New Washington coach Steve Sarkisian signed 18 players on Wednesday, and says he's looking forward to fighting future recruiting battles on an even playing field.
For all the hype and histrionics, all the verve and violations, the first Steve Sarkisian recruiting class turned out as basic as anticipated. He and his coaches hustled, scrounged up the best talent they could, and the Washington football program is neither significantly better nor worse.
The Huskies remain in serious but stable condition.
Considering the 0-12 burden the new staff inherited, finding 18 athletes willing to fax in letters of intent probably counts as a mini-victory. But don’t expect the Sark-proclaimed best coaching staff in America to take a champagne shower over this one.
“We were a ‘C,’ ” Sarkisian said. “We were average. We should be better.”
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Of course, that statement led to The Question:
Yeah, about getting better … those recruiting violations, Sark?
He fidgeted for the first time as the Huskies coach. He called the three minor incidents “misunderstandings,” vowed to be smarter next time and said he didn’t want to discuss it further. And 20 minutes later, when prodded again, he discussed it further.
“I want to make it clear that this wasn’t about us trying to push the envelope or anything like that,” Sarkisian said.
He thought the fog machine wouldn’t be a violation because the Huskies don’t use it as part of their game-day experience. Of the other violations, which came about because a reporter and underclassman football player were around during a recruiting visit in Los Angeles, Sarkisian said he told them “that we wouldn’t speak with them. It turned out that wasn’t good enough.”
He shrugged. He looked like a man who despised the perception that he’s shady.
His explanations were good enough for me to excuse the mistakes. He doesn’t sound like a man trying to con the system. As long as Sarkisian learns from this experience, stays off the NCAA watch list and rebuilds the program, the minor infractions will be nothing more than fodder for future ribbing.
It was good for Sarkisian to be humbled early, if only as a reminder of the challenge ahead. If he thought recruiting with a staff that had been together less than a month was challenging, just wait until spring practice when he must reprogram a winless team.
The best recruiting job these coaches can do in 2009 will be recruiting the current players — a talented yet unsuccessful bunch — to believe in their system. We’ve focused on the incoming class so much in recent weeks, but let’s not forget the Huskies have 41 sophomores or redshirt freshmen already on the roster to mold. That number climbs to 43 if you include two 2008 signees who sat out last fall, running back Demetrius Bronson (academic reasons) and cornerback Anthony Gobern (delayed enrolling after a shoulder injury).
Add this 18-man class to the mix, and the Huskies could have 61 raw players on the roster if all players qualify academically. Although many of those sophomores played big roles as freshmen, that’s still a lot of teaching for the new staff.
But at least the Huskies aren’t really playing catch-up anymore. Now it’s all about developing players and recruiting for 2010 in a fair fight.
“The key now is we’re in a 12-round bout with both fighters jumping out of the locker room at the same time,” Sarkisian said of recruiting. “That’s what we face now instead of coming in during the eighth round, and we’ve already been knocked down twice.”
Sarkisian estimated the Huskies have already made about 20 offers to players in the next class. They’re selling hope and selling it well, and if they can add success to the mix, future recruiting classes will pack much more buzz.
“The only thing we don’t have is a record,” Sarkisian said. “We’re a 0-0 coaching staff.”
They’re not sinking. They’re not rising — yet. They’re just floating, which is progress, waiting eagerly for the chance to really show their worth.
So in this case, that “C” grade stands for chill. Patience is the order.
Or, in language that an ex-Trojan might comprehend: Rome wasn’t built in a recruiting class.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org