I contend that we got off easy just losing a secondary coach, but more on that later.
In the days leading up to the announcement that UCLA signed Jim Mora Jr. to be their next head coach, there was a back-and-forth in the media about whether or not coach Sark was being wooed by the So-Cal school. First, the L.A. Times said UCLA had contacted Sark and that they were pursuing him hard (even though the same report admitted coach Sark had no desire to leave UW). Then, there was the report by the UW athletic director saying that he never gave permission for UCLA to speak with Sark. Then, there was coach Sark saying personally that he had not been contacted, though these are reports that you like to hear because that means you’re doing a good job. And before there could be any counter, or any further digging into the situation, they announced Jim Mora and everyone moved on with their lives.
You can call me cynical all you want, but I find it incredibly hard to believe that UCLA DIDN’T speak with Sark at least one time between the time when they knew they were going to fire Rick Neuheisel and the day they knew they were going to hire Mora. Maybe I feel that way because I’m an insecure Seattle sports fan and I know deep down in my gut that nobody REALLY wants to be here (that Seattle is more of a launching pad for young up-and-comers to make their mark and then leave for greener pastures – whether they be coaches or athletes). Maybe I feel that way because it’s hard to consider UW a prominent national powerhouse after they’ve been reduced to what they’ve been reduced to in the years since Don James retired (and, in relation to that, I must feel that UCLA is a better opportunity for anyone who would REALLY want to make a name for himself).
But, I think I mostly feel the way I feel because I’ve been through it before. Oddly enough, it all relates back to our time with Rick Neuheisel.
I have a hard time feeling the hate towards Neuheisel that most Husky fans feel. The guy did lead us to a Rose Bowl victory (our last Rose Bowl victory, I might add), and before you jump all over me by saying the players were recruited by the previous coaching staff, I’ll tell you to stop minimizing the job Neuheisel and his staff accomplished. Recruiting is only PART of a coach’s job; there’s also the actual gameday COACHING aspect of being a head coach that you have to factor in as well.
As far as what people think of the actual recruting work Neuheisel accomplished while at this school, I’d say he was contending with some pretty difficult circumstances. You had Pete Carroll starting out at USC with his run of dominance. You still had Dennis Erickson at Oregon State building up his powerhouse program. You had the rise of Oregon with their money from Phil Knight. It’s not like recruiting is necessarily EASY, and yet he still brought in some big names at the skill positions to create one of the most explosive and enduring offenses we have seen at this school.
Whatever the case may be, I will always have fond memories of the Rick Neuheisel era. PROBABLY because he was the coach there while I went to school there. And I’ll always think he got a raw deal with that stupid NCAA bracket scandal, which led to probably the darkest period in UW’s history (thank you Gilby and Willingham). The only thing I didn’t enjoy about Rick’s tenure was the annual reports of him being sought after for NFL coaching positions. I DIDN’T like them, precisely because I DID like Rick Neuheisel, and I wanted him to stay at UW forever (which is why I find it odd when all the people who hated him bring up this point; if you hated Rick, then wouldn’t you have WANTED him to coach for the 49ers?).
As it turns out, Rick probably wouldn’t have been the answer long-term. Let’s face it, the guy did neglect the trench players when he was recruiting. And that tenure in UCLA – where you’d think he’d have a little more leeway considering he’s an alum – was about as rocky and turbulent as they come for a guy who was never embroiled in an official scandal. Sometimes, things work themselves out, it just takes time to see the how’s and why’s.
Fast forward to just last week. Here we have a coach I like in Steve Sarkisian. Here we have an opening at UCLA. Here we have a coach I like with ties to the area where there is a major head coach opening. UCLA may not be USC, but it’s also not that far off either!
My small, insignificant optimistic side would like to believe, “Hey, UCLA isn’t a better opportunity than UW! At the very least, we’re on par with one another!” If you believe that, then you’d have to believe that UW is one of the top two or three head coaching jobs in all of the Pac-12. Which is nice. USC is obviously at the top, then MAYBE Oregon when you consider all of their money and influence (and their recent track record of kicking ass and taking names); but let’s face it, Oregon is still IN Oregon, and who in his right mind would want to live in Eugene?
But, my bigger, more cynical side tends to believe, “Yeah, he turned them down now, but that’s just because the timing wasn’t right.” Coach Sark has been here for three seasons now. If you want to be taken remotely seriously as a head coach, you can’t just bail on your first-ever head coaching job three seasons in unless you’re being offered one of the BIGTIME head coaching jobs. Like Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, or Texas. Or, you know, USC. You don’t switch schools in what’s likely a lateral move when you’re this far into your coaching career; you switch schools to move UP! At best, if you really like the So-Cal area, UCLA is just barely a tick above Washington. They’re in a good area, but they’re still going to get all of USC’s castoffs.
My point in this whole thing is, I hate the idea of Coach Sark leaving. I think we all hate that idea. Just about every Husky fan out there wants nothing less than Sark being the next Don James. A guy who will stay for 20+ years, lead us to a few Rose Bowls, and take this school back to its rightful spot in the national spotlight for football. So, in that regard, I don’t think I’ll ever feel safe or secure in him not taking a better deal elsewhere. On the one hand, yeah, having a head coach who’s coveted by other schools is a good thing because that means you’re winning. But, on the other hand, who’s to say one of these days that offer isn’t an offer he can refuse?
That’s why I have to scoff at these people who were saying – before the Jim Mora deal went down – that Coach Sark would NEVER leave for UCLA. Oh REALLY? What if they offered him $6 million per season? You don’t think he’d leave UW for $6 million per season? Because I sure as shit think he would leave for $6 million per season! I’m not saying that would ever happen, that they would offer a guy who has been a head coach for three years $6 million per, but it’s not IMPOSSIBLE! What if they were so convinced that Sark will end up being one of the true greats in College Football?
The point is, you don’t know what other schools are capable of. That leaves all of us Husky fans in the position of the insanely jealous boyfriend. The insanely jealous boyfriend with the super-hot girlfriend who is CLEARLY out of our league. What happens if, one day, George Clooney wants to fuck our head coach’s brains out? Are WE going to compete with the George Clooneys of College Football?
Again, call me cynical, but I think if a better program wants our coach, they will GET our coach. We may or may not have dodged a bullet with Jim Mora signing with the Bruins, but one of these days we’re going to catch a sniper’s steady hand and the next thing we know, we’re going to get a bullet right between the eyes.