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Unleashed: Sark's New Hires Have Football Buzzing
Release: 01/21/2012
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Jan. 21, 2012

By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

SEATTLE - Energetic, innovative Steve Sarkisian can barely sit still for a 30-minute team flight to Pullman.

You think he was going to stand idle for weeks and months after the Alamo Bowl?

To begin this whirlwind January for Husky football, Sarkisian said he "basically didn't sleep for 48 hours." It didn't sound like he was joking.

The results show he absolutely was not.

In the three weeks since his Huskies scored 56 points against 12th-ranked Baylor but gave up 67, Sarkisian has been attacking the inevitable change of the coaching business with as much decisiveness as he has turned around Washington's program in three remarkable years. He has remade his staff with five new assistants, dynamic, impacting hires that are the talk of college football and recruiting right now.

All the new coaches have ties to the Pac-12 and the West Coast. They have instantly added sizzle to the Huskies' recruiting roads, continuing the momentum of Washington's Holiday and Alamo Bowl appearances that have ended each of the last two seasons.

Since Jan. 2 Sarkisian has welcomed Justin Wilcox to remake Washington's defense as its new coordinator and Eric Kiesau to be his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. They are the centerpieces to the $2.73 million commitment the Huskies' athletic department is making in 2012 to football's nine assistant coaches -- and to the continued progress and energy inside Sarkisian's program.

The 35-year-old Wilcox will earn $750,000 in 2012, $350,000 in base pay and $400,000 in supplemental pay. His agreement with Washington calls for $800,000 guaranteed in 2013 and $850,000 in 2014.

Wilcox earned $700,000 in 2011 as Tennessee's defensive coordinator. He built the Volunteers into the 28th-best in the nations statistically in just two seasons. Before that he led Boise State's attacking D through an undefeated season and Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.

The 40-year-old Kiesau arrived this week from the University of California. He will earn $375,000 this year, $400,000 in 2013 and $425,000 in 2014. Kiesau's first-year pay is $10,000 above what Doug Nussmeier earned in 2011 while teaming with Sarkisian in leading the Huskies' high-scoring offense. Nussmeier left Washington this week to gain play-calling duties as Alabama's new offensive coordinator.

Sarkisian has hired three other assistants to remodel the defense: heralded recruiter Tosh Lupoi as the new defensive line coach, run-game coordinator; Peter Sirmon as the linebackers coach; and Keith Heyward as defensive backs coach.

Lupoi's memorandum of understanding with UW calls for guaranteed compensation of $350,000 per year from 2012 through February 6, 2015. It also calls for a one-time payment of $100,000 for the former defensive line coach at Cal. He could earn an additional $100,000 if he remains on the Huskies' staff through the agreement's end date.

That may prove to be a bargain for the 30-year-old Lupoi. Sarkisian calls him a "dynamic recruiter," one that is known among the nation's best at signing top high-school players. Recent classes recruited by Lupoi and Kiesau to Cal have been ranked among the top dozen in the country.

The 34-year-old Sirmon is, like Wilcox, a Northwest native and former defensive player at Oregon. He arrives from Tennessee with Wilcox on a two-year agreement that is guaranteeing Sirmon $225,000 in 2012 and $250,000 next year.

Heyward was the defensive backs coach at Oregon State before agreeing to a two-year deal with guaranteed pay of $150,000 this year and $160,000 in 2013 to coach Washington's defensive backs.

The salary figures are outlined in memorandums of understanding the new coaches have signed while UW processes their official contracts.

All the new assistants can earn incentive pay for reaching the Pac-12 championship game, for winning it, for appearing in a bowl game and for appearing in a Bowl Championship Series game or the BCS title game.

Not that the Huskies are on the cusp of those -- just yet. As the Alamo Bowl showed, the defense is not at the level of Washington's at-times prolific offense, which will be led again in 2012 by record-setting quarterback Keith Price.

Then again, that's why Sarkisian aggressively sought - and got - two of college football's most dynamic and respected defensive assistants in Wilcox and Lupoi.

"These are some of the top coaches and best recruiters in the country, and the fact they have chosen to come to Washington is a credit to the remarkable job Coach Sarkisian has done with his program in his three seasons here. This is a desired destination on the national map," Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward said.

"As we've done since Sark's arrival, we are seeking and signing the nation's best coaches, and we are willing and able to do it at market value. Our student-athletes deserve the best leaders and the best facilities to create the best environment to win championships.

