Huskies cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin is off to UCLA and the players he helped recruit are trying to regroup.
The Washington Huskies returned to the practice field Thursday, beginning in earnest their preparation for their Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl date with Baylor.
They did so without cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin, who on Wednesday left to take a similar position at UCLA.
With Baylor boasting the No. 5 passing offense in the country and the Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Robert Griffin III, the timing of losing a defensive assistant is hardly ideal.
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It was more the emotional punch of losing a trusted mentor and friend that UW players were still grappling with on Thursday, however.
“Guys’ minds are everywhere, especially a lot of the younger guys,” said junior cornerback Desmond Trufant. “A lot of those guys came here because of him.”
So, in a way, did Trufant. A third-year junior from Wilson High in Tacoma, he was heavily considering Washington in the fall of 2008, then became one of the first players to commit to UW after Steve Sarkisian became coach in December 2008. Martin was one of Sarkisian’s first hires and helped recruit Trufant.
For most of the cornerbacks, Martin is the only coach they’ve known. And with UW’s staff intact since February 2009, Martin’s departure is the first experience any of the players who have signed with Washington since Sarkisian arrived have had with one of the harsher realities of the game.
“The position coach is who you are with 90 percent, 95 percent of the time, and you are just building that relationship,” Trufant said. “He gave me that foundation of what I have been able to do here and for the success that I’ve had — it was because of him and what he’s taught me. And just to see him go, it hurts. But like I said, it’s the business side, so we’ve just got to move on and continue to get better.”
The change happened quickly. Martin coached at UW’s practice Sunday, handled some recruiting duties the next few days, then was officially hired by UCLA on Wednesday, one of the first additions to the staff of new Bruins coach Jim Mora, a former Washington player and neighbor of Sarkisian’s.
Sarkisian, though, reiterated that he has no hard feelings.
“That’s the profession we’re in right now,” he said. “I’m not shocked by it, by guys moving on. Believe me, I’m the first to know. I’ve bounced around enough as an assistant, and as you’re trying to move your way up this ladder of the coaching profession, so I understand it.”
Sarkisian said there was no thought to having Martin stay on through the bowl. Sarkisian continued to work for USC through the 2009 Rose Bowl after taking the head coaching job at UW, but said the situations weren’t necessarily comparable.
“I’ve been there as a coach, and having to do that, when I obviously took this job, and I think it can be difficult,” he said. “It can be challenging. We’re in a little bit different of a situation than I was then, when I was a coordinator moving on to be a head coach. When you make a lateral move like that, I think at times, I don’t know if there’s a sense of animosity, but it can just be uncomfortable. So I think it was best for him, and probably best for us, to do it now.”
That, though, leaves UW down a coach for the next two weeks — per NCAA rules, teams can have nine full-time assistants along with a head coach.
Safeties coach Jeff Mills will take over official duties for the entire secondary, but Sarkisian said graduate assistant Donte Williams — who had been working with the linebackers — will also help out.
“We’ll be OK,” Sarkisian said, adding that there is no rush — and no real timetable — for finding a replacement. “More important than making a quick decision is making a great decision, and finding a quality replacement.”
Trufant, though, said the shock was still evident a day later.
“I wasn’t too happy about it, especially when you are with a coach for that long and develop a friendship,” he said, adding he found out through the media and other coaches.
Martin was known not only for his recruiting prowess in his native Southern California — returning home was a key reason for his departure — but also for his enthusiasm in practice.
“It was definitely different not having him around,” Trufant said. “We just have to continue to prepare and get ready for the game. … There might be some different things because it’s not the same coach. Coach (Williams) is going to want to do some different things. We are going to have to follow him and listen to him and he’s going to lead us in the right direction.”
• Washington quarterback Keith Price, battling injuries to both knees all season, said he is feeling better after having largely rested since the Apple Cup on Nov. 26. He did not practice much in the workouts UW held the past two weeks. “I’m not 100 percent, but I got a lot better,” he said. Asked if he’d be 100 percent by the bowl game he said: “Hopefully. We’ll see. I’m just able to move around a lot better. In a couple weeks, I’ll probably be able to sprint into the end zone.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta