Steve Sarkisian's tenure at UW in entering a turning point this spring. The future is bright, but 2012 could be a make-or-break year for the fourth-year head coach.
Time flies. It seems like just yesterday Steve Sarkisian was beginning his tenure as head coach at the University of Washington after a successful stint as offensive coordinator at USC, yet in reality he is about to oversee his fourth series of spring practices at the helm of Husky football.
When spring practices begin April 2, it will in many ways mark a new era of U-Dub football. And possibly be most critical of Sarkisian's tenure.
After taking over in 2009 for a team that went 0-12 the previous season under Tyrone Willingham, the bar was set relatively low for Sark, but things are different now. The staff has a whole new look for 2012, filled with highly-respected and highly-compensated assistant coaches. Most of all, Sarkisian has successfully changed the expectations fans have of the football program.
The bar has been raised. And that's a good thing.
With the new coaches come new schemes, reevaluating the roster to fit those schemes, players acclimating to their new position coaches and/or coordinators and more. But time is of the essence.
With Oregon in transition after losing NFL-talent on both sides of the ball, such as LaMichael James, Darron Thomas, David Paulson and Josh Kaddu - as well as an ongoing NCAA investigation into the use of questionable scouting services, USC finally beginning to experience scholarship reductions (maximum of 15 per year over the next three years) stemming for its own NCAA issues, and Stanford beginning life without Andrew Luck, the top of the PAC-12 could have a new look soon. And the Huskies would very much like to paint it purple and gold.
For the Dawgs to be able to capitalize on the changes in the PAC-12 landscape, they will need to feel a sense of urgency this spring.
QB Keith Price and his pals on offense will have to deal with the loss of Chris Polk and OC Doug Nussmeier, among others. But there is little doubt in Seattle that the unit will still be able to put up record numbers.
The focus this spring, and fall, will be squarely on the defense. New DC Justin Wilcox comes in with great pedigree (Oregon,Tennessee, Boise State and Cal) and Pacific Northwest ties, and is regarded as one of the brightest young coaches in the game. He's got quite a supporting cast joining him too, in D-line coach and mega-recruiter, Tosh Lupoi, linebackers coach Peter Sirmon and defensive backs, and PAC-12 coaching veteran, Keith Heyward. The job they are able to do with the defense will play a big role in deciding the trajectory of Husky football.
Improve on last year's 106th ranked defense, which surrendered an average of 453 yards per game, and they should be in good shape. If not, as outlandish as it may seem to some, Sark could find himself on the hot seat. It may not be fair, but it's a reality for teams that want to be considered one of the "big boys" in college football.
Which is exactly why this spring may be the most important one in some time on Montlake.
Though some recruits that are expected to play key roles this fall, such as safety Shaq Thompson, won't be around until August, the core of the defense will go through spring practices. Which means the foundation of the expected switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense will be laid and emerging stars like safety Sean Parker and defensive end Josh Shirley will get an early chance to show how they can be featured in the new defense.
When the new assistant coaches were hired, the thing Sarkisian praised them for the most, besides being some of the best recruiters in college football, was their abilities as teachers - not just in terms of X's and O's, but on the field. They all have reputations of making complicated things seem simple, teaching technique and getting the most of their players. Successfully implementing end executing a whole new defense will certainly test that reputation.
It's a challenge Sark and Co. welcome with open arms. The slogan "expect to win" is plastered all over the football office, the locker room and even player's t-shrtis.
If they expect to win in the fall, the Huskies will need to start by winning this spring.
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