Jan. 21, 2011
SEATTLE - He's already revitalized Huskies football. Now Steve Sarkisian is getting rewarded.
The University of Washington and its Holiday Bowl-winning coach have agreed to a new five-year contract that keeps the 36-year-old Sarkisian committed to Washington through at least 2015. It adds two seasons to his original deal.
The deal is consistent with the national market value, and increases Sarkisian's guaranteed compensation from $2 million to $2.25 million for this year, to $2.4 million for 2012 and to $2,550,000 in 2013. The additional years will pay Sarkisian a guaranteed $2.7 million in '14 and $2.85 million in '15.
"We've rewarded him for success," UW Athletic Director Scott Woodward told me upon completion of his agreement with Sarkisian and his agent, Gary Uberstine.
"We will continue to invest in the football program - with the upcoming renovation of Husky Stadium, construction of new team facilities - and we will continue to invest in those who lead it," Woodward said. "We want to have Steve here for a long time.
"Stability and retention are very important to us."
The new deal replaces the five-year contract to which Sarkisian agreed in January 2009, before the former USC offensive coordinator's first season as a head coach.
Sarkisian has taken what was an 0-12 team in 2008 to 5-7 in '09, then to 7-6 and third place in the Pac-10 this past season. The Huskies' renaissance continued three weeks ago with a dominating victory over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, Washington's first postseason game since 2002.
"I love my job," Sarkisian said. "I've got a great job. I love coaching for Scott Woodward. I love being a Husky."
For Woodward, the deal is about sustaining the momentum Sarkisian and his staff have brought to UW.
"Whenever we have success, we want to retain our coaches at market value," the AD said. "I am going to keep pace with the market as long as we have success." As I wrote here last month, what Sarkisian has done in his first two seasons -- 12 wins and a bowl victory within two seasons of Washington going 0-12 -- is one of the fastest rebounds in the last half century of college football. His Huskies have beaten five teams ranked in The Associated Press' top 25. Plus, 15 starters from the Holiday Bowl win are returning in 2011, on top of what is shaping up to be a highly rated recruiting class that is due to sign on Feb. 2. So, yes, life is Dawggone good for Sarkisian.
"I'm not concerned about rising expectations," he said. "That's natural as you win."
The new deal is the result of a contractually mandated, 24-month review of the original agreement that Woodward and Uberstine began last month. Funding for all UW coaches comes from the school's self-sustaining athletic department.
Woodward said he expects all of Sarkisian's assistants - including Nick Holt, coordinator of a young defense that improved tremendously late this past season, and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier -- to return in 2011. That would be the second consecutive offseason the staff will remain intact, meaning the same players will be getting the same message and schemes from the same coaches for three consecutive years.
That's gold in today's nomadic world of big-time college athletics.
Sarkisian, the coach of the third-place team in the conference, has the fourth-highest annual salary in the Pac-10.
USC's Lane Kiffin reportedly earns north of $4 million annually. Oregon's Chip Kelly is getting an annual average of more than $3.4 million guaranteed in a new deal he signed in September. Leading the Ducks to this month's BCS championship game reportedly triggered bonuses that pushed Kelly's total pay for the 2010 season to about $4 million. Jeff Tedford's contract with California is for $2.3 million annually.
Sarkisian's salary is similar to those outside the conference. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini made $2.35 million in salary and bonuses for this past season in a deal that the Cornhuskers have re-done twice since 2008. Missouri's Gary Pinkel, a former UW assistant, earned a base pay of $2,550,000 in 2010 while leading the Tigers to the Insight Bowl the night before the Huskies beat Nebraska last month.
Jimbo Fisher, the replacement for retired legend Bobby Bowden at Florida State, just got a year added to his contract and his annual salary raised from $1.8 million to $2.75 million annually for five years. That was after he went 10-4 and won the Chick-fil-A Bowl to end his first season leading the Seminoles.
Florida just gave former Texas coordinator Will Muschamp an average of $2.7 million annually for five years to succeed retired Urban Meyer.
Michigan's Rich Rodriguez was making just above $2.5 million per year in base pay before he got fired this month. His replacement, Brady Hoke, is believed to have agreed to about the same salary with the Wolverines after arriving from San Diego State.
Then there's Jim Harbaugh, who was the hottest coaching commodity this winter. He and Sarkisian are on similar arcs in their college coaching careers - or were, until the San Francisco 49ers wooed Harbaugh from Stanford two weeks ago.
Harbaugh, who is a year older than Sarkisian, took over a 1-11 Stanford team and went 4-8 with the Cardinal in his 2007 debut. He was 5-7 in 2008, 8-5 in his third season with an appearance in the Sun Bowl, then became this winter's "It" coach after leading Stanford to an 12-1 record and win in the Orange Bowl. The 49ers now have him for five years and $25 million.
Sarkisian took over a winless UW team and in his first two seasons won two more games than Harbaugh did in his first two years. He reached a bowl a year earlier into his tenure than Harbaugh did at Stanford. Last month, I found that 74 teams have endured winless seasons in the last 50 years. Only 11 of those 74 teams have rebounded with 11 or more victories in the first two seasons after going winless, as Sarkisian's Huskies have. The Dawgs are just the 12th of those formerly winless 74 teams to make a bowl game within two years, and are among just a handful of those to win that bowl. There are also new potential merit bonuses added to Sarkisian's contract. They include $25,000 for the Huskies having seven wins in 2011, $50,000 for winning eight games in each of the 2011 and '12 seasons, and incremental bumps for nine, 10 and 11 victories in each year through 2014. Those bonuses max out at $150,000 per year if the Huskies win 12 games in a season. Sarkisian could also earn $50,000 for representing the new Pac-12's North division in the conference's championship game, $100,000 for fulfilling his stated goal of winning the league, and an additional $300,000 for appearing in a BCS bowl.
Just as he had in his original UW contract, Sarkisian gets $150,000 for UW reaching another non-BCS game, $400,000 for making the BCS championship game and a $500,000 bonus should he win Washington's first national title since 1991.
Sarkisian's bonus for the football team's academic achievements also remain in the new deal. Woodward emphasized he wanted to reward the Huskies increasing their team grade-point average for the seventh consecutive quarter ending in December. The football team's GPA for the recently completed fall quarter was 2.74, its highest in-season mark since at least before 2003. That's as far back as the Huskies' academic support staff records date.
"Coach Sark and his staff have brought a academic culture of excellence to our program," said Kim Durand, the UW's associate athletic director for student development. "He holds every student-athlete accountable and positively reinforces the importance of earning a meaningful degree from UW in every team meeting."
In his new contract, Sarkisian can get from $50,000-125,000 for graduation success rates from 70 to above 80 percent. He can get another $50,000-125,000 for improved academic progress rates, another annual NCAA measure of academic performance.
"We want to stay on course with who we are as people," Sarkisian said of these two months before spring practice begins. "We want to remain grounded and humble - not to say we are not proud of what we accomplished, but to stay humble."