April 14, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
Unnerved by the "icing" and perhaps ignorant to the hip-hop music blaring through another Huskies spring practice, Folk finally drilled the kick between the black lines taped onto a white net representing goal posts inside the Dempsey indoor facility. His teammates on offense roared and mobbed him in a semi-mock celebration for his latest "game-winning" kick.
"Great stuff. Great stuff," Kevin Sumlin said, walking down the sideline and smiling at Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward.
Sumlin is the coach at the University of Houston. He is in town to speak at Steve Sarkisian's coach's clinic this weekend, at the invitation of his friend and fellow first-time college head coach. Thursday, he stopped by to see how the 37-year-old Sarkisian runs Huskies practices.
Sumlin, 46, came away so impressed with the fun, pulsating workout, his Cougars may soon be practicing the same way back in Texas.
"Love it," Sumlin said of UW's practice atmosphere. "We have music on Thursday at Houston, but I like it the whole time. That's something I was just talking about, I said, `Everyone will be happier because it will put me in a better mood, instead of me yelling all the time.'"
By now, in this third set of spring practices of Sarkisian's open UW regime, the Huskies are used to the eclectic mix of rap and rock. From April, through preseason camp in August all the way past the winter's Apple Cup, Jay Z thumps one series, Journey blares the next.
It's modeled after what Sarkisian's mentor, Pete Carroll, did while winning national championships at USC just before Sarkisian got to Washington.
But to the many visitors from all walks of life who attend each of the Dawgs' practices, it's still a refreshing way to conduct football business. So are drills such as the icing-the-kicker scenario Sarkisian had the Huskies do Thursday, to replicate what USC did to Folk before he kicked the game winner in Los Angeles last October.
"I like it. I like the energy. I like the tempo," Sumlin said after the Huskies' eighth practice of the spring. "That's why you come to this, basically, to see how other guys do this. You see the energy level of the coaches, of the players, the tempo, the different practice situations, you can tell the influence of Pete.
"Football is more than just running plays. It's situations, and how you as a team handle situations better than the other team. You've got to practice that."
Sarkisian is gathering ideas from Sumlin this week as much as he is giving them to the 2009 Conference USA coach of the year.
"I've always appreciated our talks - on every level," Sarkisian said. "To have the opportunity for him to be up here, one to speak at our clinic but two, to spend some time and share ideas on what they do and how they do things, it's just insightful.
"You know, we always do things to try to get better -- because if you are not getting better, you are getting worse."
Sarkisian also goes on the same road Sumlin is on now. Next week, Sarkisian will be at Portland State speaking at its coaches' clinic.
"That's part of our profession. There's a lot of that going on," Sarkisian said. "It's hard, because there has to be some give and take. You can't be all just take-take-take-take. There has to be some give. There's some strategy involved in who you are meeting with and why you are meeting with them and all that. But through it all, I just want to be around good people."
Some of those good people who have come to Seattle and visited with the Huskies' staff recently have included New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker, who discussed defensive principles, and Montana coach Robin Pflugrad, who talked offense.
"And obviously we have done quite a bit of stuff with the Seahawks," Sarkisian said of Seattle's NFL team Carroll now coaches.
"You are just always trying to get better ... maybe find one thing here, one tweak there that might make you better."
Sumlin has numerous ties to the Huskies' staff beyond Sarkisian. UW running backs coach Joel Thomas was a graduate assistant at Purdue during Sumlin's time as the Boilermakers' wide receivers coach from 1998-2000. Huskies offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was a star quarterback at Idaho and UW linebackers coach Mike Cox was an assistant with the Vandals in the early 1990s, when Sumlin was eight miles down the road finishing his first coaching job as a graduate assistant at Washington State. And Huskies line coach Dan Cozzetto was ending a stint on Idaho's staff when Sumlin started as a WSU assistant.
"I know all these guys." Sumlin said with a laugh, waving his hand across the field.
And now, thanks to Sarkisian, he knows a new way to have his guys practice back in Houston.