Steve Sarkisian screamed the question out.
“How ’bout them Dawgs?!” How ’bout them, indeed.
Sarkisian’s query was launched with visible breath into a microphone in Qualcomm Stadium after the Holiday Bowl. Washington just finished stunning everyone, don’t be fooled that the Huskies thought they could control Nebraska that way, and the coach wondered aloud.
The euphoria translated into a commitment the next day, and Sarkisian is working it to obtain more. On Wednesday, he was traipsing around the recently scorched Earth Washington left behind in Southern California rummaging for recruits.
That’s what “them Dawgs” are up to. Exploiting a level of satisfaction not previously brought by a 7-6 record. It’s such a party, Sarkisian is likely to have his already lucrative contract re-worked this offseason. Just don’t tell Jim Harbaugh. He made time to inform his team after a 41-0 lambasting of the Huskies that Washington has the highest paid coaching staff in the conference. They all laughed.
Never mind those BCS big shots. We’re talking about Washington. The acceleration from zero wins to seven didn’t take all that long — Sarkisian told you so — though had honest Washington fans been informed preseason the Huskies would have to use desperation tactics at the end of the year to reach .500, well, they would have been disappointed.
For now, the Washington program is tip-toeing on sunshine. This feels, looks and smells like progress.
“The way we finished the season with four straight wins, I think generated some real excitement on the recruiting front,” Sarkisian said. “I think just in general, people are really paying attention to the Huskies, whether it be in Washington, or on the road in Arizona or Colorado or California, or Hawaii for that matter.
“We’re definitely being noticed, which is a good thing. All in all, the reception has been great on the road, not just from the recruits but the general public.”
Washington was getting noticed two years ago, as well. Except that was for the vicious maelstrom the program was stuck in.
Sarkisian moves into his third season as the hyped-up head man with a program finally developing layers. There will be depth of equal talent on both lines next season, a benefit lacking the past three seasons.
There are also increasing answers elsewhere. Assuming Chris Polk returns, and Sarkisian said on Wednesday he believes Polk will, though things could change, Washington will have one of the strongest backfields in the conference. The secondary will be older. Sarkisian says he expects to retain all coaches.
Though there are gaps at linebacker and the debt-sized question at quarterback.
Jake Locker’s hole-opening departure goes beyond requirement to fill the position. He’s one of three departing captains. Mason Foster and Nate Williams are the other two also leaving. Left tackle Senio Kelemete will be the lone chieftain remaining.
Contrary to his public persona, Locker did a lot of under-the-helmet exhorting. Foster led by tackling everything within the county lines and was always up. Williams took the lessons he learned from Roy Lewis when Williams was a freshman and applied them to the team.
Then-senior Lewis had a long talk with Williams after a weight-lifting session when Williams’ arms and brain were low-functioning while he tried to grasp college football as a freshman. They talked for more than an hour. In turn, Williams pulled in the young guys, the nobodies, this year.
This is no longer management for the downtrodden. Leadership on the 2011 Huskies will have to navigate expectations from the coach and outside.
“It’s not always about what you say but what you do and how you do it,” Sarkisian said. “So we will assess it very closely.”
The definitive influence of progress is now strewn through the program. The final four to close 2010 may be pointed at in lore as a linchpin two months for a resurrected program.
Weight lifting starts next week. Attempted program lifting will continue next fall.
“A lot of times when you have some success we can step out of ourselves and maybe try to change who we are,” Sarkisian said. “So we will remain grounded and humble.”
If not, Nebraska would be happy to force them to be next year in Lincoln.