Dawg Gone: Sarkisian Leaves Huskies for Trojans
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There will be mixed emotions on Montlake today.
Not necessarily because Steve Sarkisian is leaving the Washington Huskies to become the next head coach at USC.
It'll be due to the word that he's taking defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox with him.
The bar was set low when Washington hired Sarkisian from the Trojan staff five years ago, where he was the offensive coordinator. After the disastrous reign of Tyrone Willingham -- who never had a winning season and actually delved the Dawgs to an 0-12 nadir in 2008 -- the program had nowhere to go but up, and a 5-7 first season under Sark seemed to show it would. For a while, at least, his insistence that Washington drop its status as one of the only three teams never to play an FCS opponent -- USC and Nôtre Dame are the other two -- was forgiven.
However, three consecutive 7-6 campaigns started creating rumblings amongst the alums, and the biggest bankrolls among them saw this as a make-or-break year for Husky improvement. While Washington finished the regular season with an 8-4 record, it did so with only two road victories -- in Chicago, over a soft Illinois squad and in Corvallis, when the Beaver defense was out trick-or-treating -- and compiling enough penalties to rank last in all of the FBS schools.
In other words, the program was still perceived to be a far cry from where it was under the sainted Don James.
Two special teams gaffes -- unheard of under James -- cost Washington the Stanford game. Blank minds was their undoing at Arizona State. Claims of finally being ready for hated rival Oregon proved to be hollow. These were seen as coaching deficiencies. So despite the two-game improvement in the team's record this season, Sarkisian was feeling the heat.
Meanwhile, Wilcox -- who played at Oregon and made his name as defensive coordinator at Boise State -- was seen as the true rallying point for the Huskies' revival. Washington gained a reputation for intimidating defense under Jim Owens and James, and the strides made under Wilcox had many influential alumni believing he would be the ideal next coach. So the news of his imminent departure cast a pall on the day's developments.
Don't be surprised to see the Huskies approach current Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The former Idaho Vandal quarterback was credited with much of Washington's offensive success when he was the OC there before departing to Tuscaloosa. Other names will clearly surface -- remember that UCLA's Jim Mora was fired by the Atlanta Falcons after professing his desire to coach at Washington -- but Nussmeier will be an immediate favorite for the job.