March 31, 2009
SEATTLE (AP) - Steve Sarkisian finally gets his chance on the field to revitalize a Washington program that has fallen a long way since Rick Neuheisel led the Huskies to their last Rose Bowl appearance in 2001.
Nearly four months after he was hired, the man charged with righting the Huskies' downtrodden program, which is coming off the worst season in school history, scheduled his first spring practice for Tuesday.
"When you're out there and you are doing winter conditioning or you're in the classroom or you're recruiting, this is why we're here," Sarkisian said Monday during the Huskies' spring luncheon. "We get to coach football."
Sarkisian, who was hired in early December, has already completed his first recruiting class and has supervised the last 10 weeks of offseason strength and conditioning drills.
Starting Tuesday afternoon, Sarkisian and his staff get to see the players in action. But unlike the curtain placed around the program by former coach Tyrone Willingham, the opposite is true with Sarkisian. The outgoing coach - who Twitters updates constantly and has his own blog now - is opening spring practices to media, fans, boosters and alumni.
"I want our kids used to performing in front of people. I want them used to having eyes on them. I want them feeling like people are watching them," Sarkisian said about his hopes for opening practice to the public.
"The last thing I want is for us to be enclosed and it's quiet and we're just out there with ourselves, then we show up to play LSU and there is 73,000 people here and our kids are looking in the stands saying, 'Oh my gosh, they're here to watch me. They're here to watch us.' Now they're worried about the stands and the people watching them instead of what's important and that's the game."
Sarkisian has been getting the team together at 6 a.m. for offseason workouts, a practice that has prompted some players to start sleeping in the locker room.
"If you have a 6 o'clock workout, the smart thing to do is sleep in the locker room," defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim said. "I've done it a lot. I know a lot of guys have."
Despite a miserable 0-12 season in 2008, Sarkisian is giving all his players a clean slate and letting them prove themselves on the field.
"To say that one kid is a starter and one kid isn't really isn't fair to those guys because we haven't coached them," Sarkisian said. "We haven't been on the field with them. So we try to make this as a statement to our football team that this truly is a clean slate. You are going to go out and earn your spot."
Spring practice culminates in the annual spring game on April 25 and Sarkisian said he realistically expects to get about 75 percent of his playbook installed by the end of practices.
"It should make for (a spring) where we grow as a football team, we grow as a staff, we grow as a program and a goal for us is that we're better at the 15th practice than we were in practice number one," Sarkisian said. "That's the challenge is that we get better progressively, as we move forward."
Notes: QB Jake Locker has fully recovered from a thumb injury that caused him to miss most of the 2008 season and will be able to practice. RB Chris Polk, RB Terrance Dailey and RB David Freeman are also expected to practice. ... FS Jason Wells, RB Brandon Yakaboski, and DL Terence Thomas will all miss spring practice with injuries. CB Vonzell McDowell, LB Kurt Mangum, TE Marek Domanski and TE Romeo Savant will be limited. ... Incoming TE Dorson Boyce will not be on campus for practice, having academic and family issues keeping him from enrolling in time, according to Sarkisian. Sarkisian does expect him to be ready to go for fall camp. ... Senio Kelemete has been moved to the offensive line to improve depth and athleticism at the position.