I applaud Steve Sarkisian for looking forward to this challenge with excitement instead of the typical Tyrone Willingham fear and contempt that we have experienced the past few years, but will he be able to back it up?
Many people seem to have a renewed optimism about our new coach and team. There is nothing wrong with optimism or expecting to win, in fact it’s the very thing we need around our rebuilding program - however expecting to win while making excuses is not only backwards but will ultimately lead to another Todd Turner/Willingham era. This article will examine how many games I expect our new coach to win next year, along with why. There will be no excuses made for not reaching these expectations.
Every off-season the same nonsense is said about the team: They are getting stronger, faster, “this is the most athletic team in years”, “Jake has really improved his accuracy”, and “the entire OL lived in the weight room over the off-season". I could list off these “facts” about how the guys are working harder than ever and how they expect to win, but that’s not why we should expect to win. The same things that were said for Tyrone have now been said for Sark and will be said for the next head coach and everyone should realize it.
This article will throw all that nonsense to the side and examine why we should expect Sark to win - not because of a change in attitude, new AD Scott Woodward, or even because or our "football president", Mark Emmert, but because any decent coach should be expected to win here.
Now I could dance around about how many wins I expect next year or give random percentages on wins, but I’m not going to. I expect to win 5-6 games. Expect - not want, not guarantee - I expect for a coach that so many speak so highly of to win 5-6 games this coming season. End of story. No excuses.
I understand that I have absolutely no say with Emmert or Woodward or anyone who would decide Sark’s fate should he be a failure, but it is time that the fan base unite; not behind some appointed shot-in-the-dark coach, but behind the UW football team. Two to 3-win seasons should never be acceptable, and have never been acceptable. I ask the fan base not to lower expectations because you have been beaten down by Todd, Emmert and Willingham, but instead return and demand improvement and results.
The biggest reason why I expect for our coach to win is our talent level. Talent on a 0-12 team you may say? Yes, the very same team that went 0-12 does have talent. While Sark has limited depth, the talent is there.
At running back, UW will put forth only four RBs, three of them are fairly talented but all are relatively untested. Chris Polk or Curtis Shaw seem to have speed, size, and potential to be elite Pac-10 backs, but only time will tell.
At quarterback, Sark will have one of the most athletic QBs in the nation. Jake Locker’s development has, thus far, been somewhat of a disappointment. However, I believe that Sark - someone who actually knows the QB position - can vastly improve Locker in a short amount of time.
The receivers are young but have a year under their belts, and in my opinion are just as talented as nearly any other group in the Pac-10, aside from USC and California.
The offensive line is the biggest question mark; the good news is Coach Dan Cozzetto has been ripping into these guys non-stop from Day One. I like the way he coaches: No excuses, finish every move, every play. I expect a lot of change out of our OL, but not miracles. Our OL should be at least seventh-best in the Pac-10 and Locker’s athleticism should help out just a little bit during games. Sark also seems to know offense pretty good. I expect him to move the pocket around, along with a lot of three-step drops to combat the pass rush. I think our run offense will struggle quite a bit, but hopefully we will be able to use the short passing game and screen plays as somewhat of a substitute for the lack of a power running game.
The defense has a few more holes: The linebacker group is very, very solid and is top-3 in the Pac-10, in my opinion. But there are a lot of questions around the defensive line and secondary. The good news about the DL is that Daniel Te'o-Nesheim will be back again and is looking good. Other than him, we will be looking for one of the younger guys, perhaps Alameda Ta’amu, to step it up. Only time will tell.
The secondary is a major concern and will be the reason why we will have to outscore most opponents to win. If Tripper Johnson is starting against LSU, be afraid. Be very afraid. D1 football is not for 30-year old baseball players.
The second reason why we should expect to win is history. When you hire a coach you expect him to bring the answers, and do better than any of the other candidates. Other schools have had amazing turnarounds, and there is no reason that if Sark is as good as everyone says he should have any trouble turning our program around.
