Is UW Football Poised To Crumble?

Originally published December 2nd, 2013

Just think, three weeks ago fans at the University of Washington wanted Steve Sarkisian fired after a blowout loss to UCLA.  The general consensus was that Coach Sark was coaching for his job the final two weeks of the season.   After a blowout win against Oregon State, and a solid victory over Washington State, everyone assumed that Sark’s job was safe, so he did what any good coach would do:  He quit.  I’m not the only one that sees the irony in that, right?

Sports radio and social media are on fire after the news, but it’s the overall response that’s really surprising:  “Good riddance.”  Really?  I’ve never seen a fan-base so happy to see their head coach leave for another team in their own conference.  Yes, USC is in the Pac 12 South, but when it comes to the Rose Bowl, all roads go through the Pac 12 Championship Game.  Can fans really be that happy to see their coach leave, or is this the jilted boyfriend saying “She was ugly anyway.”  Yes UW, there are plenty of “fish” in the sea, but what makes you so sure you’ll have the right bait to attract them?

Brace yourselves.   UW is not an elite program.  That’s OK, my Cougs aren’t either.  Everyone is so quick to label their school as “elite” because they have a cool stadium or updated facilities, but let’s be honest, elite programs have Championships.  Multiple Championships, not just one that they shared.   (Calm down, I’m teasing, I thought UW deserved it too.)  Is Colorado an “elite” program?  They have a National Championship from 1990.  What about Georgia Tech, or Iowa?  At the end of the day, programs like UW and WSU aren’t elite – What they are comes down to one thing, how they play on the field.  Do updated facilities and a great atmosphere help?  Sure, but it doesn’t make them elite.

In a sport where timing can be everything, Sark’s timing couldn’t have been worse for the University of Washington.  There’s more at stake here than a Bowl victory.  It’s reputation, recruits, and one thing that so many people have neglected to mention, returning players.  It took 5 years for Sarkisian to get the team to 8 wins during the regular season, and it came from what was undoubtedly his most athletic and skilled team.  Keith Price is gone.  Sean Parker, a Captain on defense, is gone.  The Dawgs lose a total of 13 players, but it’s the two names that aren’t on that list that should worry them the most:  Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Bishop Sankey.  While both players are Juniors, what incentive is there for them to stay?  Both players are coming off good years, Sankey a great year, and both would be certain draft picks.  Do they stay for another year under a new coach, potentially a new system, and with a new quarterback?  The better question isn’t do they stay, it’s why should they stay?  If both Seferian-Jenkins and Sankey leave early, the core nucleus of your offense is gone.  So where does that leave you?   Crumbling.

Who’s going to come in and inherit a team in potential turmoil?  Chris Peterson?  Peterson has turned down every team that’s come his way, including USC. (Which means that Sark wasn’t their first choice.)  Jim Mora?  Mora has been killing it at UCLA.  He’s truly turned the tide and created a toughness that program hasn’t seen in forever.   He’s doing a great job there, but why would he want to leave?  I’d argue that he has a better chance of making the Rose Bowl in a Pac 12 South that doesn’t include Oregon and Stanford.  “But UW is his dream job!”  Could it happen?  Absolutely.   Do I hope that Mora stays in UCLA?  Absolutely. Gary Pinkel?  Justin Wilcox?  It’s been interesting to hear the push for Wilcox, this was the same Defensive Coordinator that got blown out by Oregon, Arizona State, and UCLA, right?  This whole coaching search doesn’t even touch on what happens if Sark goes and takes the majority of his staff with him – Then they’ll really be screwed.

Timing is everything.  How do you recruit players when your coach leaves you for a rival?  “Tell me again why I would want to come to your school when your coach didn’t want to stay?”  We have a new facility!  “So does _________.”  We have a new stadium!  “So does ___________.”  We have a National Championship… from 1991.  “Alabama has 3 in 5 years, Florida and LSU each have 2 in the last 10 years.”  But, but… we’re elite!

I know many of you at this point are saying “Yeah, but you’re a Cougar.”  It’s all jealousy, right?  You’re right, I wish that my program had done better the last ten years.  This article isn’t about “measuring dicks”, but let’s examine something for a minute.  You know who else has an overhauled stadium with new luxury boxes?  Washington State University.  You know who else has a new Football Operations building that’s set to open in 2014?   Washington State University.  The difference right now comes back around to timing, and right now WSU has a Coach.

At this point, the UW and WSU football programs look like two ships that are ready to move in opposite directions.  UW has peaked at 8-4, losing 3 of 4 conference games on the road.  A core of their team is either graduating or potentially jumping to the draft, and their coach just bailed on them to go to another team in their conference (that already has a better record).  WSU is coming off a second consecutive year of improvement, including winning 3 of 4 conference games on the road, and meeting Bowl eligibility for the first time since 2006.  Unlike UW, WSU football is stocked with youth and opportunity after Coach Leach turned over the majority of the team when he joined in 2012.

UW fans are in for an interesting year in 2014, which is where I wanted to end the article.  I don’t think UW fans have the patience for change right now, and that’s something that could have a negative impact on the team going forward.  I was at Saturday’s Apple Cup, and yes, I stayed until the final second even though it was clear we had lost.  But it was the Husky fans that really stood out.  The same fans that were booing Keith Price (heavily), and yelling at him to get off the field, were the same ones that were cheering him when he scampered in from 5 yards out in the 4th.  They were the same fans that came back ten minutes into the 3rd quarter, instead of being back at the start of the Half, and they were the same fans that were calling for Sark to be fired before two end of season wins.  UW isn’t Alabama, and they aren’t Auburn or LSU.  At their core, UW fans are just too “fair-weather” to be elite.  I would argue that same mentality exists in nearly every fan-base, including the Cougs, but unlike UW, WSU hasn’t been to 4 straight Bowl games.  Steve Sarkisian only managed to do one thing with UW:  Take them to their best 5 consecutive years since 2001, then quit.  I guess it could be worse, he could have posted a 67% winning percentage including 4 straight Bowls and been fired, but then his name would have been Rick Neuheisel.  Because good is never enough for UW…  After all, they’re elite.  Just ask them.

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