Oct. 10, 2011
NOTE: The 520 bridge will close in both directions at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday (after the UW-Colorado game).
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Before Steve Sarkisian got fully back into another game week preparing his Huskies for Colorado, he fondly remembered what he still calls the most unique experience of my life.
"There is no manual to get ready for an interview with Al Davis," Washington's 37-year-old coach said of his three different interviews over 11 days in early 2007 with the former assistant coach, coach, AFL commissioner and Oakland Raiders owner. "You cover everything from A to Z in an interview. But you never go A to Z.
"It might go Q. Then K. Then A. Then X. Then L. It's all over the place. And I think that's what makes him unique. I think he had a unique way of seeing who you are as a person."
Sarkisian was speaking Monday, two days after the 82-year-old Davis passed away in Oakland. The Raiders' long-time managing general partner was a football pioneer and innovator for the last half century, starting in the old American Football League.
Sarkisian said - and sources with the Raiders confirmed on Monday - that Davis offered Sarkisian, then the 32-year-old offensive coordinator at USC, Oakland's head job in January 2007. Sarkisian declined that offer, and five days later Davis made Lane Kiffin the Raiders' coach.
"The most unique experience of my life," Sarkisian said of his series of interviews with Davis, who was essentially his own general manager and team president. Davis had final say on all things the Raiders did, including the players they signed and drafted, essentially until his passing.
"And I really appreciated that interview, because I found out a lot about myself and what was important. But also, you prepare even harder, for whatever reason," Sarkisian said. "You knew you were going to sit in front of Al Davis for six, eight hours, however long that would be. Not to demean anyone else, but it was Al Davis. So you wanted to put your best foot forward. And I appreciated just his presence and him allowing me to do that."
Sarkisian said one of his sessions lasted up to eight hours. It included X's and O's work for "hours, hours" at a dry-erase board.
Despite all his preparations, the young mind didn't anticipate the all-encompassing Davis asking him one question in particular: "What would be the pregame meal?"
"Quite honestly," Sarkisian said with a chuckle Monday. "And that was one of the first ones.
"But I came up with a pretty good answer: Chicken parm."
Sarkisian is among a select few current college head coaches to interview with Davis for the Raiders' head-coaching job. Others are Bobby Petrino at Arkansas and Kiffin, who is now leading USC after a brief stint in Oakland.
Sarkisian had been the quarterbacks coach at USC before Davis hired him in 2004 to have the same title with the Raiders under new head man Norv Turner.
It was a challenging, almost thankless task. Turner and his staff had just replaced that of Bill Callahan, who had gone down hard in what essentially became a 4-12 season and a player mutiny in 2003, months after the Raiders were routed by Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl. Oakland's veterans were still drifting. Rich Gannon was entering what would be his final NFL season as the Raiders' starter, two seasons removed from being the NFL's MVP. He was seven years older than his new quarterbacks coach, about whom Gannon knew little, if anything.
Gannon lasted just three games before he sustained a neck injury that effectively ended his career. Kerry Collins, then just a few months younger than Sarkisian, took over. It was, like Sarkisian, his first season in Oakland, and he threw 20 interceptions in 13 games. The Raiders went 5-11.
Looking back now, it's little wonder Sarkisian stayed in Oakland for just one season. Pete Carroll hired him back to USC to be the Trojans' offensive coordinator from 2005 until Sarkisian came to the Huskies as a first-time head man in January 2009.
He's found a thriving home here in Seattle, going 16-14 leading a UW program that finished 0-12 weeks before he arrived. He's one of a half dozen major college coaches in the last half century to lead a team to a bowl win within two seasons of being winless.
And he got the Huskies off to 4-1 start, their best since 2006, and 2-0 in the Pac-12 North entering Saturday's return from a bye week against Colorado (1-5, 0-2). Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. at Husky Stadium (ROOT Sports television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another live game chat and streaming audio).
Sarkisian was born and raised in the Los Angeles area, at the time when Davis had fought the NFL, moved the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles and won a Super Bowl. As a kid in suburban Torrance, 20 minutes from the Raiders' practice facility in El Segundo, Sarkisian was a fan of Marcus Allen, Bo Jackson, Jay Schroeder, Howie Long, Lyle Alzado - "I could go on and on," he said.
So he did a lot of soul searching before he turned down Davis in 2007.
"Sure. Sure. Being a head coach in the National Football League, there are only 32 of them in the world. In a lot of ways, that's the pinnacle of our profession," Sarkisian said. "So when you have to make those tough decisions, you have to look at them all individually and take the face off of it, and take the jerseys off of it.
"When the opportunity came, I had to try to remove the emotion of I-get-to-go-coach-the-Oakland-Raiders to, `Is this the best thing for myself, for my family and for our careers as we move forward?'
"And I just didn't feel like it was the right time to be taking that job."
The Huskies are sure glad of that.
QUICK HITS: QB Keith Price smiled - what else is new? - upon his return from his bye week of rest and declared his previous knees feel as good as they have all season. The ankle he sprained while throwing three touchdown passes against Utah Oct. 1 is not fully healed, but he and Sarkisian say the sophomore with 17 TD throws through five games will start again Saturday. Price ran the first-team offense through a hour-plus practice, and the coach thought it was as well as the quarterback has moved all season. ... Sarkisian said WR Kasen Williams will be limited much of this week by the ankle he sprained at Utah, and that it is iffy whether the freshman will play against Colorado. ... TB Jesse Callier (hamstring) and OLB John Timu also practiced and should be ready Saturday. Timu was the clear starter before he got hurt in a scary collision against California Sept. 24. Now he's likely to rotate with Jamaal Kearse, who has made big plays while filling in for Timu.