Two Sundays ago, noticing my cell phone battery was low, I walked over the little table in our house where Android and Apple devices make daily stops to refuel. I popped the charger into my S4 and set it down. At the very same moment, my wife's phone buzzed and chimed with the delivery of a new message. I saw the little preview - you know, the pop-up with just the first few words of the text. Yes, I'm nosy; I read it. It's hard not to; it's in plain sight after all. I respect her privacy, but it's right there. I can't un-see it.
The text was from one of her friends. It began: "Antonin Sclalia is DEAD!!. I have never been happier..." That's all I got; but based on that opener, the sentiment couldn't really go a lot of different directions. I knew very little about Justice Scalia other than what most of us know: he was conservative, outspoken, and quite controversial. Regardless, I can't fathom being so partisan in your political views that you would wish a man dead, much less celebrate it. Nine children and 30-some grandkids are somewhere sobbing, dealing with the inexpressible pain of suddenly losing a hero. Meanwhile, I stand in my hallway, shocked and disturbed by the sickening, morbid use of all caps and double exclamation points. Too much. Too far. Way too far.
I'm not sure how I feel about propensities to 'hate' people we don't even know. I'm guilty. I 'hate' Cam Newton. My dad 'hates' President Obama. Plenty of Husky fans 'hate' Steve Sarkisian. Or at least they did. We hated him for what he did. Bolting on us. Leaving for one of our rivals. Passing over a chance to further build the Washington program for the opportunity to take his ‘dream job.' Yeah, pretty much for being a cocky, motivated traitor. I know I said things like.. "You know what, now that he's gone I never really liked him anyway." But would I ever go 'too far' if something happened to Steve Sarkisian the man?
The game was circled on the schedule. The chance for revenge would present itself on October 8th in front of a Thursday night national TV audience. Led by our new coach, UW would face Sark and his mighty USC team as 17-point underdogs. I wanted to beat him, maybe even humiliate him. He would be cocky, with that smug and determined look on his face. What if we could shut him up? Oh, man; how sweet that would be?
Then it happened. 17-12, UW beat their former coach in his home stadium as the nation watched him fume and curse out his players. He made bad decisions and cocky playcalls. It happened. Just the way I'd dreamed of. Our new coach gets his first signature win over our old coach. Good Riddance, Sark. I took to Instagram; to Twitter. I made jokes. The bad kind. How he was drowning his sorrows. Memes of flowing scotch whiskey. I dropped all caps, maybe even doubled a few exclamation points.
I was grinning ear to ear all weekend, partly out of joy for a big win, partly at his expense. Then I found out this: it was real. Sark had a serious alcohol problem. Up until now they had just been rumors; ridiculous amounts of booze purchased and consumed at staff meetings, having a few too many before a booster event. So many rumors. But rumors are just rumors. It got real when he showed up to a USC team meeting three days later, presumed drunk. He was put on hiatus. Days later, he was fired. It all happened so fast.
Now we're no longer talking about a coach who left us for greener pastures. We're talking about a man; a man with a family. One of our own. I'm proud of my fellow UW fans. Because the jokes stopped and the celebration ceased. There would be no dancing on his figurative grave, the way my wife's friend had danced on Justice Scalia's.
When we get new information about an event or series of events, we quickly process it. We do this as a continuous sequence from perception, to labeling, and finally, meaning. My gut reaction was sorrow for the man and his family. The petty anger? Gone. Then embarrassment set in. Shame on me for making light of such a serious situation. As I continued piecing together the downward spiral that led to Sark's dismissal, I reflected on what he'd done for the Washington program. I remembered the good. And there was plenty.
Sark inherited that 0-12 team from 2008 and quickly made them respectable. I can't say I always loved Steve the guy. The clichés and his often surly sideline demeanor sometimes rubbed me the wrong way. But he was our coach, and I believe he did care about building character in young men. Most important to Husky fans was that the team was getting better. His last season in 2013, the Dawgs won 9 games - the most since 2000 - and finished ranked #25 in the AP poll. -Edit: (actually not really an edit.. just pointing out that I said "The Dawgs won 9 games" Not "Sark won 9 games"-
More 15 in '15 Story Lines
More 15 in '15 Story Lines
From a pure coaching standpoint, no doubt my favorite thing about Sarkisian was his skill as a playcaller. The way he set up plays to use later in the game. He saw the full four quarters ahead. He saw the full season ahead. He knew the tendencies of his rival coaches. He knew how they would react to formations that had been put on film. He loved to sneak Chris Polk in as a fullback on key short-yardage plays with a decoy tailback behind him. Then just when he knew Jeff Tedford would have that play well-scouted in the 2012 Cal game, a fake to the fullback and the 'obvious' decoy Jermaine Kearse gets the pitch outside for the first down while the entire defense drags down the empty-handed Polk.
Great coach? Yes, I really do think so. Perfect? No. But a great motivator, a solid recruiter, and as passionate a leader as you will find. My 'hate' for him would have slowly subsided once the bitterness faded, but it would have taken a while. But when Steve the man headed for rock bottom, I put that all aside. Husky Nation put that aside. Sarkisian only coached UW for five seasons, but I saw so many comments along the lines of "Once a Husky, always a Husky. Get better Sark."
It seems every fan base thinks they are classy. Yeah, I know...as Huskies, we tease Cougs. We throw shade on Ducks. We boo Bruins and Beavers. We surely would have booed Sark in his first return to Husky Stadium. But now, if he ever makes it back, Husky fans will cheer him. I will, no matter how he left UW, and despite the ugliness of his breakup with USC. Because we sympathize with the man. We may pout and act resentfully, but we love our own, even when they leave. And we have the sense and class to know when things are bigger than sports.
Get better, Coach Sark, and thank you for beginning the rebuild of the Washington football program.
One more thing: Stay classy, Montlake.