By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — In the days and weeks and months that followed his arrival as head football coach at the University of Washington in January 2009, Steve Sarkisian promised that it wasn’t going to take the Huskies very long to get back to prominence. Three games into his first season at UW, he proved it by knocking off third-ranked USC and putting the Huskies in the Top 25 for the first time in six years.
Since then, most of his promises have come up empty.
During a frustrating span that has seen the Huskies go 6-11 since that win over USC, Sarkisian’s proclamations haven’t carried nearly the credibility that he had early in his tenure.
Among the predictions:
• During the spring, he proclaimed new left tackle Senio Kelemete as “an all-Pac-10” player.
Kelemete has been UW’s most consistent lineman, but that’s like calling Josh Wilson the Seattle Mariners’ most consistent hitting infielder.
• Sarkisian closed spring ball by naming tight end Chris Izbicki the team’s most improved player, adding that the junior’s emergence would make up for the production of cast-off starter Kavario Middleton.
Izbicki has caught two passes this season, which ranks 10th on the team and matches the total caught by UW O-linemen.
• Sarkisian said with conviction that quarterback Jake Locker would complete “65 to 68 percent” of his passes this season.
Locker’s completion percentage of 56.1 ranks dead last among Pac-10 starters this season.
• During a preseason dinner with team boosters, Sarkisian vowed that the Huskies would not lose a single home game this season.
UW is 2-3 and has just one home game remaining, thereby assuring a home record no better than .500.
• Even after a season-opening loss to BYU, Sarkisian and many of the UW players talked incessantly about the next “12 games” — an obvious reference to the postseason bowl game in which they expected to be invited.
After Saturday’s loss to Stanford, the Huskies need three wins in their final four weeks just to become bowl eligible.
Perhaps the most perplexing misstatement that Sarkisian has uttered, time and time again, is that the Huskies “are better than this” after a disappointing loss. What is becoming more and more apparent is that UW can be good, but not much better, and that they can also be very bad.
Earlier this week, as the Huskies prepared to face top-ranked Oregon, Sarkisian was making no such bold predictions. In fact, he sounded a bit like a man who was resigned to defeat.
“I would not be surprised if they end up playing for a national championship, the way they are going,” he said of the Ducks, who play hostto UW at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
In a sense, the last year has humbled Sarkisian. He’s not making any bold predictions these days.
And as for his initial prediction that it “won’t take very long” for the Huskies to be a Pac-10 contender, Sarkisian pointed out Thursday that UW has wins over four ranked opponents since he got here.
“So in that sense, we have done some really good things,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have had some ugly losses that have made things not look as good. But we have beaten some good teams in two years.”
Sarkisian is hardly the first coach in this part of the country to go through the so-called sophomore slump. Seattle Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu had an incredible first year but fell on such hard times in Year 2 that he was fired midway through the season. Former Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren went 9-7 and won a division title in his first year with the team, then went 6-10 the following year and began to take heat from the public. The Mariners’ Lou Piniella went from 82 wins in his first year to 49 in his second.
In a way, Sarkisian is just following in some familiar footsteps in Seattle sports. Going from a doormat to a respectable team is the easy part. It’s sustaining credibility that is the hard part.
So maybe Sarkisian’s initial promise about the turnaround not taking very long was a bit off the mark as well.
“I never put a figure on it,” he said Thursday. “I thought we would be competitive in all of our games, and unfortunately we have not been that way this year.”
Reserve receiver Jordan Polk suffered a concussion at Wednesday’s practice, and Sarkisian said Thursday that he would not be available to play against Oregon on Saturday. … Wide receiver Luther Leonard, who came to UW as a quarterback, worked as scout team quarterback Thursday. But Sarkisian said he would not be an option among the candidates who could step in if Keith Price gets hurt in the game. Freshman Nick Montana is listed as Price’s backup, but the Huskies would prefer to keep him off the field so that he can redshirt this year. Starter Jake Locker is out with a fractured rib.