SEATTLE — To hear Manu Tuiasosopo tell it, the tunnel vision displayed publicly by his oldest son is not an act. He knows uncertainty awaits after Dec. 27, when the Washington Huskies finish this suddenly tumultuous season by playing Brigham Young in the Fight Hunger Bowl. But there has been no acknowledgment from UW’s interim coach of relevance after that date.
The whole one-game-at-a-time thing, Manu says, is what Marques Tuiasosopo has always been about.
“That’s all he knows, is stay focused on the task at hand and let everything else take care of itself,” Manu said via telephone. “He understands the concept of control and focus on what you have control over, and everything else will take care of itself.”
For the first time in his life, Marques Tuiasosopo has control over a college football team, stepping into the interim head coaching position at UW after Steve Sarkisian left for USC.
Sarkisian’s replacement, former Boise State coach Chris Petersen, has already been hired and is already on campus. But for 11 more days, Tuiasosopo will coach the team he played for from 1997-2000, the team he quarterbacked to a Rose Bowl championship his senior season, the team he now feels an intrinsic responsibility to rally and guide to one final victory.
To that end, this must be a bittersweet endeavor for the 34-year-old. He’s dreamed his whole life of becoming a head coach, and now he is one — but only for one game, after which he may very well have to seek employment at a different school.
If Petersen has indeed selected his coaching staff, UW hasn’t said so. Whether Tuiasosopo is included on that staff is also unknown. He isn’t letting on one way or the other.
Regardless of what the future holds, Tuiasosopo said he was “thrilled” when UW athletic director Scott Woodward asked him to fill in as interim coach. However fleeting the task, it was the realization of a lifelong dream.
Growing up in Woodinville, he wanted two things: to play in the NFL — he did, for the Raiders and Jets — and to become a head football coach.
“I love the game, and it’s an opportunity to stay in the game and share my experience with them,” Tuiasosopo said after Saturday’s practice. “For some reason, that’s always been part of something I want to do.”
His focus, Manu says, has guided him since youth. He recalls one summer filled with baseballs and bats, Marques trying to perfect his swing, working and working and working until he felt he could properly pull the ball at will.
That’s not a particularly unique trait in his family. Manu was a star defensive lineman at UCLA before an eight-year NFL career with the Seahawks and 49ers. Leslie, the oldest of Manu’s five children, was a standout volleyball player at UW. Younger son Zach played football at UW before a brief NFL career. Younger son Matt is a major league baseball player, currently on the Arizona Diamondbacks roster. Younger sister Ashley played softball. But what Marques had was a little different.
“All of our kids had that focus, but Marques has that special focus,” Manu said. “When he got his mind on something, he was hell bent on seeing it through the end.”
Huskies players seem to respond well to his coaching style, which is augmented by what Marques achieved here as a player.
“It’s easy to listen to a guy who’s already been here before, who’s won championships, who played at the next level, and played here at a very high level and was one of the best quarterbacks in the country and one of the best quarterbacks to ever come through this university,” said fifth-year senior quarterback Keith Price, whose statistically historic collegiate career will soon conclude. “So any time you have a great leader like that, it’s easier to listen to him.”
As junior tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins said, “he understands the grind, he understands football, he understands to be in our shoes. When you have a head coach like that who can relate to the players really easily and he’s not too far removed from football himself, it makes it a lot easier, and the players know that he cares and know that he understands.”
Manu said he “cried for joy” when Marques told him he would coach the Huskies in their bowl game.
Like his son, that seems to be all he’s thinking about for now.
“He’ll land on his feet,” Manu says.
Until then, there are practices to organize and a football game to play. If the Huskies win, it will be their ninth victory of the season, a feat not accomplished here since Tuiasosopo’s senior season in 2000.
“We have another chance to be victorious again and for the ninth time,” he said. “I think that’s going to set a precedent for this program moving forward.”
Whether he’s still here or not.