Wash­ing­ton’s high­est-paid employ­ee is head­ed south for a more lucra­tive job.

Steve Sark­isian, who was hired to turn around a win­less Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton foot­ball pro­gram five years ago, acknowl­edged ear­li­er today that he has accept­ed the head coach­ing posi­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, which is one of the most elite schools in the coun­try and a tra­di­tion­al pow­er­house in the Pacif­ic 12 Con­fer­ence (for­mer­ly the Pac-10). Sark­isian was an assis­tant coach for sev­en years at USC pri­or to being hired by UW, so his desire to return his understandable.

But the tim­ing and cir­cum­stances of his depar­ture are not becom­ing of a man who claimed for half a decade to bleed pur­ple and gold.

Sark­isian is aban­don­ing his play­ers and the Husky foot­ball pro­gram he helped turn around less than a hun­dred hours after the UW’s 2013 Apple Cup victory.

I say aban­doned because Wash­ing­ton’s sea­son isn’t over yet. The Huskies are com­ing off an eight-win sea­son and have earned a trip to a bowl game. They have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to become a nine-win team.

But it won’t be under Sark­isian, because he’s jet­ting off to south­ern Cal­i­for­nia to be (re)introduced to the USC faith­ful at an after­noon press con­fer­ence tomorrow.

Instead of get­ting his team ready to play Brigham Young Uni­ver­si­ty in the Fight Hunger Bowl (which is where the Huskies are like­ly head­ed) and recruit­ing for UW for next year, Sark­isian will be pack­ing up his things and mov­ing his fam­i­ly to sun­nier and warmer climes in south­ern California.

Sark­isian now owes the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton $1.5 mil­lion for break­ing his con­tract (he was signed through the 2014 sea­son) though it’s pos­si­ble that USC is buy­ing him out. They can cer­tain­ly afford to.

Rumors are swirling that Sark­isian is attempt­ing to take much of the Wash­ing­ton coach­ing staff with him, includ­ing defen­sive coor­di­na­tor Justin Wilcox, who may now be offered the job just relin­quished by Sarkisian.

As the UW’s Scott Wood­ward not­ed today, it isn’t unusu­al for col­lege foot­ball coach­es to move around, par­tic­u­lar­ly when a pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ty or a Nation­al Foot­ball League team comes call­ing with a head coach­ing opportunity.

But in allow­ing USC brass to approach him and then in accept­ing their job offer ahead of Wash­ing­ton’s bowl game, Steve Sark­isian is putting him­self first, not the play­ers he recruit­ed and men­tored, and not the uni­ver­si­ty he has claimed to be proud and pleased to coach for. He’s behav­ing like a mer­ce­nary, not a Husky.

A few weeks ago, Sark­isian was doing all he could to con­vince his play­ers and Husky fans that he was hap­py at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton and intent on stay­ing, build­ing on com­ments he made in 2010, when he said he viewed the coach­ing job at Wash­ing­ton as one of the pre­mier posi­tions in col­lege foot­ball, and not a step­ping­stone to some­thing big­ger and grander.

“Peo­ple don’t under­stand it, but this is my dream job,” Sark­isian said then.

He echoed that state­ment ahead of the UW’s game against Stan­ford a few weeks ago, say­ing “This is an awe­some place to be,” and adding:

I have great respect for USC and the rich his­to­ry and tra­di­tion that they have. But I am proud to be the head foot­ball coach of the 15th-ranked team in Amer­i­ca right now, and all the hard work that we’ve put into this pro­gram for the last five years to get to this point. To be in an awe­some matchup on nation­al tele­vi­sion Sat­ur­day night against a nation­al-cham­pi­onship con­tender in Stan­ford, that’s where my focus is.

He even told KJR his goal as coach was to run Wash­ing­ton’s foot­ball pro­gram one year longer than Don James did. James, who died a few weeks ago, is affec­tion­ate­ly known as the Dawg­fa­ther and was the UW’s most suc­cess­ful foot­ball coach.

Just this week­end, in the wake of the Apple Cup vic­to­ry, Sark­isian was express­ing excite­ment at the thought of coach­ing the Huskies in a bowl game.

“I’m excit­ed about the oppor­tu­ni­ty to play anoth­er game with this group, because I think they’ll go out and per­form,” Sark­isian said in remarks report­ed by the Everett Her­ald. “They’ll pre­pare great and they’ll go out and per­form, and I’m excit­ed about the future of this pro­gram with where we’re headed.”

This morn­ing, in a Tim Eymanesque-like fash­ion, he claimed on KJR FM that he had not “inter­viewed” for the head coach­ing job at USC.

But then word of his hir­ing got out and was swift­ly fol­lowed by an offi­cial announce­ment that was only delayed so that Sark­isian could tell his play­ers in per­son about his deci­sion to leave Wash­ing­ton… and them. Of course, by then, they had already heard the news from Twit­ter or ESPN. Nat­u­ral­ly, they feel blind­sided.

“Don’t ever com­mit cus of a coach. Fak­er then a 3 dol­lar bill,” tweet­ed Husky quar­ter­back Troy Williams, one of Sark­isian’s recruits. (He lat­er delet­ed the tweet, pre­sum­ably on the advice of team­mates or coach­es, but his point is well taken).

Sark­isian has not said much about why he decid­ed to leave. He released a pre­pared state­ment say­ing he was excit­ed to return to USC and “win championships”.

But he told UW play­ers, includ­ing quar­ter­back Kei­th Price, that he was tak­ing the job at USC “for his fam­i­ly”. If Sark­isian tru­ly is the kind of man who puts his fam­i­ly first, then why’d he accept the head coach­ing job at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton to begin with? He could have stayed at USC work­ing under Pete Car­roll and wait­ed for Car­roll to move on (which hap­pened only a year after UW fired Tyrone Willingham).

Instead, he jumped at the oppor­tu­ni­ty to become a head coach. Sark­isian’s own ambi­tion turned out to be more important.

It may well be that his fam­i­ly sup­port­ed and accept­ed his deci­sion to come to Wash­ingtin in 2008, despite hav­ing mis­giv­ings or mixed feel­ings about it. If so, they have been far more loy­al to him than he has been to either USC or UW.

It’d be nice if the UW’s next foot­ball coach were tru­ly com­mit­ted to build­ing a great foot­ball pro­gram and men­tor­ing Wash­ing­ton’s stu­dent ath­letes long term. After the tur­moil of the Neuhis­el, Gilbert­son, Will­ing­ham and Sark­isian years, it’d be nice to have a coach who acts more like Don James as opposed to anoth­er mer­ce­nary who is only loy­al to Wash­ing­ton until he lands a bet­ter gig.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Adjacent posts

One reply on “Steve Sarkisian abandons his players and Husky football for USC’s top coaching job”

  1. You can fac­tor in that the UW fans were nev­er infat­u­at­ed with Sark­isian in the first place. Your point (which you expressed to me on twit­ter) was well tak­en that is not why he left, but at one point this sea­son, there was a pret­ty loud cry for his removal.
    Rumors seem to be grow­ing that Jim Mora would step in to the posi­tion, if that hap­pens, I would like to see what the fans who are angry about Sark skip­ping, will say about that.

Comments are closed.