March 13, 2013
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE - Marques Tuiasosopo is the last Huskies quarterback to win the Rose Bowl. He was the relentless passing and running dynamo that beat Purdue a dozen years ago.
He was the Pac-10 offensive player of the year in 2000. The year before that, as a junior, he became the first player in NCAA Division-I history to pass for 300 yards and run for 200 in the same game.
In other words, he's done some things here.
Yet when the 34-year-old Tuiasosopo walked off the East Field last Tuesday night following his first practice as a full Huskies coach, after he got done with two hours of teaching the position that became his life starting a quarter century ago in the Seattle suburb of Woodinville, I saw a small smile.
The grin was one of familiarity, one that signified his return home. It came after he spent 15 minutes after practice tutoring quarterbacks Keith Price, Cyler Miles, Jeff Lindquist, Derrick Brown, and Troy Williams more nuances. Then Tuiasosopo and Price, the wondrous 2011 record setter turned 2012 frustration, talked together alone in the center of the field side by side for 10 minutes more.
"This has just been a fantastic opportunity for me so far. Just an honor," Tuiasosopo said, wearing a gray UW pullover and a black lanyard with a red marker dangling from his neck instead of his old, purple No. 11.
It was almost two months to the day after Steve Sarkisian brought him home from two seasons of being an assistant at UCLA.
"It's a blessing to have the chance to come back here and coach with Coach Sark and this staff. I really, really like these guys. A lot," he said.
"To be out here practicing spring ball in March is just awesome. I don't have to wait a month to get after it.
"It's just awesome."
Price has another term for Tui's return: "Perfect."
The about-to-be fifth-year senior quarterback was talking about the timing of getting to work with Tuiasosopo, who as UW's assistant strength coach in 2009 was part of the installation of Sarkisian's offense at UW when Price was redshirting his first season. Now he is back for Price's last one as a Husky.
Tui isn't the only one smiling about it. His quarterback is being "Teeth" Price again.
During that initial UW apprenticeship, Tuiasosopo watched how then-offensive coordinator and QBs coach Doug Nussmeier taught Jake Locker and Price. Tui was on the headsets during games listening to how Nussmeier handled Locker, how the coach who left before last season to call plays for eventual national-champion Alabama handled the quarterback position in pressure situations.
Now, Tuiasosopo and Sarkisian have the Huskies in overdrive. They are installing far more no-huddle offense with a far faster tempo than Washington's inconsistent offense had in 2012. The offense ran 130 plays, by Sarkisian's count, in a little more than an hour of the first spring practice last week.
"Let's GOOO!" Tuiasosopo bellowed repeatedly at Price that night.
Once, Price sent a perfectly lofted ball onto the hands of receiver DiAndre Campbell down the sidelines for a long gain. Price did a spin and an elaborate slamming motion with his arm toward the turf to celebrate the throw.
"Oh, man, he reminds me so much of Coach `Nuss,' it's scary. Very up tempo," Price said. "But he's on me."
Tui did a double take and bellowed at number 17.
"What are you DOING?!" he yelled into the center of the field. "Get back up field! Get going!"
"Oh, man, he reminds me so much of Coach `Nuss,' it's scary. Very up tempo," Price said. "But he's on me."
Because Tuiasosopo knows the system so well, Sarkisian and Price think this is the ideal time to tweak the offense to hyper speed.
"Oh, it's perfect," the quarterback said. "With how much he knows the offense, and then all he did at UCLA, learning how the no-huddle offense worked, it's perfect.
PRICE'S NEW WEAPON WEARS A HEADSET
Tuiasosopo's hiring in early January may prove to be one of the best things to happen to Price - and thus the Huskies - in 2013.
Familiarity and trust are the two things Price lacked last season. He had 19 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a completion rate of 60.9 percent while getting sacked 37 times. At times he tried to do too much.
Familiarity and trust are what Price had in 2011. He set the UW single-season record with 33 touchdown passes and a completion rate of 66.9 percent taking over for Locker. He had a veteran, relatively healthy offensive line and dependable, senior receivers such as Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar. And he had Nussmeier.
Now, he's got Nussmeier's coaching clone.
"Their coaching styles are similar. Obviously, he was around Coach Nuss and able to see the way he coached us," Price said of Tuiasosopo.
"Yeah, I'm excited."
That's not necessarily why Sarkisian brought back Tui. But if that's how Price feels, well, hey, even better.
"One thing that definitely Marques brings in is a lot of familiarity with the offense. He was in the meetings when we put the offense in here," Sarkisian says. "That was as much it as anything, the trust in the system.
"If this is the beginning signs of Keith being comfortable in knowing and trusting Marques, that's tremendous."
Tuiasosopo was watching on television amazed with the rest of America in December 2011 when Price set a bowl record with seven touchdowns (four passing) in the Huskies' zany shootout with Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. Though he was still coaching tight ends at UCLA in his first full-time coaching job last fall, Tuiasosopo followed Price's more mortal 2012, too.
"I kept with him - as an alum, to see how the Huskies were doing. I didn't get into too much detail," he said. "I watched the film. I wouldn't say it was great. But it wasn't terrible, either.
"There were a lot of differences from two years ago to last year. There were a lot of good, young players, players that were new to the program. But different players, guys who hadn't been around the program for a long time, guys he wasn't playing with the year before. And, I think after having such a great bowl game (in 2011) I think some of the outside expectations maybe led to him putting a little bit too much pressure on himself. That's natural."
Price admits to that. He said then and says again now that he tried to be more than he was, tried to carry the entire team - a team he didn't fully trust because he hadn't played with many of its starters before 2012.
