Steve Sarkisian was named head coach at Washington this morning. Sarkisian was previously an assistant coach at USC.
Two days after the conclusion of the worst season in the 119-year history of Washington football, the school started over today with the introduction of Steve Sarkisian as the team’s new coach.
The 34-year-old made his public debut at a 9:30 a.m. news conference in the Don James Center at Husky Stadium. Sarkisian replaces Tyrone Willingham, who was fired Oct. 27 with the Huskies en route to an 0-12 season and an 11-37 record in four seasons.
Sarkisian referred to the Huskies’ winning history and his desire to return to that tradition.
“It’s the year 2008, it’s about time to get back to the Rose Bowl, to Pac-10 championships, competing for a national championship, that’s our goal, no question,” Sarkisian said. “I can’t wait to get this thing going.”
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The decision to hire Sarkisian was made late last week and news leaked on Thursday night, catching many observers by surprise.
Some had thought the Huskies might go after a sitting head coach to rebuild a team that has won just 12 games in five years — or as many as it won during its 1991 national title season.
But UW athletic director Scott Woodward was impressed by Sarkisian’s energy and enthusiasm during a Thanksgiving Day interview and ultimately sided with youth over experience. Fresno State’s Pat Hill and Texas Tech’s Mike Leach also were known to have interviewed for the job and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and Seahawks coach-in-waiting Jim Mora also were approached before declining overtures.
“Two words just stuck out: winner and passion,” Woodward said. “Those were the ones that were just overarching in my mind. I just kept coming back to it. He’s been a winner everywhere he’s been, every step of his life, and he’s done it with hard work and by being tough. And I think that’s what Husky football is all about, and it just kept coming back to that.”
Sarkisian received loud applause when he told the crowd — the news conference was open to the public — he wanted to open up practices to fans, boosters and media. That’s a contrast to Willingham, who put severe limits on access. Washington president Mark Emmert said that openness was one of Sarkisian’s many attractive qualities.
“First of all, you have to have the right personality to work with these young men, to be their teacher, their coach, their mentor,” Emmert said. “And that, to me, naturally involves having a lot of energy and bringing that back into the program. And then to have someone that will embrace the rest of the community is terribly important. We’ve got lots of fans, lots of supporters, students and former ballplayers who want to be back engaged with Husky football, and we’re going to get that now and I think that’s a very, very positive attribute that Steve brings with him.”
Sarkisian described his interest in the job as a “no-brainer,” recalling his childhood in Southern California when he watched the Huskies winning games and playing in bowl games.
“I did everything in my power to get this job,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian has yet to sign a full contract, but has signed a “memorandum of understanding offer.” The agreement calls for him to be paid $1.75 million in 2009, $1.85 million in 2010, $2 million in 2011, $2.1 million in 2012 and $2.3 million in 2013.
He has possible on-field incentives each year of up to $1.25 million, including $500,000 for winning the national championship. He also has incentives related to academic performance that can reach up to $250,000 a year.
Sarkisian’s buyout for accepting another job is $3 million the first year and decreases to $1.5 million by year five. If he is fired at any time during the contract, he will receive 60 percent of the guaranteed total compensation that is remaining on the contract up to 24 months.
Sarkisian has been an assistant at USC for all but one season since 2001 — in 2004 he was the quarterbacks coach of the Oakland Raiders.
Sarkisian said he will assume play-calling duties for the Huskies. He talked about UW quarterback Jake Locker, and said his plan was to have Locker be “a quarterback, not a runner.”
Sarkisian said the Huskies needed to have more speed, particularly on defense, and said he would recruit players who are tough, mentally and physically.
“We’re going to get kids who know how to compete, not only on the football field but in the classroom … who want to come in here and be winners,” he said.
Sarkisian met with UW players this morning, and said he told them they all have “a clean slate … a new beginning.”
Locker came away impressed.
“I really enjoyed getting to meet him,” Locker said. “He seemed like a really enthusiastic, energetic guy. I think he’ll bring a lot of excitement to our program. I think he’ll surround us with coaches that are similar in coaching style to that. I think it will raise the energy and excitement of the players. I was very pleased with him and I think he’ll be able to bring a lot to this football team.”
Sarkisian said he hoped to hire a staff of assistant coaches who were “young, energetic recruiters” and still hopes to have a solid recruiting year, despite the late start.
With USC, Sarkisian worked closely with Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who has turned USC into the most dominant program in Pac-10 history, winning at least a share of every conference title since 2002, including this season.
“I owe him dearly,” Sarkisian said of Carroll, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go out and beat him in the third game of [next] season.”
Sarkisian played quarterback at BYU in 1995 and 1996, losing a game at Husky Stadium in 1996 as a senior, the only defeat in a 14-1 season for the Cougars.
He recalled that game, including eight sacks, and a trip after the game to a hospital for an MRI on his knee.
“I know what kind of place this can be, what kind of building this can be,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got to get that back.”
Sarkisian played three years professionally in Canada, then turned to coaching and was hired at USC as part of Carroll’s new staff in 2001.
He was an offensive assistant in 2001, quarterbacks coach in 2002-03, then named assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach when he returned in 2005, adding the duties of offensive coordinator in 2007.
He is married to Stephanie and the couple has three children — daughter Ashley, 6; son Brady, 3; and Taylor, a newborn.
He is the 23rd coach in Huskies history.