"The expenditure on salaries for football's assistant coaches is a prudent investment of that additional money from the Pac-12 new multimedia contract, into the program that gives the biggest return to all Husky athletes."

This week, Sarkisian and Woodward also gave additional titles, responsibilities and pay to three of Washington's four, valuable holdover assistants, all of whom have been with Sarkisian since he arrived at UW in January 2009. The raises recognize how instrumental the original assistants have been in establishing the foundation for the program's surge.

Previous defensive line coach Johnny Nansen is now the assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and recruiting coordinator; Jimmie Dougherty, UW's wide receivers coach, is now also the pass game coordinator; and running backs coach Joel Thomas has added the title of associate head coach for offense.

Nansen's pay is going from $165,000 last year to $200,000 in 2012 and $225,000 in 2013.

Dougherty's new title comes with a raise from $135,000 to $190,000 this year and $205,000 next year.

Thomas goes from $160,008 to $190,000 in 2012 and $205,000 in '13.

Offensive line coach and running game coordinator Dan Cozzetto's pay stays the same at $300,000 per year.

The total pool for Huskies' nine assistant coaches in 2012 is $2.73 million, up from $2,305,028 last year. It is scheduled to be $2,895,000 in 2013.

"I think the state of college football and where we're headed it's almost the going rate for successful programs," Sarkisian said. "I think Scott recognizes that, and if you want to get a top-tier defensive coordinator that's where we're headed.

"I think you're going to continue to see that around our conference now, especially with the new TV money coming in. We're obviously already seeing it from the head coaches' salaries that are going on around the conference now. I think we'll continue to see that as ... a trickle-down effect, in a sense, down to the assistants in our conference."

Yet it's not as if Washington is backing up Brinks trucks and unloading new Pac-12 television cash at their new assistants' feet.

For one thing, Woodward is keeping an eye on - and budget for -- skyrocketing scholarship costs for in-state and out-of-state student-athletes alike.

And rather than committing the expected new Pac-12 money from coming years to the self-funded, $250 million Husky Stadium renovation project that began in November, Washington is reserving those funds to invest in the department's coaches. Or to build a new track facility, for example. Construction on that is going on north of Washington's newly resurfaced soccer stadium.

Indeed, UW's assistant coaches' salaries are far from exorbitant in today's college football coaching market.

All of Auburn's assistants made a total of $4.2 million in 2011, according to a survey USA Today published last month. Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn made $1.3 million by himself last year, until he was recently hired to be the head coach at Arkansas State.

Five schools had assistant coaches pools at more than $3 million in 2011, according to the USA Today survey: Alabama, LSU, Texas, Tennessee and Florida. And increases nationally for 2012 are coming at a far higher rate than Washington's, which is going up 15.6 percent.

USA Today reported rival Washington State is increasing its football assistants' salaries by 41% in 2012 under new coach Mike Leach. Arizona is reportedly increasing its assistant coaches' pool by 38%. Clemson just got offensive coordinator Chad Morris to stay by giving him a new six-year deal that is almost tripling his salary from $450,000 in 2011 to $1.3 million in 2012.

Private institutions such as Stanford, USC and Notre Dame do not have to share coaches' salaries and generally don't, so who knows how much higher those staffs might be paid?

The raises for Washington's assistants come a year after the Huskies ensured Sarkisian stayed at UW by keeping his contract at market value. The head coach is entering year two of his redone, five-year deal that is guaranteeing him $2.25 million this year, $2.4 million in 2013, $2.55 million in '14 and $2.7 million in '15. He has incentive clauses that kick in this year beginning at seven wins per season, plus for postseason games and for his team's academic achievements.

How much does Sarkisian appreciate that? In the last month he has turned down overtures from UCLA, when it was seeking a new coach, and he declined the opportunity to interview to become the next coach of the NFL's St. Louis Rams.

To Woodward, all of this is a smart way for the Huskies invest the money each Pac-12 school is receiving from the conference's new television contract. Football generates 85 percent of the total revenue that funds all 19 men's and women's intercollegiate sports inside Washington's essentially self-sustained athletic department.

"The primary targets for our investments, the ones that will benefit our student-athletes most, remain facilities, student support services and coaches," Woodward said.

"These new hires reflect our ongoing commitment to providing the very best for our student athletes in all of those areas."

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