By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Tacked on to the end of the contract for Washington defensive line coach and recruiting guru Tosh Lupoi is an interesting clause.
Lupoi’s memorandum of understanding with the Huskies pays him a guaranteed $350,000 a year. He also cashed a one-time payment of $100,000. But, the most intriguing part of Lupoi’s deal is the date he’s signed through: Feb. 6.
If Lupoi stays through the end of his deal, Feb. 6, 2015, he could earn an additional $100,000.
Adding the Feb. 6 date is an attempt by Washington to protect itself from what Lupoi did to Cal when he left the Golden Bears to join Washington’s staff. Lupoi decided to join Washington Jan. 16 of this year, a few weeks before Feb. 3, which was National Signing Day. Within 24 hours, he went from telling recruits how wonderful Cal, where he played and coached, is, to telling them to come to Washington.
If he stays until Feb. 6, 2015, he will have made it past that year’s National signing Day by two days.
Lupoi’s departure from Cal is again a topic because Washington heads to Berkeley, Calif., Friday to play the Golden Bears at 6 p.m.
It will be the first return to Berkeley for Lupoi and Washington offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, who also was at Cal last season. Kiesau will earn $375,000 this year, $400,000 in 2013 and $425,000 in 2014. Each significantly cashed in by joining the Huskies.
Tuesday, Lupoi shrugged off questions about going back to Cal, and said he hasn’t given much thought to it.
“I’m not a part of it anymore,” Lupoi said. “Just focused on our preparation.”
Poaching assistants from other programs, particularly those in conference, is a touchy business. The initial and preferred protocol is for the head coach looking to talk to an assistant at another school to contact the other head coach first. Head coaches also expect a heads up from their assistants that movement may be on the horizon. It doesn’t always work that way and sometimes, it’s not the assistant breaking the chain of communication.
“I’ve been at both ends where I’ve hired a guy previously, where our relationship went deeper and I didn’t talk to the other head coach,” Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I’ve had times where I did call the head coach and said, ‘Hey, listen, I’m interested in talking to so-and-so.’ There’s no, I think, exact way.”
When assistants leave within in the conference, it’s not just playbook knowledge that goes with them. Recruits can, too.
That was the case for Washington when Shaq Thompson, the second-ranked safety in the country, decommitted from Cal following Lupoi’s change. Thompson had verbally committed to Cal in January, but changed his mind two days before signing day. He’s by no means the first recruit to back out of a verbal commitment, nor will he be the last.
The same goes for Lupoi. He won’t be the last assistant to quickly switch allegiances on his way up the coaching ladder.
And, despite the unwritten ethics around the process, most deals develop with the call to a head coach, if there is one, coming after some back-room discussion.
“I actually think a lot happens behind the scenes before it comes to that phone call,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “I think sometimes a level of interest is sought before a phone call is made to a head coach.”
Despite the swift changes by two of his assistants, Cal coach Jeff Tedford said he has no ill will toward either.
“People make decisions for whatever reasons,” Tedford said. “I have a lot of respect for both those guys and they are very good coaches. It’s always difficult when coaches make decisions to move because both have invested a lot of time here. But people do things for their careers, for their families and whatever, and I totally understand.”
The flip side of that is the position of Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian. The departure of quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to Alabama and the woeful defense of 2011 forced change. Monday, Sarkisian reiterated, almost verbatim, what he said when Lupoi and Kiesau were introduced.
“My job and my obligation is to do what’s best for this university and for this athletic department and this football program, and do it with good ethics and within the guidelines set by the NCAA,” Sarkisian said. “No coach ever likes to get the phone call, because I get them, too, when somebody says they want to talk to one of your coaches that you think is a really good coach.
“But you understand that it is part of the profession, and you do everything in your power to keep them, if you want to keep them. And if you are on the other side, you do everything that is within your feasible power to get them on board. That’s just the way it works.”
Lupoi said he hasn’t heard the rumblings about his departure from Cal. He said he never looks at the newspaper, blogs or other media.
“For me it was a decision, then moving on,” Lupoi said.
Which is all anyone can do now.