As Bears and Huskies prepare for Friday night game, both sides say there are no hard feelings from Cal's ace recruiter jumping to UW last January.
Time not only heals all wounds but also can mute all story lines.
In January, when Washington lured California assistants Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau away from Berkeley, many pointed to UW’s visit there this year as one of the most anticipated of the Pac-12 season. The game, which marks the return of those coaches to their former home, was picked by ESPN2 last spring for a national Friday night broadcast (it kicks off at 6 p.m.).
Nine months later, though, the buzz has diminished. At Cal (3-6), most of the discussion centers on the future of coach Jeff Tedford. Washington (4-4) is mostly worried about finally getting an elusive road win.
And if you thought any of the central parties might liven things up with some incendiary quotes this week, think again. Lupoi, whose move was the most controversial, spoke to reporters Tuesday and mostly turned all questions about his time at Cal and his switch to UW back to the game itself.
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Lupoi, along with being a defensive-line coach, is also considered one of the top recruiters in the Pac-12, if not all of college football. Lupoi’s recruiting acumen, and what it meant for the recruiting classes of both UW and Cal, is why his move was so widely discussed when it was announced Jan. 16, less than three weeks before signing day.
Cal fans accused the Huskies of all manner of chicanery, vitriol on social media, and that only increased when one of the West Coast’s top recruits, safety Shaq Thompson, announced two days before letter-of-intent day that he would sign with UW instead of Cal. Thompson had publicly committed to the Bears in January.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian said this week he was merely doing what was best for Washington. He remade his defensive coaching staff after the firing of coordinator Nick Holt and two other assistants following the 2011 season. Sarkisian hired Kiesau as offensive coordinator after Doug Nussmeier left after the season for Alabama.
“My job and my obligation is to do what’s best for this university and for this athletic department and this football program, and do it with good ethics and within the guidelines set by the NCAA,” Sarkisian said. “No coach ever likes to get the phone call, because I get them, too, when somebody says they want to talk to one of your coaches that you think is a really good coach. But you understand that it is part of the profession, and you do everything in your power to keep them, if you want to keep them. And if you are on the other side, you do everything that is within your feasible power to get them on board. That’s just the way it works.”
Cal’s Tedford said Tuesday he has “no ill feelings” toward Lupoi or Kiesau and that such decisions are part of the profession.
He told The Seattle Times in July that he did not have “any resentment toward Sark or anything like that. Coaches move on all the time, so that’s not a big deal.”
Lupoi reportedly made $164,000 at Cal, where he played from 2000-05 before becoming a graduate assistant under Tedford and then a full-time assistant. Lupoi got a three-year guaranteed deal at UW that pays him $350,000 per year, along with a one-time payment of $100,000 as well as another $100,000 if he stays through the end of the contract on Feb. 6, 2015.
Tedford said in July his only issues are that Lupoi initially turned down the Huskies’ job and indicated he was staying and “the timing was a little bit awkward” so close to signing day.
Lupoi said he hadn’t thought about the reaction he might get from Cal fans and never paid attention to reaction to his move.
“For me it was a decision and then moving on,” he said. “So I never look into blogs or papers. I might hear things here and there from family or whatever, but I really don’t tap in or read into media sources or stuff, so I don’t know how much of a big deal it was, to tell you the truth. It was move on and get focused on what I needed to do here.”
As for this week, Tedford doesn’t think there are any “grudges” at Cal.
Sarkisian agreed that the coaching drama of January wouldn’t matter Friday.
“Those guys don’t want this to be about them, believe me,” he said. “It’s about the football team and the journey that we are on this season and what we need to get done this week to be successful.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org