SEATTLE — Rebuilding a depleted college football program takes time, time some fans aren’t interested in taking. Being intrenched in Rose Bowl victories, 10 win seasons and nationally ranked isn’t something one can be OK with losing. From 1975 to 2003 Washington had only one losing season, going 5-6 in 76′ in Don James’ second year.
Within that 28 year span Washington finished with .500 record twice, 1998 and 2003. Those were the golden days on Montlake, when you knew every single year Washington would be a contender and likely a top 25 team. However, since the Rick Neuheisel-Barbara Hedges scandal and fallout in 2003, Washington hasn’t been the same.
That was until the school hired Steve Sarkisian, a former USC offensive coordinator at USC, to be the teams head coach in 2009. Since then Sarkisian has rebuilt a program that went win-less a season before he was hired into a rising and possibly top 25 caliber team.
The bulk of Sarkisian’s early success at Washington has been due to his abilities to keep elite instate recruits, and convince them to come to Seattle. In 2011, Washington landed all five of Seattle Times blue chip recruits highlighted by wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
While it doesn’t carry the weight of landing elite nationally ranked out-of-state recruits, it showed the Sarkisian was starting to “build up the fence”. At that time Sark, and the Washington coaching staff was able to see recruits on the “here we come” factor having just finished 6-6, including a Holiday Bowl win over No.18 Nebraska.
Now, after completing his third season as head coach Sarkisian began to lose that angle in recruiting after finishing 7-6 and a historical 67-56 loss to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. Improving by only one win, with an easier schedule and arguably a much better offense with Keith Price at quarterback, the fence became weak.
While the blame falls on the assistant coaches who are the ones going out, making the connections and building relationships. It’s a mutual blame. After firing defensive coordinator Nick Holt, linebacker’s coach Mike Cox and secondary coach Jeff Mills, it effected several instate recruits.
Sarkisian noted the changes that would result with the firings but also said that the hiring’s put Washington in a better place, short and long-term. One of the top instate recruits, offensive tackle Zach Banner, had Cox as his recruiter and said that did play some role in his decision to choose USC over Washington.
While Washington was in Banner’s final two, the Huskies failed to even make the final three, four and five of other instate recruits. Guard Josh Garnett eliminated Washington in mid December and his reason was “the others schools are just better overall.”
Finishing 7-6, Washington knew that they couldn’t say they were “great” or “elite” like USC, Stanford or some of the other schools. Even with the hirings of Justin Wilcox (defensive coordinator), Tosh Lupoi (defensive line) and Peter Simon (linebackers), it wasn’t enough for some of these elite instate recruits.
Truly, it should come as no surprise to fans that Washington wasn’t able to land Garnett, Banner and several other instate recruits. For the first time in a long, long time, the state of Washington has become a hotbed for talent and other schools are starting to notice.
Just because these kids are instate recruits doesn’t guarantee they will choose to go to Washington. Sarkisian, and the Washington coaching staff had a down year in recruiting when they could least expect it. While the Huskies are likely to land a few elite recruits like Shaq Thompson, the No.1 safety prospect in the country, it still leaves a hole back home.
While this might be a down year for recruiting, especially within the state of Washington. Sarkisian has built a coaching staff that, should it come together completely on the field, could return Washington to it’s elite status. Fans should have expected a down recruiting year this season, but the future looks bright.
Only time will tell.
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