By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -- Of all the things interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo accomplished this week in the final on-campus practices of 2013 — installing the game plans for the Dec. 27 Fight Hunger Bowl, practicing what Brigham Young will do against them next week in San Francisco — the most important one was re-establishing a sense of normalcy to his team.
Because this has been anything but a normal month for the Huskies.
Two weeks ago Steve Sarkisian abruptly left to coach USC. Two days later UW athletic director Scott Woodward named Tuiasosopo as interim coach. Two days after that, Chris Petersen agreed to leave Boise State and become the new head coach. He will take over after this bowl game.
So for Tuiasosopo, the chance to get the players back on the practice field each day this week, and reconnecting with the mission of getting the ninth win of the season, have been invaluable.
"I thought that was important," Washington’s Most Valuable Player of the 2001 Rose Bowl said Thursday morning following a one-hour practice at the Dempsey Indoor facility. "Obviously, this is very emotional for (the players). Kind of what they knew and what they signed on for with Husky football, that was, like, gone in an instant.
"And now with all the uncertainty and all the questions — ‘Is this now the place for me? What am I going to do?’ — there are a lot of things that, as we are looking at getting ready for a bowl game, having nothing to do with getting ready for a bowl game.
Tuiasosopo said he thinks he succeeded on getting the players removed somewhat from that uncertainty and back to what they know best, practicing and playing.
"I think we’ve grown and come together as a team," he said.
He said only one player has left the program, redshirt freshman defensive back Cleveland Wallace. He doesn’t expect any more to go.
Tuiasosopo has drawn on his experience of being a Husky during the coaching change from Jim Lambright to Rick Neuheisel at Washington following the 1998 season. He’s shared those with these Huskies.
"You kind of want to be a friend to them and just say, ‘Hey, I know you have some feelings there. I don’t want to act like you don’t, or tell you to not feel that. But let’s take a look at what you guys have built here,’" he said.
"It’s a young team. We have some seniors, but it’s a young team. Yeah, you have a coaching change, but I’ve been through it. … Really, just to walk it with them.
"These guys are young men. Some are not there yet; they are growing to become young men. Something they need to hear, ‘I know what you are going through,’ to be someone there to help them through and sort of manage, navigate their emotions through this process."
Tuiasosopo also said “as of right now” he expects defensive-line coach Tosh Lupoi to coach with the Huskies in the bowl game. Lupoi is under UW and NCAA investigations after the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday published allegations of recruiting violations.
"The appropriate people are handling that side of things, and as of right now he is still coaching with us," Tuiasosopo said.
The players now get the next two-plus days off before they go to San Francisco on Sunday for practices and bowl events there. Some players are headed home this afternoon for pre-Christmas visits.
Now that’s more towards normal, in a week in which the Huskies sure needed it.
"We got back to the basics of playing football and focusing on that," Tuiasosopo said. "I thought we got better. Got a chance to take a look at BYU — and had a chance to get back to why we are all here, and that’s to play football."
As for this chance to be in charge, the Huskies’ 34-year-old quarterbacks coach calls this “an awesome deal.”
"It was a great learning experience; still is," he said. "Each day, something new. I’m taking it all in. It’s fun to be around the guys, specifically because I played here and went to school here it’s extra special to kind of share with them and do this with them. It’s been a lot of fun so far. I’m looking forward to next week, as well."
So what just what has he noticed as the differences between being a position coach and the man in charge of 120-plus players, assistants and staff?
"There are a lot more duties, a lot more responsibilities administratively on how you want to set the schedule. Where are we eating? When are we eating? What are we wearing?" he said. "All the stuff that doesn’t really have to do with football, but ultimately helps the young guys prepare each day and gives them something to help them become the best that they can be.
"It doesn’t put me off. It is what it is. It’s something I would love to do down the road at some point. This is just giving me a look at it."
Tuiasosopo was joking recently with a friend of his and told him, “I don’t know if I can go back” to being an assistant.
"Nah," he said, "it’s just been a great experience."