Steve Sarkisian received one of the multiple lessons handed to the Washington football program this past week.
When he uttered the phrase “It’s an unfortunate situation” postgame on Saturday, he wasn’t referring to Washington’s 1-2 start. He was talking about comments he made in what he thought was an off-the-record environment.
A refresher on what Sarkisian told ESPN’s Shelley Smith about former USC running back Reggie Bush giving back the 2005 Heisman Trophy:
“He had a chance to apologize, look like the good guy … But in giving it back and not apologizing, he just looks like an idiot again.
“No matter how much money he got paid, that didn’t affect how we prepared,” Sarkisian told Smith. “We weren’t the best team in football because of what he or his parents took.”
It is a surprising misstep for Sarkisian. Since he arrived at Washington, his staff and the school have chased media attention to get the program’s blood pumping again. As a result, Sarkisian is one of the more open college coaches in the country. Though he is protective of his freshmen and will shut down any interviews with a player he suspects has a bonehead statement brewing.
Last year, tight end Kavario Middleton boasted about how many points Washington was going to score in the Apple Cup. That was it for him.
This year, reporters have been told Chris Polk chooses not to talk. Polk has been distanced from reporters before and carries a personality that makes it hard to believe he prefers no attention.
Washington struck a partnership with ESPN at the start of the season. Sarkisian says his comments came out of a production meeting with Smith and others for the Washington/Nebraska game.
“In general, those production meetings are not for print media or they’d have all you guys in there with us when we’re talking about the ballgame,” Sarkisian said to the press following the game. “It was part of the conversation where there were quotes on both sides. It’s unfortunate. It’s a great learning lesson for me about when things get said around media, they’re live.”
He knew this, but assumed his ESPN brethren wouldn’t burn him. They did.
Really, the comments are logical and innocuous. Think of the context of any average conversation. Sarkisian’s phrasing sounds like he thought Bush’s decision was the wrong one and by returning the trophy with no apology or admission, he was being foolish.
That thought was shared by most. Sarkisian just left the political correctness out of it in a supposed not-for-print conversation.
“I really respect Reggie Bush,” Sarkisian said. “I loved having him as a player at USC. And my point to all of that was, whatever happened with Reggie Bush off the field, with himself or his family, was not the reason why we were the No. 1 team in America. It was not the reason why he won the Heisman trophy.
“We prepared better than anybody. We practiced better than anybody. We played better than anybody more consistently for an extended period of time and that was my point to it. If you did something wrong, give the Heisman back. If you didn’t do something wrong, keep it.”
Does he still respect ESPN? Sarkisian, Athletic Director Scott Woodward and a representative of the Endlessly Self Promoting Network gathered at a farce of a press conference to announce the school’s alliance with the station last spring. All schools are beholden to money, which makes them collared by ESPN’s valuation of their programs. This press conference told everyone ESPN liked Washington. Those involved hoped word made it to recruits.
Now burned by the network, Sarkisian will have to do his own evaluating. One of the natural reactions for a public figure in this situation is to be less forthcoming with the people he speaks with every day though they are not responsible for the situation. Big thanks from local reporters to Smith for that.
Three weeks into the year, the realization is clear. School is still in session for the Washington program. Both for its players and second-year coach.