Steve Sarkisian (Scout.com)
SEATTLE - The year before Steve Sarkisian took over as Washington's Head Coach, a rule was passed by the NCAA that would have a big impact on Sarkisian's future. It was dubbed the 'Nick Saban Rule', a nod toward the current Alabama Head Coach. It stipulated that head coaches would not be allowed on the road during the spring evaluation period.
The rule was created because of energetic and aggressive, like Saban and Sarkisian's former boss, current Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll. Saban and Carroll loved to get out on the road and be seen, selling the relative virtues of their program and being the face of their respective universities. It's a role Sarkisian also relishes, and would have fully embraced if not for the Nick Saban Rule taking away some of his thunder.
That being said, Sarkisian has found other ways to make his presence felt, and in his words 'maximize his visibility'. When a call came in from Alema Te'o, President of the Polynesian Coaches Association, Coach Sark rallied the troops. Te'o needed coaches to come in to help teach at his All Poly camp in Honolulu this past week. Coach Sark rallied his troops, joining Washington Defensive Line Coach Johnny Nansen on the nearly six-hour flight to Hawai'i to spend three days coaching up receivers. Sarkisian admitted he couldn't remember the last time he coached up receivers. The two caught a red-eye flight back to Seattle Friday night in order to make sure they were there in time for the opening of Washington's Rising Stars camp first thing Saturday morning.
"The biggest thing for me is, I just love to coach," he said. "It doesn't matter what position it is. It's what I love to do."
Because the NCAA allows college coaches a chance to work non-institutional camps during the summer, Washington jumped at the chance to get involved. Te'o runs his popular All-Poly camps in Utah and Hawai'i, and Nansen has been a fixture at these camps for years. When Sarkisian showed up on a breezy, sunny Tuesday at McKinley High, he was the only BCS Head Coach there, even though coaches from other Pac-12 schools - Colorado, Utah, and UCLA - were also in attendance.
Who knows if the players were paying a lot of attention to that fact, but Sarkisian understands it's the visibility and getting out there that counts most. It's a long-term investment, especially when recruiting in a remote location like Hawai'i. It takes time to build relationships and reputation, and he's willing to go the extra mile to demonstrate his passion for the game and those that play it.
"Over the last 10 years, the talent has gotten better and better, the players are getting better, the teams are better coached and getting stronger - so there's more prospects there than ever before," Sarkisian said about Hawai'i prep football.
And when the Hawaiians come to Seattle to attend Washington's Rising Stars Camp - players like Kamehameha DL Kory Rasmussen, or St. Louis DE Kalei Auelua, or Kealakehe ATH Psalm Wooching - Sarkisian is keen on repaying their interest back with interest of his own.
Many top college camps are run primarily by assistants and other staffers, with the revenue generated to help incentivize those coaches with supplemental income. The head coach may make a few token appearances, glad-hand a few of the top prospects on their recruiting list, and then move on.
Sarkisian's approach is quite different. During this past weekend's Rising Stars camp, he shuffled from field to field, constantly moving between Husky Stadium and the Dempsey Indoor Facility. He watched all the different positions with a keen interest. Even during periods where it was clear no actual coaching was taking place - Sarkisian was still there, taking it all in. In the team periods, he had all the prospects running at a high tempo for maximum repetition. It was as if he was still coaching his own players during spring football.
"It's the best Rising Stars camp we've had in the three years we've been here, and by far the most talent and competition we've had," Sarkisian said, noting he was especially pleased with the linebackers, defensive linemen, and receivers. "I thought the younger kids stepped up and played well."
Sarkisian noted they are attracting the best kids from the Northwest to attend the Rising Stars camps, and also some of the best kids from California, Arizona, and Hawai'i.
"I think the word is starting to spread," he said.
And if a player wanted to know if Sarkisian was paying attention, he usually didn't have to wait long to find out.
These top camps are a bit of a juggling act for the coaches - finishing evaluations on some 2012 prospects, opening up evaluations on other players that turned their heads, and also keeping one eye peeled on the future.
"It's not only huge for the borderline kids, but also for the underclassmen," Sarkisian said. "It really sets the stage for next year. Between our Rising Stars camp, our 7-on-7 camp, and our fundamentals camp, we're putting a lot of eyes on the younger players."
Sarkisian's love of coaching and all things college football keeps him right in the middle of the action, even if the NCAA doesn't necessarily want him to be there all the time.