By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — While preparing for his second so-called homecoming in less than a month, University of Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian wanted to make one thing clear on Monday morning.
“This is my home,” the native of Southern California said with a laugh as his Huskies counted down the days toward Saturday’s Pac-10 opener at USC. “BYU is not my home.”
Unlike Sarkisian’s previous trip to familiar grounds, when UW opened its season at his alma mater in Provo, Utah, Saturday’s game could have a bit more meaning to the Huskies’ 36-year-old head coach.
In addition to growing up outside of Los Angeles in Torrance, Sarkisian spent seven seasons as a USC assistant. Saturday will mark his first trip back to face the Trojans as an opposing coach.
“Anytime you go home you want to perform well,” said Sarkisian, who estimates to have 35 to 40 friends and family planning to attend Saturday’s game at the L.A. Coliseum. “You’ve got your high school coach watching, your junior college coach is watching, and your buddy is watching, and your family is watching. So you want to make sure you put your best foot forward. That’s about the extent of it.”
And as far as the comparisons to BYU go, Sarkisian said this trip will be more familiar because he’s spent so much time in the area in recent years.
“When I was back in BYU,” Sarkisian said, referring to a Sept. 9 game that marked the first time he’d been at Lavell Edwards Stadium in more than a decade, “I couldn’t believe that Provo hadn’t changed a lick. It had been how many years, and it hadn’t changed.
“I’ve been going to L.A. quite a bit since I’ve left for recruiting and different things, and it’s a big city. I know it pretty well, so don’t think I’ll be that enamored seeing what’s changed and what’s not.”
There will be some notable changes on the USC sideline, beginning with who’s calling the shots. Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin spent five seasons alongside Sarkisian as offensive assistants at USC under current Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. The thirty-something former assistants — Kiffin turned 35 in May — became close friends and have maintained a long-distance relationship through the years.
“So much of this profession,” Sarkisian said, “is keeping things in close and in tight, and you can’t share (information) with anybody. The ability to share with Lane different thoughts, different ideas, different frustrations that maybe you don’t want everyone else to see — you can bounce it off him, and he understands. So it’s been a good relationship that way.”
Sarkisian got a taste of what it’s like to face the school that used to employ him last fall, when Carroll and the Trojans came to Seattle and got shocked by the Huskies in a 16-13 UW victory. That scenario is far different from this one, Sarkisian said, in that Carroll was his former boss, not necessarily a colleague.
“I think there’s something about when you are facing your mentor,” Sarkisian said Monday, “in a weird way you want to make him proud. I felt like that going into last year’s game going against Pete. At the end of the game, whether we won or lost — whatever happened — I was hoping that Pete would just be proud of how we played, the style we played.
“Going against Lane, his opinion of us doesn’t concern us nearly as much as what Pete’s opinion of us was. I respect Lane; I respect everything he’s done. … But it’s just a different feeling going in.”
As USC assistants, Sarkisian and Kiffin used to spend time talking about becoming head coaches and where they would like to be roaming the sidelines. And for both of them, the promotion happened sooner than some may have expected.
“Both of us have been mentored for this opportunity to be head coaches,” Sarkisian said. “He’s done a nice job; I think we’ve done a nice job (at UW). These are both jobs we thought were special ones, especially in the Pac-10. It’s a unique experience, this early in our careers, to be facing each other in such a pivotal ballgame in the Pac-10 race.”
It’s also a unique experience to go home again, too. It’s just that the once-in-a-lifetime experience has happened to Sarkisian twice in a month.
Only this time, it really is home.