December 5, 2008

Huskies go with youth, pick USC's Sarkisian

Huskies go with youth, pick USC's Sarkisian
The Huskies are expected to make it official at a news conference on Sunday, said a well-placed source. And they had hoped that the news would wait until then.

By Bob Condotta

Seattle Times staff reporter

Steve Sarkisian's fiery style could be good for Washington
Steve Sarkisian

USC assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and QBs coach
Age: 34

Personal: Married, father of three

At USC: He has had several coaching roles with the Trojans. He started as an offensive assistant in 2001, left briefly for a job at San Diego State, and then returned to USC to coach the quarterbacks in the 2002 and 2003 seasons. He was back again in 2005 as QBs coach and became offensive coordinator in 2007. During his tenure, quarterback John David Booty led the league in pass efficiency and total offense.

This season: USC is 10-1, with its last game Saturday at UCLA. The Trojans are second in the Pac-10 in offensive scoring and total offense, averaging 38.4 points and 450.8 yards, and have the conference's highest pass efficiency rating at 159.8.

Other coaching jobs: He started his career as QBs coach for El Camino Junior College and held the same role with the Oakland Raiders in 2004.

As a player: At BYU, he earned a 162.0 pass efficiency rating in the 1995-96 seasons. He began his college career as a USC baseball player and played sports at West Torrance (Calif.) High School.

Source: Sports information reports
Steve Sarkisian and the Washington Huskies wanted to wait a few more days to make their marriage official.

But a search that began Oct. 27 when it was announced that Tyrone Willingham would not be back next season culminated Thursday when the Huskies decided to offer their head football coaching position to Sarkisian, an assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at USC.

The Huskies may make it official at a news conference on Sunday, said a well-placed source. And they had hoped that the news would wait until then.

An ESPN report broke the news about 6:30 p.m. Neither Sarkisian nor Washington athletic director Scott Woodward would confirm the report when talking later with reporters.

But a former player, who had spoken with a UW official, said the report was merely a little early and that both sides had hoped to wait until each team completed its season — USC plays UCLA Saturday in a game the Trojans need to win to take the Pac-10 title.

"It wasn't supposed to get out yet," the former player said.

Woodward seemed to confirm that in his meeting with reporters when he would not confirm or deny the report but merely said he wasn't ready yet to discuss it.

"We will not talk about it until we are ready to talk about it," Woodward said.

Sarkisian denied he had accepted the offer, but an L.A. source said that appears to be a formality. Sarkisian apparently told the Huskies he did not want to do anything official until after the UCLA game.

"I have interviewed with Washington," Sarkisian told reporters in Los Angeles. "They've interviewed a lot of people. I'm one of a number of candidates, which I'm honored to be. Nothing is finalized in any way, shape or form."

Several sources attending UW's basketball game against Oklahoma State on Thursday night, however, confirmed that the Huskies had decided on Sarkisian.

Another person with knowledge of the search said that the 34-year-old Sarkisian had blown away Woodward during his interview last week with his energy and enthusiasm. Sarkisian reportedly had at least one other conversation with UW officials.

Ultimately, Woodward decided to go with a young, fresh face to rebuild a UW program that has lost its past 13 games.

One person close to the search pointed out that Oklahoma, coached by Bob Stoops, and Georgia, with Mark Richt, have struck gold in recent years by taking a chance on coordinators with no previous head-coaching experience.

Sarkisian on Thursday confirmed that he thought his Thanksgiving Day interview was favorable.

"The interview went well, learning about each other," he said. "I've always been patient regarding head-coaching opportunities. I assess each separately. They interview me, and I assess the job as well, like I did with the Oakland [Raiders] job. It's a process. Neither party wants to rush into it."

Sarkisian has been coaching since 2000 after a three-year career as a quarterback in the Canadian Football League. He was a standout QB for two years at Brigham Young University in 1995-96, the latter year leading the Cougars to a 14-1 record, the only defeat coming at Husky Stadium.

He has been a coach at USC since 2001 for every season except 2004, when he was the Raiders' quarterbacks coach. He was a candidate to become their head coach in 2007 but turned them down. Sarkisian was also thought to be a candidate last season for the head coaching job at Michigan.

Washington players attending the basketball game said they had not been told officially of the hire. But several said they were excited by the news.

"He's very offensive-minded," said UW receiver Alvin Logan.

Another noted that "they put 56 on us this year," referring to USC's 56-0 win over UW on Nov. 1.

In choosing Sarkisian, the Huskies bypassed some more experienced coaches who had expressed significant interest — Fresno State's Pat Hill and Texas Tech's Mike Leach. The Huskies are also thought to have talked with Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, who announced earlier in the week he would stay put, as well as Notre Dame offensive coordinator Michael Haywood.

Sources also said UW had informal conversations with Seahawks coach-in-waiting and fan favorite Jim Mora but that there was never a face-to-face meeting.

Hill interviewed for the job on Saturday and sources said he was prepared to take it. But he pulled out on Thursday after having set a deadline of Wednesday night to learn whether he would get the job.

Leach, meanwhile, had been rumored ready to fly to Seattle on Thursday for a second interview after having interviewed earlier in the week. But as noon approached, it was reported that Leach was still in Lubbock with an ESPN report later stating that he had withdrawn.

Sources said Leach's interview received a lukewarm appraisal from UW officials, who also apparently had some concerns about some of Leach's well-known "quirkiness." Leach also likely would have commanded a heavy salary — he is due to make $2.65 million at Texas Tech next season. Washington is thought ready to pay $2.5 million to $2.8 million per year, though it was unknown what Sarkisian's contract details would be.

Sarkisian is said to make about $750,000 a season and one source said it was unlikely he would agree to anything less than a five-year contract.

"There's not any way he wouldn't take it," one source said.

While it might have come a little earlier than the Huskies hoped, there was some symbolism in word leaking when it did.

About a half-hour before the news broke, Willingham walked through Hec Edmundson Pavilion carrying a few bags over his shoulders, the contents of his locker, having just conducted his final Seattle practice as Washington's coach.

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