He could have said no, flat-out. But that would make Steve Sarkisian an idiot or Rick Neuheisel, either of which would be disappointing to discover after a 4-0 start and two large games pending against Stanford and Oregon. The man is in play, as any knowledgeable fan knew when he came from USC five years ago.
The Huskies coach did the dodge-ball drill Monday at his weekly presser that all big-conference coaches do when big-time jobs come open. He took the initiative about what he called the "giant elephant" in the room by expressing loyalty to the current employers and vowing to be no distraction, virtually reading from the script provided in the Steppingstone 101 class that all successful college sports coaches seem to have taken.
"I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity I have to be the head football coach at the University of Washington," said Sarkisian (below). "It’s an awesome place to be. I have never once, and I will never, comment on hypothetical scenarios. I know that that’s the world a lot of us in this room (reporters) live in, and that’s your job to do. I understand that. I’ve never done that in the four and a half years that I’ve been here, and I won’t do that.
"I have great respect for USC and the rich history and tradition that they have . . . " and blah, blah, blah. He even said that he brought up the firing Sunday morning of Trojans coach Lane Kiffin at a team meeting so players would hear from him right away, in order to put away the topic quickly. But he never said never about taking, if offered, the USC job.
A coach on the short list for a big-time vacancy needs to avoid creating a trail of paper or pixels for media and fans that leads to the ah-ha! moment of varmint-hood, especially in college, where boosters often are intoxicated with the belief that their alma mater is somehow special.
Nor is it wise to talk loudly about a candidacy on a cell phone at an airport gate where a newspaper columnist can hear the conversation. Then lie about the candidacy publicly for three days.
That's what happened to Neuheisel, Huskies coach from 1999 to 2003. In February of '03, my former colleague at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, John Levesque, was waiting at the San Francisco airport when he, along with others, could hear the Slickster talking on his cell to several people about several things, while waiting to board the same flight to Seattle. Then more quietly, Neuheisel, with Levesque sitting nearby, told Mom that "the interview went very well."
Turned out Neuheisel was both wrong and a liar. He didn't come close to filling the head coaching vacancy with the 49ers, for which he interviewed. Nor was he honest when Levesque introduced himself at the gate and asked if Neuheisel interviewed for the Niners job. Of course not, he said, claiming he was on a golf outing with some frat brothers, and produced a golf ball from his pocket as proof. The game of golf produces more than its share of lies, but that surely is a top ten nominee for the Hall of Shame.
Neuheisel persisted in the lie publicly for three days until the second of two columns by Levesque figuratively pantsed him sufficiently that he confessed to the university, which made him grovel for forgiveness in public.
Neuheisel's later infractions regarding a March Madness betting pool that cost him his Huskies job — and even more later, his successful wrongful termination suit against UW and the NCAA that won him $4.7 million -— so dwarfed his lying about a job interview that the episode is marginalized in the rich legacy of misdeed that populated his regime.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!