Superlatives have reigned supreme as the bookends to the three weeks that have separated an exhilarating defeat of Stanford and a disheartening third straight loss, this time against non-powerhouse Arizona. People are calling for Steve Sarkisian’s job, and dooms dayers are out in droves to tell you why the Huskies are destined for decades of hell.
You see, in bad times we often do two things: overreact to the negative, and remember the past through rose-colored glasses.
Let’s focus on the latter. When Rick Neuheisel was fired before the 2003 season he left a team that had basically no offensive line recruits. Keith Gilbertson was a good soldier and took a job that would have been hard for anyone. Primed for failure, Gilbertson didn’t disappoint. He coached the 2003 Huskies to a 6-6 record with no bowl appearance. His victory over a No. 22 ranked Oregon State team in Week 7 of that season would be the only BCS conference ranked team that the Huskies would beat until Steve Sarkisian took over. (Tyrone Willingham beat No. 22 Boise State in 2007, a season when they also lost to Hawaii, and East Carolina in a Bowl game, while beating no ranked opponents and ending the season ranked No. 24)
Two fall-guy, bad-recruiting coaches later, and Sark inherited a cupboard that may have been more bare than any other figurative cupboard in the history of the University of Washington. The team went 0-12 in 2008, and were stuck with personnel recruited to play in a spread-option that they had to adapt to a pro-style offense.
Sark turned Jake Locker into a Top 10 pick after two mostly non-descript years under Willingham, and Keith Price into an upper-echelon college quarterback, rather than an afterthought of the Willingham regime. And he brought the team within shouting distance of their first bowl game in six years in 2009, ending the season at 5-7. Bowl appearances in 2010 and 2011 haven’t been enough for some fans to give Sark a pass, though.
Some people are tired of getting dominated by the game’s elite teams. Others believe that by now Sark should have returned the team to the top of the Pac-12. Here’s some news though, not only was the team not a perennial Rose Bowl contender in the Neuheisel era, but they weren’t in the Lambright era either.
What Don James did was incredible. He dominated the Pac-10 like no Huskies coach had before (though Jim Owens had a good stretch in the AAWU). To assume that after a decade-and-a-half of slow onset mediocrity that Sark should be able to reverse the trend of average recruiting, program mismanagement by multiple athletic directors, and the general progression of other Pac 12 programs and return to the level of success that Don James had is disrespectful to the Dawg Father himself. Dynasties aren’t built in a day. Jim Harbaugh turned Stanford into a pretty good program after turning Andrew Luck into perhaps the best quarterback prospect to ever live. Chip Kelly built on the extended success of Mike Belotti to turn the Oregon program into a national title contender.
Steve Sarkisian didn’t do that. Many good coaches haven’t been miracle workers.
So we’re not going to wring our hands over whether or not Sark deserves to keep his job. He’s improved this team significantly, and has done so in perhaps the most brutal Pac-12 that has ever existed. It’s not just a question of whether or not Sark’s record has been acceptable. That’s a personal standard. It’s also a question of whether or not there is someone else reasonably-available that the Huskies could hire, and who would do a better job.
Should there be a discussion as to whether or not Sark deserves to keep his job? Sure, after the season. Nick Saban should be under the same scrutiny. But I’d almost guarantee that anyone who is screaming and yelling about Sark needing to be fired has never been in a position to hire anyone. And if they were, they probably didn’t last long. Being angry is fine if you’re a fan. But it’s imperative that anyone in a position to hire or fire anybody, especially a multi-million-dollar state employee, be level headed and rational.
Coaching college football isn’t anything like a sprint, where everyone starts at the same line. Rather, coaching is like a relay race, and in many ways the last three guys to surrender the baton have fallen over, and are now hanging onto Sark’s ankles as he tries to gain ground on the rest of the pack.