Let's get this out of the way right now: this is not a 1000 word essay to chide the Sark doubters amongst you (which, as the various article threads since the ASU debacle has demonstrated, would be an exercise in futility).
Let's also get this out of the way: this is not a "should Sark be brought back" piece. There is zero point in debating a decision that was long ago decided by people who are paid to make them.
So, exhale and read on with an open mind.
I've been very interested in the debate that has raged on here in the 'Pound (and outside of it) regarding the overall status of this team and its head coach for the better part of the last two seasons, but especially since the ASU affair in which the Huskies got blown out on the road by a team that many fans considered at par if not outright beatable. What was once the refrain of an extreme and agenda-driven few became a legitimate point of contention by a segment of the massive-middle: This Huskies team has not improved enough five years removed from the low-watermark in Husky history.
Unfortunately, the position of "the Huskies aren't good enough" had already been staked out for so long by the extreme lunatic-fringe that the addition of more well-reasoned voices to the debate was greeted with a swift and sudden dismissal by the other side of the debate. These fans, who have clearly seen an upward trajectory for their Huskies from where we were just two years (one year?) ago, were long ago desensitized to the unsubstantiated and often vulgar rants from the fringe that the notion of a well-reasoned counterpoint that could spark a serious debate seemed insuperable.
But, now that we have a full regular season under our belts, the debate as to whether or not this was a successful year deserves some air time. So let's take a look.
Regular readers know that I'm clearly on the "was successful" side of this argument. While many people here have accused me of being an apologist, the truth is that this time last year, I was ready to scrap this whole rebuild project. Ironically, I was the one on the other side of this debate, having been uninspired (to say the least) over our Cal win and disgusted by the Apple Cup (while only marginally having faith restored in the Vegas Bowl). I was not convinced that our team was trending upwards or anywhere close to being able to compete with every team on its schedule. While I was impressed with the decision by Sark to remake his defensive staff - and by the ensuing turnaround - I was deeply discouraged by the regression of the offensive team which was supposed to be a defining strength of the club. Combined, that imbalanced and average club still managed a 5-4 conference record, but scored only 210 points in the process, suffering blow out and humiliating defeats at the hands of LSU, Oregon, Arizona and Washington State in the process.
Fast forward ahead one season.
Like the year before, Sark exhibited that rare trait among high-ego coaches: an ability to make change. He brought in Marques Tuiasosopo to restore Keith Price's mojo, he re-assigned Eric Keisau to the Wide Receivers role along with his duties as OC, and, most impressively, he implemented a new offensive system featuring a fast-paced attack and a simplified playbook. Unlike the Oregon or Arizona versions, Sark intended to preserve the overall balance of the offense while covering up the weaknesses along the offensive line.
The results were stupefying. The Huskies offense vaulted from near the bottom to #2 in the Pac 12 in total offense. They produced six games of over 592 yards - easily surpassing in a season the grand total of such games in all of Washington history before 2013. They produced one of the most efficient QB's in the nation. They produced a Heisman worthy RB who has already shattered the single season records for yards rushing and rushing touchdowns. They spread the ball around and created "breakout moments" for guys named Jaydon Mickens, Demore'ea Stringfellow, and Kevin Smith. They won all the games that they "were supposed to win" for the first time in ages. And, impressively, they did it all while holding serve on the defensive side of the ball - the same unit that provided such a dramatic turnaround in 2013. In fact, for the first time in decades, the Huskies sport legitimate All-Pac 12 first team worthy line of scrimmage players in Hau'oli Kikaha, Danny Shelton and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
For Husky fans who were looking for this season to be a "turnaround" in terms of sporting a legitimate and dangerous team, they got it. And they got it in spades. The records, the stats and the eye-ball test all testify to it.
But, the other side of the argument has a point of view that cannot be dismissed. To them, the presence of Pac-12 worthy athletes able to contribute at a high-level was a given coming into the season. To them, the idea was to actually improve where it matters - in the standings. This meant that the starting points were both the 2-1 out of conference and 5-4 Pac 12 win-loss records. The fact that the rest of the conference was improving was irrelevant - that is the price of playing in a big-boy conference. Improvement within your own ranks that does not keep pace with the improvement of the conference is nothing more than a moral victory. To really improve, the team had to meet the minimum standards of winning the games that you should win, improving on your overall win-loss records and demonstrate that "you belong" against every opponent you face. On one dimension, that was achieved as the Huskies went undefeated in their out of conference schedule for the first time since 2000. However, 5-4 in the Pac matched exactly last year's record and the prospect of a trip to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl isn't exactly what the plan was going into this season. An examination of the things holding the team back reveals areas of particular frustration including dispiriting penalties, continued road struggles, an obvious gap in the development of the offensive line and unspeakable kickoff coverage and return capabilities. The achievement of the best regular season record since 2001 really can't cover up these flaws, at least from the perspective of those who hold this view.
These are legitimate reasons for disappointment. When you remove the argument as to whether or not the coach should be removed, it is, in fact, quite easy to understand this point of view.
In the end, I do like the trajectory of this team. Sure, I would have loved to have beaten Stanford and, in fact, I had projected one additional regular season when I had done the Gekko File Previews at the beginning of the season. Like you all, I'm also direly frustrated with the Oregon losing streak and the blow-out at ASU (which I was present for). But, I leave the regular season amazed at the performance of our offense and heartened by the fact that we put up top-of-the-conference level units on both sides of the ball for the first time since even before our last Rose Bowl season. If you don't see it the same way, I get it. And I hope that we kick the crap out of whomever we get in the post-season to help get you through this contretemps of the season.