"I think he's moved on. We've all moved on from that," Tuiasosopo said. "He is focused on this year. I think that's why you see that smile is back, that pep in his step. It's fun to see him out here having fun.
"It's just, it's different, the trust level. When you really know a receiver and you are running a certain route there is this intuition, a me-to-you factor where you just lay it out and you know that he is going to be there. And I think along with that he had - even though they were very talented, young players - that's just a little bit different. He had some injuries on the offensive line, so now you are playing with guys that are freshmen, or true freshmen. Never played before. So I think it was a little bit of a perfect storm."
The Huskies finished 7-6 and made a bowl for the third consecutive season - yet they still feel they should have been 9-4. They are still bitter over losing an 18-point lead late in the Apple Cup and then allowing Boise State to score late in a 28-26 loss in December's MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
"It wasn't terrible. You go to a bowl game. You finish with a winning season," Tuiasosopo said of Price's and the Huskies' 2012. "Obviously, the expectations are high - like they should be."
He would know.
"I think we are right where we need to be," Tuiasosopo says of 2013. "We are in a great position, in position to win the North."
HE'S "GOING TO MAKE US BETTER"
Marques is one of the athlete-star sons of Manu Tuiasosopo, the former Seahawks and 49ers defensive tackle who played collegiately at UCLA. Marques' sister Leslie Gabriel (Tuiasosopo) is currently an assistant on UW's national-power volleyball team. She started on that from 1995-98.
Marques is so athletically gifted the Minnesota Twins selected him in the 28th round of the 1997 Major League Baseball draft. And many Division-I football programs wanted him as a defensive back.
Jim Lambright offered him the chance to stay home and to play quarterback at UW.
Talk about a wise move on both sides.
Tuiasosopo's legend status at UW began growing on Sept. 20, 1997, a sunny Saturday inside Husky Stadium. He entered as a true freshman for injured Brock Huard, his eventual roommate, and threw for 270 yards with two touchdowns in the final three quarters against Nebraska, that season's national champion.
He finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting late in the Rose Bowl season of 2000. The Oakland Raiders drafted him in the second round in 2001.
I covered him in Oakland for four seasons when I was a Raiders beat writer. He was the consummate pro, meticulously prepared each week despite the fact his playing time was blocked by Rich Gannon, who became the NFL's MVP while leading the Raiders to a Super Bowl.
Ever dutiful, Tuiasosopo was one of the most popular Raiders - and that was on a team with future Hall of Famers and dominant personalities in Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Charles Woodson. Everyone from Al Davis to the security guards at the team's headquarters in Alameda, Calif., liked him, even though he never played.
He finally got his first chance to start in the NFL midway through Oakland's disastrous 2003 season, when Gannon hurt his shoulder.
In that game, early November in Detroit, I still remember Tuiasosopo scrambling to create a play out of nothing up the middle. As the Lions' defense flailed at him up field, his knee buckled into Ford Field's fake grass. Just over than one quarter into his first chance as a full-time NFL starter, Tuiasosopo tore a ligament in his knee.
The following year a young assistant from USC and former quarterback at Brigham Young joined the Raiders to coach Gannon and Tuiasosopo as the Raiders quarterback coach. Some guy named Steve Sarkisian.
Tuiasosopo didn't start again until 2005, well after Gannon had suffered what essentially was a career-ending neck injury. Tui had a poor game, and the notoriously quick-triggered Davis - yes, the owner called all the shots in Oakland -- benched him following that lone start. It was the last one of his NFL career.
He backed up for a season with the New York Jets and then for a final one in 2008 back in Oakland, which by the time he came back was being coached by Lane Kiffin.
The year he retired, Sarkisian brought in Tuiasosopo for a trial to see if he liked coaching.
Turns out, he loves it.
Asked if he ever thought when he left for UCLA's full-time gig in 2010 that he'd get back to Washington, Tuiasosopo says: "You just never know. I just knew in my heart that I wanted to coach. In this profession, beggars can't be choosers. You are going to go where the jobs are, where people are willing to hire you.
"Coach Tui, his attention to detail. He cares about every little point. To your feet being too far to the side, keeping your body aligned ... And that helps you in the long run."
"I had a great opportunity coming right out the NFL for Coach Sark and the administration here to me and learn the coaching profession, to see if this is what I wanted to do, and I was grateful. Obviously I would have loved to have the opportunity to come back. You just never know if you would have to the opportunity to."
I made Tui feel old by asking him - and his players - how much they ask about him as a Huskies player.
"I don't remember watching him when I was young," admitted Miles, the redshirt freshman from Colorado.
He was, oh, six when Tuiasosopo was a Husky QB.
"But I recently watched some old films of him just in the dorms, actually," Miles said. "It was against Cal, I think. I saw him break one for about 30 yards. That was pretty cool to see him."
More than asking advice, the Huskies are gleaning intangibles each day from one of Washington's legends - and its newest coach.
"Oh, man, it's great. It's great. We get along great," said Miles, who is battling Lindquist, Williams and Brown to be Price's primary backup. "He's on you, every little detail. That's what's going to make us better.
"Coach Tui, his attention to detail. He cares about every little point. To your feet being too far to the side, keeping your body aligned. Just every little detail. And that helps you in the long run."
That is exactly the Huskies' idea behind bringing him back.
So, indeed, welcome home Tui. I know of at least one Husky who is so glad you are back.
"Thank you," he said softly, smiling a grateful smile again. "Appreciate it.
"Glad to be back."
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.