Everyone’s favorite example of a great turnaround in the coaching world is Jeff Tedford. Tedford took a Cal team that had eight straight sub-.500 seasons and has now gone to six straight bowl games (7-5 in his first season). Before Steve Spurrier, Florida had exactly zero SEC championships in their school history. Now look at where they are. He was 9-2 in his first season. Paul Johnson took a Navy team that had only had two winning season from 1983 to 2001 and went to five straight bowl games, compiling a 43-19 record. Jim Grobe took the Wake Forest Demon Deacons from a team that only had nine winning seasons in forty years (1960-2000) and posted five winning seasons in eight years, including an 11-3 season and a trip to the Orange Bowl in 2006. He went 6-5 in his first season. Gary Patterson took a TCU team that from 1970-1999 had five winning seasons and has had seven winning seasons of the eight that he’s coached, along with six top-25 finishes and five 10-win seasons. He went 6-6 in his first season. Bill Snyder of Kansas State took a team that had only ever been to one bowl game ever (1938–1988) and went to 11 consecutive bowl games - more than doubling the number of total wins KSU ever had in a 16-year period. It did take him his second year to reach that 5-win mark that I’m expecting Sark to reach, but Snyder was at Kansas State, not Washington.
I understand that each school is different, but aside from probably Florida, Washington has a distinct advantage in location, money, support, stadium, recruiting, and history over all of the above schools, which should make it even easier for our new coach to turn it around.
Third, as much as I hate the, “at least it’s not Tyrone” argument, it does hold some water here. Last year was a complete disaster, but there were a few games that were lost solely because of Tyrone and his staff. BYU, WSU, and Stanford, in my opinion, would have been wins if Tyrone was simply not the coach. So let’s just say we should have won three games last year: If that team had 3-win “talent” on it last year with a nonexistent coaching staff, why should we only expect 3-4 wins this year? That isn’t very kind to our new coach whom everyone seems so excited about. If our new coach is as good as everyone says he should have no problem improving over what last season would have been with anyone but Tyrone steering the ship.
Fourth, our schedule. Now I’m not going to sit here and pick guaranteed wins off our schedule because we could debate all day about which team we should beat and why, but if you take a look at our basic schedule it’s not as bad as it has been in past years. LSU as the home opener and season starter could definitely get ugly, but LSU hasn’t been like they have in years' past. I’m not calling a win but there really isn’t a better time to play a top team then at home early in the season, and the same applies to USC. Idaho should be a win and if we are not playing the second string by the end of the third quarter, something is wrong. Getting Cal near the end of the season is always nice, as they seem to soften up at the end of seasons. UCLA is having their annual injury problems, and their offense looks of DII caliber. Their defense, however, looks very solid, but I think UW will have a very good chance against them. Oregon is probably better than us at this point, but with a rivalry game at home anything can happen. Plus by that time Oregon might not even have a QB so you never know.
I’m getting into fanciful speculation and “what if's”, so let’s scale it back here and make my point: The schedule has winnable games on it and we should expect Sark to win some of those games. Now I’m certainly not saying that we should go out and beat these teams 35-17 or anything, but I am saying that those teams that we played close with Tyrone we should now easily beat, and those teams we got beat by but not killed we should be at least competitive. If Sark is half of what people are selling him as he should have no trouble finding 5-6 winnable games this coming season.
The fifth and final reason I expect for Sark to win is because that’s his job. If Emmert and Woodward hired Sark to win three games his first season then they are even more clueless then I could ever imagine. Sark, just like any other coach, was brought in to do one thing - win. Expecting Sark to win five games is not expecting too much. Ask yourself how many wins would you expect from a top-10 team coach: How many wins would you expect from Don James? How many wins would you expect from Pete Carrol, Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel or Steve Spurrier?
Excuses are what bought Tyrone so much time, excuses are what got us here, and excuses are the reason for 0-12. I’m done with excuses; it’s time to hold our coach to a higher standard. Sark was hired to win games and that’s all I’m expecting him to do.
So there it is - my five reasons why we should expect Sark to win at least 5-6 games next year. I’m not expecting a national championship, I’m not even expecting a bowl game. I’m expecting for our coach to step in and do what we hired him to do.
I'll leave this with a question and some thoughts. Something strange I’ve noticed on the boards, it seems those that have already decided that Sark is the best coach ever and is the answer to all our prayers (I’m undecided until after I see a few games) have the lowest expectations. So, I leave the new backwards generation of NegaDawgs with a question: How can you say Sark is the new savior while expecting so little of him? If you think Sark is so great and then only expect 2-3 wins, how many wins would you expect from a Mike Leach, Pat Hill, or even Jim Mora then?
Do not lower your expectations just so they can be reached: Moral victories and lowered expectations are for loser teams. Now is the time to hold those in charge accountable for what they are selling and to expect results.