Aug. 7, 2009
By TIM BOOTH
AP SPORTS WRITER
SEATTLE -- Fifteen days was all Steve Sarkisian got on the field last spring to see just how players (in the Washington Husky football program) responded to hearing a new voice as their director.
For all the enthusiasm Sarkisian showed on the day he was introduced as Washington's new coach last December, the first-time head coach might be even more amped as the Huskies prepare to start fall camp.
"Eight months ago, standing in front of you guys with all the buzz and the energy, you say statements that you believe in," Sarkisian said on Friday. "And there is nothing that I said that day that I didn't believe in and eight months later it's great to look back on things that we've accomplished and see that it's holding true."
After not seeing his team on the field since late April, Sarkisian and his coaches finally get their hands back on the players come Monday, when the Huskies begin a 29-practice sprint that concludes Sept. 5 when Washington hosts LSU to begin the season.
That will be the first night the Huskies get a chance to reclaim some of the pride and respect that vanished during four lackluster seasons under Tyrone Willingham, capped by last season's 0-12 meltdown - the worst record in school history and the first 0-12 season in Pac-10 history. Willingham was fired after going 11-37 and replaced by Sarkisian, the former offensive coordinator at USC.
Much of Sarkisian's task last winter and spring with the Huskies was psychological - helping overcome the bitter memories of last season and changing the attitude of a program without a bowl trip since 2003. Now comes the job of figuring out who can play and understand the schemes being used.
"Last year, what happened, happened, and they're all on new slates now," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. "We'll just wait and see. A lot of them have playing experience and have been in the big games, and now we have to teach them the right way of doing things all the time."
The guy who used "awesome" 13 times during his introductory news conference last January admits there are major challenges in inheriting a defense that gave up nearly 452 yards and 39 points per game.
"The guys that did play (last year) they've been in a Division I football game, they've been in a big game, they've been in a stadium with 70,000 fans, they've been booed at, they've had water thrown on them, they've been in the fire," Holt said. "Have they done well? Obviously not. We need to find the guys that do well in that atmosphere."
All of Washington's practices through Aug. 29 will be open to the public, following up on something Sarkisian implemented during spring practice. Sarkisian wants his players to be held accountable under the watchful eye of many of the fans who will come see them play Sept. 5.
Most of all, he just wants to see them on the field under his direction again.
"I want to see how guys change, how their movements change. Are they more explosive, more powerful, stronger," Sarkisian said. "I'm also looking (at) are they understanding what we're trying to get done from a schematic standpoint. And the third thing is have they bought into the idea of effort and playing with great effort."