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Day One Of Spring Ball Is, In Many Ways, The Same Old Thing
Release: 03/29/2011
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March 29, 2011

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By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

SEATTLE - Dan Cozzetto teased his linemen for slipping down in the rain during a blocking drill. He joked with them about where they were from, how they got to UW.

A linebacker dropped for a few push-ups in front of Nick Holt after a blown assignment, even before the defensive coordinator could point out the typical, first-day mistake.

Quarterbacks Keith Price and Nick Montana knew every call of coordinator Doug Nussmeier's offense on Day 1, making their learning curve while replacing Jake Locker far less steep than it could be.

Sure, some of the players were new. But the beginning of Huskies' spring practice Tuesday was actually more of the same old', same old' for - and from - Washington's coaches.

This will be the third consecutive season UW's staff has remained intact. The message, the drills, the terminology and the personalities have all been the same since the first day Steve Sarkisian took over the program, in January 2009. That's no small factor in Washington going from 0-12 to Holiday Bowl champions in two seasons.

"It's big. I think that the continuity for us has been huge," Sarkisian said. "When you're bringing on new coaches you're not only having to try to teach what you've already done, but then you're trying to teach where you're going.

"(With) continuity on a staff, we've all ridden this wave all the way to this point. Now, as we tweak and change and build and grow towards the future, everybody's on the same page as we do it. That's why it's so important."

Not only is this huge for the Huskies. It's almost unprecedented.

Until last fall, Washington hadn't had even two consecutive years with the same coaches since 1989 and '90. That continuity formed the basis for UW's 1991 national championship team.

Nussmeier has been a player or coach for nine teams and 21 combined seasons -- from starring as a quarterback at Idaho, through the NFL's New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams, the Canadian Football League and college coaching at Fresno State, Michigan State and now UW.

On all those teams, how many times has he had three consecutive years with the same coaches?

"Never," Nussmeier said.

"It's huge," the offensive coordinator added. "There's always a growth period when you change players. Same when you change coaches. You are trying to learn how people divulge information, how we communicate among ourselves as a staff.

"When you have that continuity and know how things are going to work it makes it so much easier. We all know the approach, what's going to be handled in the meeting rooms, how guys are going to communicate with the players. It does, it makes it a lot easier for the players."

Rising senior wide receiver Jermaine Kearse is running the same routes with the same number designations out of the same called formations that he was in 2009, as a sophomore starting for the first time at UW.

Kearse's production has gone from 20 receptions as a true freshman to 53 and then 63 catches last season - the third-leading receiver in the Pac-10 - while under Sarkisian's staff. Kearse feels a unique bond with receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty, a story that can be re-told with the other position coaches for many of the other 85 Huskies on the spring roster.

"It's definitely a good thing. They are preaching the same thing to you," Kearse said. "The chemistry is there. I feel I have a really good relationship with the coaches. I get to go up to their offices and talk to them. And it's not all serious. You can have fun with them and joke around with them. It's real big, and it's a lot of fun.

"There's energy in the meetings, just like there always is. It's definitely the same."

Holt is indoctrinating John Timu, Josh Shirley, Jamaal Kearse, Thomas Tutogi, Garret Gilliland and others into a new linebacking rotation that lost senior stars Mason Foster (who watched Tuesday's practice at Husky Stadium) and Victor Aiyewa from last season. Yet that task will be infinitely easier all spring and fall because those players are getting the same message and the same plays that they got all last season as reserves -- except for Timu, a true freshman.

"It makes the learning process go very quickly," Holt said.

Senior-to-be Cort Dennison is the only returning starter at linebacker, and is now one of the team's leaders. He sees another advantage to this rare continuity in coaches.

"You know how they are going to yell at you," he said, wryly.

"They know how we are going to react to them, and we know they are going to react to us," Dennison said. "It's just huge for a program. There is a trust level, too, that makes your life easier."

So the start of spring practices on Tuesday felt like any other practice in October, November or December for the veteran Huskies. Rain. Music bumping through Husky Stadium. Fans on the sidelines.

And the same coaches coaching the same plays -- plus cracking the same jokes, yelling the same yells -- they've had for three years now.

"Oh, yeah, today I felt like it was Week 4 of practicing for the Holiday Bowl," Dennison said. "Just minus a few players."

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