Sept. 9, 2009
by Jeremy Cothran
SEATTLE - After taking one phone call after another from Idaho media members earlier this week, Joel Thomas reclined back in an easy chair and sighed. Then a pack of reporters descended on him to pepper the running backs' coach with more questions on his alma mater.
This is a big week for more than a handful of Washington coaches - eight in fact. That's how many assistants have ties to the University of Idaho, which will play UW on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The sheer number of Vandals first raised some eyebrows when coach Steve Sarkisian began filling out his staff, but Sarkisian was looking for several factors when hiring his assistants. He wanted coaches with Pacific Northwest ties (with some Los Angeles connections sprinkled in as well), and those who wanted to work for the flagship school in the region. And the second was enthusiasm, because they had to be able to match the sparkplug intensity Sarkisian brings to the football offices.
"It wasn't intentional that we got this many former Vandals on our staff," Sarkisian said. "But I'm keeping an eye on them this week. I don't want any game plans being faxed up to Idaho."
Jokes about subterfuge aside, this is an important week for the Huskies. Idaho heads to Seattle after a 21-6 win over New Mexico State on the road, a healthy indicator the Vandals (1-0) won't be pushovers in Husky Stadium this Saturday. Washington played well in a loss to Southeastern Conference power Louisiana State, and the Huskies (0-1) will be looking to limit mistakes while building on several positives.
Despite those deep branches that now stem from Seattle to Moscow, Thomas insists this game is just as important to him as LSU was, or USC next week.
"It's game two of a 12-week schedule," Thomas said. "I'll have the same attitude and the same mindset of competing with maximum effort and sticking to our principles on what we have to do to be successful. As a coach, you want to win every game. So, I really want to get on that track starting this Saturday. It just so happens that we're playing Idaho."
The biggest connection Thomas and his fellow Idaho coaches have to Sarkisian was Holt. The defensive coordinator, and Sarkisian's marquee hire, spent several seasons as an assistant in Moscow, and was later named the head coach of Idaho in 2004. So his arrival on Montlake helped grease the wheel for other Vandals to come aboard as many of them worked with or for Holt in Moscow.
Because of Idaho's remote location, coaches who work there often form a thick bond. Thomas joked that it's common in coaching circles to hear former Vandals talk about "doing their time on the Palouse."
But Idaho connections or not, Sarkisian wanted to hire talented coaches. He gained respect for the Vandals coaching staff in 2007 when Idaho played USC in Los Angeles. The game ended up being closer than expected (38-10), as the superiorly talented Trojans had trouble pulling away until late. Sarkisian would foster relationships with those same coaches on the road, along with the annual summer camp USC hosted.
"It's a very intense group of guys. They compete extremely well. I'm proud of all of them," Sarkisian said. "I'm proud to have them on our staff."