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Huskies should stick with Sark as coach

In the world of college football, however, patience is hard to find.

No, I don't think Steve Sarkisian should be fired, even if the Huskies lose Saturday at Oregon State. But if he loses the Apple Cup for a second year in a row, he will leave himself open to the dark forces of college football over which even his patron, Washington athletics director Scott Woodward, has no control. And the issue of control is at the heart of Sarkisian's coaching future: Can he control his game-day team? Can he even control himself?

Both matters were exposed Friday in Los Angeles, where the 41-31 loss to UCLA was a significant setback in Sarkisian's argument that the Huskies (6-4) are taking the next step. In his weekly presser Monday, Sarkisian was quick to point out, unprompted, that the Huskies' four losses have been to teams ranked in the polls' top 20.

That was as obvious to fans as the need for Washington to win at least one of those games, something the Huskies did a year ago against Stanford, to demonstrate progress. Wins over OSU and WSU will not move that needle, but a loss in either will complicate his coaching life.

Against UCLA, a couple of his biggest play-calling decisions, as well as the continuing plague of penalties, showed he and his team have not mastered the art of the big-time game.

Sarkisian made the point himself when he talked about the Huskies' inability to rescue themselves from their own mistakes, which could have meant victories against either Stanford or UCLA.

"When you play good teams and make mistakes, good teams capitalize on it," he said. "We're not in a mold yet to handle making mistakes and always being able to overcome those mistakes. We need to go out and play a good, clean football game. When we do, we're pretty good. That's the goal for Saturday night."

After five years, an inability to overcome mistakes is not a sign of progress, especially with a fifth-year senior quarterback. Nor is leading the FBS nation in penalties with 89. Another 11 flags Friday pushed the season total to 793 yards  — think of it as about a game-and-a-half worth of lost ground — to make the Huskies No. 1 in something.

Yes, there is a mitigating circumstance: Pac-12 Conference officiating. It is fair for anyone who has watched a game to ask whether conference football officials were also tasked, as their day jobs, with the launch of the Affordable Care Act. It's not just bad calls, it's the frequency of fouls that is puzzling too. After Washington, UCLA is No. 2 nationally with 88, and Cal, Oregon and USC are in the top 10.

Another ghastly example of failure was in the second quarter Friday, when Huskies OG Dexter Charles was charged with a personal foul for hands to the face of a defender. Replays made it plain that it never occurred. But the judgment call is not subject to review despite the fact that the foul occurred during a 38-yard touchdown pass from QB Keith Price to WR Damore'ea Stringfellow. The potential game-changing scoring drive was converted into a punt.

Even the Pac-12 saw the foul as sufficiently ludicrous to acknowledge the error and apologize to Sarkisian.

"It’s tough, because we already get penalized a lot," Sarkisian said. "We get a lot of penalties and probably the majority of those, deservedly so. When you get one that isn’t, and not only is it not a penalty, it takes seven points off the board for you in a critical ballgame, it’s hard.

Coach Steve Sarkisian and his team (2012)/Photo by Neon Tommy/Flickr

Sarkisian always says the right words days after the injustice, but the impact in the moment is what counts. As does the week's preparation in preventing penalties. Asked why the message isn't getting across, Sarkisian sounded bewildered.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Nov 21, 12:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Good summary of where things stand, Art. One of the perplexing things about Sark has been his previous habit of brushing off penalties, saying that some of the best teams have the most penalties (as at USC
under his mentor, Carroll). But only the best teams, possessing overwhelming physical superiority, can afford them. Other teams beat themselves with penalties and turnovers---both of which reflect lack of focus and discipline, which must come from the coaching staff. Saying penalties don't matter is a bit like saying, in basketball, that free throws don't matter. Yes they do.

Sark also has the disconcerting habit of saying, before each game, that his team is focused and ready. Well, no. His Husky teams have been notorious for slow starts, especially on the road.

Sark has lost maybe 4-5 games in 5 years with careless sideline coaching and bad play calls. These are becoming fewer, however. Has he progressed as a coach? Yes. Have his teams progressed? Yes. But not sufficiently tp meet expectations.

Part of Sark's problems here lie in the fact that he is up against the Don James football tradition---a tradition of focus and discipline, hard hitting defense, big offensive and defensive plays. He also has seemed careless about recruitment of Washington state kids, many of whom have gone elsewhere. To the average Husky fan and alum, Sark can seem a SoCal buy, through and through, with his recruiting centered there and with too few players who grew up hereabouts with a loyalty to the Huskies and an aspiration to play for them. Not as SoCal as Neuheisel but a far cry from James.

Woodward, out of LSU, had no sense of what "Husky football" had been
during its glory days. Sark now must cope with fans'impatience with
a brand of football that seems far looser and less determined than
Husky football. He deserves another year, even if he loses to OSU
this weekend, but it must be at least 8-5 or better in 2014.

Posted Thu, Nov 21, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

If not Sark, who else? Sure UW could have a revolving door of new coaches every few years who either leave because they do not meet expectations or because they get a better offer from a bigger or more fanatical program but that is unlikely to get the program very far.

Sark is not Don James but he is smart enough that he will get better. Fans seem to forget that Don James did not get every call right, his teams did not win every game. Unlike James, Sark did not have 4 years of head coaching experience before he arrived so he is still early in his career. Give him a few more years and the UW may find that they have another 20-year coach who can keep everyone happy.

WSDW

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