Aug. 20, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Steve Sarkisian thought of it on a whim last week as he trudged from the Huskies' football offices to the practice field on one of Seattle's hottest days this year.
"We're goin' swimming."
The coach cut practice short Thursday by about a half hour, to just over 90 minutes. Then he led his surprised players into neighboring Lake Washington to cool off on a 93-degree afternoon. Those guys roared when he announced the fun on the field at the end of practice. They roared some more a few minutes later when Sarkisian cannonballed off the dock behind UW's Waterfront Activities Center.
"That," fifth-year senior center Drew Schaefer said of Sark's splashdown, "was pretty impressive. I don't know what the Olympic judges would have scored it, but it was pretty good."
Boaters in Union Bay stopped on their way into Montlake Cut to marvel at most of a 102-man college football team breaking up the monotony of preseason practice by acting like what they are: Kids at the lake on a hot summer day.
"I wanted to jump in, regardless," Sarkisian said with a chuckle.
Last week during a scrimmage, he angrily and colorfully scolded quarterback Keith Price for not throwing the ball away to avoid a sack. In Saturday's fullest scrimmage of the preseason, Sarkisian gruffly screamed demands from the sidelines that his offense to play faster.
That night, all the players boarded buses and went out to the movies.
Also last week, Sarkisian dealt swiftly with a violation of team rules by dismissing Joshua Perkins and Willis Wilson from the team. Days later he had earned more about their situation and reinstated them, upon consulting with the team's veteran leaders.
"It just felt like the right thing to do," he said.
Two weekends ago, Sarkisian took the entire team and staffers downtown to CenturyLink Field to watch Jake Locker, Devin Aguilar and the Tennessee Titans play Jermaine Kearse and the Seattle Seahawks in an NFL exhibition game.
Four seasons into his first head-coaching job - 15-plus years since he was on the other side as a quarterback at Brigham Young - the 38-year-old Sarkisian appears to have mastered many of the unseen nuances of coaching: Knowing exactly when to sternly lead, when to softly guide -- and when to simply have a ball being a kid with guys who are 18 to 22 years old.
"He just has a really good feel for this team," said Schaefer, who had just finished his first, redshirt year when Sarkisian and his staff arrived from USC in January 2009. "This is his fourth year. Guys have been in the system for a long time now. And he can kind of just sense things.
"He demands a lot, and we put out a lot. I think he recognizes that. Sometimes there is a little bit of fun needed, especially in this type of setting, three weeks into camp.
"You know, guys just like that. It's a little bit of a curveball. And it keeps things fun. It keeps you looking forward to the next day."
Sarkisian's deft touch with the team off the field is no small reason why his Huskies are among the half dozen teams in the last half century to make two bowl games in three seasons immediately following a winless one.
He has said all month this 2012 team is the most closely knit of his UW tenure.
"Every team is different. You have to learn your team and learn what buttons to push at what time," Sarkisian said. "This is a very close football team. They love hanging together. They love doing things together. I probably could have said, `Hey, if you want to you can jump in the lake' - and they all would have jumped in. This is that kind of team. That's how they are wired, and I appreciate that about them.
"They give us everything they have, every chance that they get. And they go for it. I'm grateful for that, that we have that team that has that willingness."
Schaefer was tight with the coaching staff that preceded Sarkisian's. He signed with it. Plus, he was a teammate at Eastlake High School and neighborhood pals in the Seattle suburb of Sammamish with Taylor Lappano, a former Husky defensive back and son of former UW offensive coordinator Tim Lappano.
But it didn't take long for Schaefer to buy into Sarkisian's program as a redshirt freshman in 2009.
"He has a lot of respect for his players. And we have a lot of respect for him," the offensive line's only senior said. "It's a two-way street with him."
Williams caught 36 passes for six touchdowns while as the Huskies main punt returner as a freshman last season. He sees this great relationship being the result of a smaller generational gap than what most college players have with their coaches.
"Because he is so young, he understands. He understands what we are going through," Williams said. "It's just the fact he knows what we are going through and he's been through it before (semi-recently), it helps him understand what we are going through."
So what really torques off Sarkisian?
"Guys just not knowing their assignments," Schaefer said, "because assignments take no athletic ability. It's all mental. We put a lot of time into our meetings, a lot of time into our walkthroughs and drills, so for him - especially as the offensive play-caller, he really likes to see it when things are coming together.
"And it only takes one guy, one guy not knowing his assignment causing the whole play to break down. So he really puts an emphasis on knowing our assignments. He wants to develop us as players, as well."
Not to mention as swimmers on a steamy practice day.
INSIDE CAMP: For the first time in weeks, the day's health report was all positive Monday. Senior S Justin Glenn was back on the field after missing last week with a concussion. Junior OL Erik Kohler, a two-year starter, was back in full uniform though limited to position drills only. He had been out of pads watching since spraining his knee on the first day of practice Aug. 6. Tre Watson, in a battle with Marcus Peters for the starting CB spot opposite Desmond Trufant that Sarkisian would like settled this week, was no longer wearing a yellow, no-contact jersey from injury. WR Kevin Smith, still wearing a no-contact jersey following a torn knee ligament in December, leaped high to snare a sideline pass from Keith Price, then leaped fluidly to exchange a celebratory chest bump with Cody Bruns. And Travis Feeney, making a switch from safety to linebacker to address depth needs, is expected to fully participate Tuesday after a week out with a concussion. "I feel like we are on the mend. We're on the way back," Sarkisian said. That, of course, does not include the surgeries that will keep LBs Nate Fellner and Jamaal Kearse plus WR James Johnson at least a month, nor the season-ending one to RB Deontae Cooper. ... Sarkisian thought Price and backup Derrick Brown may have had their best passing days of the month, and that his team had "arguably (its) best practice of camp" Monday afternoon. The coach was especially pleased with that given he thought Saturday's scrimmage lacked some intensity, especially from the offense. ... TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who took most of Saturday's scrimmage off to rest soreness, made his increasingly usual, one-handed catch, this one on a dart from Price over the middle. ... DE Talia Crichton blew a lineman into the backfield during team scrimmaging. Sarkisian said again this is the best the senior has looked in his UW tenure. ... The Huskies practice twice Tuesday.