Steve Sarkisian has earned the reputation of a risk taker entering his third season as coach at the University of Washington. Sark has no qualms about going for it on fourth and short during a close game whether the move is successful or not.
He has taken a bit of criticism over the last two years for it because it has probably cost him more games than he has won up to this point. For example a more conservative outlook at Notre Dame during his first season probably would have provided a win instead of a heartbreaking loss.
A look behind the scenes shows what he is trying to do. He has been building the team psyche for the long haul in much the same way Pete Carroll did during his tenure at USC. He wants his players to expect to win and he expects them to win on every play. The reasoning is simple. If the expectation is set high enough eventually the team will start meeting it on a regular basis.
Pete Carroll obviously had a lot more talent on his side of the ball when he regularly went for it on fourth down while at USC. Coach Sark hasn't yet been blessed with that type of talent while at UW. Sark has been quoted as saying that the biggest thing was that our coaching beliefs hold true with different kids in different places. In other words he doesn't think that you need a five star athlete at every position like at SC to win championships or run his system.
Last season's Seahawk football team under Pete Carroll is another example of a well coached squad who overachieved. Everyone wrote the Hawks off last year even though they were in the worst division in the NFL. The Hawks were able to pull it together and make the playoffs. On top of that they did the one thing nobody expected and that is they knocked off New Orleans in the first round.
The Huskies did the same type of thing under Sarkisian last season. Nobody expected too much even though it was Jake Lockers senior season. The schedule was brutal and the Huskies started a bit slow with a loss to BYU. Bowl possibilities looked even worse after an early season 56-20 loss at home to Nebraska.
Somehow Sark rallied his team to the required 6-6 record and the reward was facing mighty Nebraska once again. This time the Huskies pulled out a dominant 19-6 win over the heavily favored Cornhuskers. Risk taking and belief in an established system is what got the team there last season.
That type of thinking is what is going to power the program in the future. Expect more of the same as Washington climbs back up the ramp into the national discussion. Nobody said it was going to happen over night but Sark has this squad on the right track to win Pac 12 championships in the near future.
(This is the first of a two part series on risk taking at the collegiate level sponsored by Nestea.)