and that as you said he clearly succeeded in digging us out of the hole we were in. Maybe that seems like a no-brainer, but Husky fans don't have to be very old to remember bad coaches being replaced with worse ones. (James-Lambright-Neuheisel-Gilbertson-Willingham. That's a "sell" stock for sure.) I am happy to take that win and give Sarkisian his due. The debate about how he handled his exit is just inane. It sucks to be dumped for a prettier girl, even if you weren't sure you liked the guy. But fretting about whether he should have told you your dress was pretty the day before is silly. Sarkisian's actions seem basically reasonable to me; I don't question his basic integrity, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Would he have succeeded ultimately? You're right, I'd bet on "no," but that's mostly because I'd always bet on "no." Most coaches fail, and Sarkisian hadn't done enough to convince me he was an exception. But I think his odds are better than a random coach. I think he's a smart guy and a hard worker.

Because the Dawgs are 8-4 instead of 10-2 I think we may be underestimating how good this team actually is. Sagarin has us rated eighth currently (PREDICTOR). Top ten. In 2000, with Marcus Tuiasosopo, we finished the season rated seven by Sagarin. In other words, this might be the second-best team on Montlake since the early 1990s. Does it seem like it? No. But that's partly because the schedule was brutal. I say that not as an excuse, but to point out that measuring success is no easy thing. If Sarkisian were coaching fifteen years ago things might have been different.

You're right that Sarkisian showed skill in assembling a staff. Because of that I'd put his odds of success at USC at... hm... two-to-one against. Above average. Of course, "success" at USC is a high hurdle.

I'm going to take this opportunity to announce some exciting news for Husky fans. Although my busy schedule did not allow me to seriously consider the head-coaching job at UW, I have decided to offer my advice to any of the Husky coaching staff free of charge. That's right. If Petersen wants to know whether to start Washington or Callier in the opener, he can just give me a call. Wilcox isn't sure about running one-gap against the spread-option? I will respond to his texts within 24 hours. Scott Woodward needs someone to glad-hand donors while he parks his car? I will gladly attend any fund-raiser via Skype (with 48 hours' notice). I know this seems like an incredible sacrifice, but I look at it as the least I can do to support the program that has given me so much anxiety over the last four decades. Husky Nation, hey, you're welcome.

Brad:

Dear Darin,

Thanks for expressing your interest in the Junior Dawg Program. I’m always excited to hear from those younger Husky fans out there. You guys are some of our most passionate fans. Enclosed, please find your official “Junior Dawg Pack Member” certificate and pin, as well as a ticket for a free hot dog and small soda good at any Husky event in the next calendar year. And who knows, maybe your name will be drawn one day and you’ll be able to join the Husky football team on the field as an honorary game day captain, and get to walk with your heroes to midfield for the coin flip prior to a game.

Your pal,

____________________

Scott Woodward

Director of Athletics

If the stuff that some of the guys here have said about Sarkisian’s attitude about the perceived lack of respect he got for the job he did is true, then it taints my perception of him a little. I tend to believe it. I genuinely think he thought he’d come to Seattle and be the conquering hero, and everybody would love him. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was actually a little miffed that people would think it might be time to replace him, even if it was a small percentage of the fan base. I think he’s a smart guy, but in retrospect, I sort of wonder how detailed his plan was to turn Washington into a consistent contender. I think he saw the big picture correctly, but was maybe missing some of the details in there (probably a symptom of a lot of coaches that don’t get all the way there, really). Like his goal sheet looked like this:

Step One: Hire great coaches

Step Two: Recruit really good players

Step Three: ????????????

Step Four: Profit

I might very well be wrong. But when the answer to the question of How to Win More Games? is adding more talent and continuing to upgrade the coaching staff, it seems a little less than complete to me. I think he’ll do well at USC, in that he’s going to win a large percentage of his games. The question is going to be if they’re the right ones at the right times. With 12 regular season games plus a bowl, I could easily see him averaging 10.5 wins a year. That might not be enough if it doesn’t translate to conference championships and trips to the playoffs. We’ll see.

I’m a little worried that Chris Petersen is being anointed by a lot of fans already. I get that he won a ton of games at Boise State. And that he put guys in the NFL. But I just can’t bring myself to blindly trust that he’s going to put together the best possible staff for the Pac 12, or that he’s going to automatically recruit the caliber of guys that he needs to win at Washington. Frosty Westering was a great coach at Pacific Lutheran University. I doubt his system would translate to Division One football, though. I’m optimistic. But jaded.

I really want to get to spring practices.

Darin Wraps it Up:

Scotty,

Good to hear from you.

Liking draft Junior Dawg Program form-letter. Looks like just the thing to get the little squeezers fired up. Maybe more exclamation marks?!?!

D

PS Be sure to send a copy to my little brother when it's final.

PPS No coupon, though, our mother doesn't like him drink soda anymore.

Well... I'm not inclined to indulge in pop-psychoanalysis of Sarkisian, so I'll defer to your assessment of his state of mind. I'm not saying you're wrong, just that I have no idea. I think he thought he'd win more games.

Sticking with my theme that nobody knows anything about what it takes to create a winner, the three-step plan you've outlined above is as good as anything you've ever come up with before. Good job. Coaches do lots of things besides these two, but I'm honestly not sure that any of them matter much. Recruiting explains something like 70 percent of the season (according to College Football Matrix). I have no idea what explains the remaining 30 percent, but I sort of doubt it's the other stuff head coaches do. Maybe luck.

Please note that this isn't to say coaching is irrelevant. It's just that the variation among coaches is a lot less than the variation among teams. Coaches all run the same plays, they all play the same defenses, they all tell their players to keep their head on a swivel and look alive. I'm sure that a coach who had his defense line up by height facing the sideline would have less success than average (ED: See Willingham, Tyrone). But within the range of normal coaches, I'm not sure it's quite that big a deal. So Petersen will do a lot of the same things Sarkisian did. I don't expect a step-change, but I'm hopeful he'll be able to keep the upward trend going.

I agree that it's early to anoint Petersen as the Second Coming. He was a stellar hire, much to Woodward's credit and to the credit of the UW that we got him. However, a stellar hire means somewhat reducing the chance of failure. It definitely does not make for a sure thing. As a fan, though, I'm excited despite myself. The second-youngest Husky fan in my household, when informed we'd hired the coach from Boise State, asked, "Why would we hire him? We beat them." But he wore all purple to school on Monday, so I think he's coming around, too. Yes, Spring practice. And let's keep our fingers crossed for a good recruiting class. We can't afford another hole working its way up the roster.

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