Dec. 8, 2008
SEATTLE - With a couple hundred fans, cheerleaders, alumni and students chanting "Sark!" and the school's band playing "Bow Down to Washington," USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was introduced as the Washington Huskies' new football coach. He replaces Tyrone Willingham.
"I love it. Wow, what a moment!" a wide-eyed Sarkisian said Monday morning, looking to his left past his wife, his 6-year-old daughter, Ashley, and 3-year-old son, Brady.
There, he saw four shirtless students who had S-A-R-K painted in Husky purple on their chests.
"I can't wait to get this thing going," he said.
The 34-year-old Sarkisian becomes the third-youngest coach in major college football, after Lane Kiffin of Tennessee and Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, and gets a five-year deal worth $10 million plus incentives for his first head coaching job. Sarkisian will continue to coach USC through its Rose Bowl on New Year's Day against Penn State, while recruiting for Washington.
Washington's third coach in five years met with the team Monday morning and said his first calls to Huskies recruits were going to be Monday afternoon.
"I'm going to bring a lot of passion to these kids. We just have to change the way they think," Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian's task seems as tall as nearby Mount Rainier: Turn around a once-proud program that just completed the first 0-12 season in Pac-10 history. Washington was the only winless team in major college football, and Willingham was 11-37 in his four seasons with the Huskies.
"It's going to happen fast," Sarkisian said at a news conference inside Husky Stadium's Don James Center -- named after the coach who led the Huskies to Rose Bowls and national championship opportunities, the standard against which Sarkisian will be judged and Willingham failed.
Sarkisian promised to open practices and the program to boosters, fans, alumni and media. That would be the opposite of Willingham's closed-ranks regime that chafed many around the former powerhouse school.
That would also model the open program run at USC by Sarkisian's mentor, Pete Carroll.
"Steve Sarkisian is an outstanding young coach who did great things here at USC," Carroll said. "He's savvy. He's tough. He's charismatic. And he's a real leader."
Carroll brought Sarkisian to USC as an assistant in 2001. Sarkisian took over as quarterbacks coach the following year and then added the title of offensive coordinator in 2007. The Trojans are going to their eighth bowl, including their sixth Rose Bowl as Pac-10 champions, since Sarkisian and Carroll arrived.
Sarkisian spent one year with the Raiders as quarterbacks coach in 2004 before deciding college football is where he belonged.
His Washington contract starts with a base salary of $1.75 million in the first year and incrementally increases each season, up to $2.3 million in 2013. It includes incentive clauses worth up to $1.25 million for championships and bowl appearances, something the Huskies haven't had since 2002. There's another $250,000 available for reaching academic performance goals.
"We think we got our guy," university president Mark Emmert said.
Some critics are likely to scoff at Washington trusting the rebuilding of a program to a 34-year-old with no head coaching experience, To that, Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward scoffed back.
"Nuts," Woodward said, with a stone-cold expression. "The guy's been a winner."