Thiel: Man of secrets, Sark barks publicly at team


by Art Thiel


Posted on September 16, 2012 at 4:30 PM

There was a lesson somewhere Saturday in the dubious scrimmage between Washington and Portland State. But it's not clear what it was.

For sure, there was a moment: A coach ahead 45-0 calling a team meeting on the sidelines before going in at halftime, choosing to animatedly castigate his team in front of TV, God and the rest of the cosmos.

The needle on the absurd-o-meter landed somewhere between John Belushi in "Animal House" and Lou Piniella vs. umpire C.B. Bucknor.

Steve Sarkisian could have climbed to the top of Seattle's list of great sports rants, but after slamming his visor to the Clink's turf, he failed to kick his chapeau. Even once. History was at his feet, and he ignored it.

Then again, it's early.

Sarkisian's rage relative to the scoreboard was not all that ironic. Despite the win, the University of Washington coach has problems with his team. Injuries, immaturity and a grim schedule, to name three.

Beating a woeful Portland State team 52-13 did little to improve anything on those counts. Sure, in the opener a year ago against another Big Sky Conference member, Eastern Washington, the Huskies nearly lost. But hey, that was mighty Eastern. Let's remember who we're talking about here.

Granted, a crushing win was better than being pistol-whipped 41-3 by Louisiana State, but the contrast says more about the industry's landscape than the worth of the Huskies. The distance between Big Hell and Big Sky is vast, and the Huskies traveled it in a week, to no  apparent virtue.

What will be remembered is Sarkisian's impromptu, on-field meeting with the entire team at the end of the first half in which he scalded them for stupid fouls. Moments earlier, a taunting penalty was followed by a late hit out of bounds from safety Justin Glenn. Rather than deliver his rant behind closed doors, Sarkisian did what he sometimes does at practice -- demands everyone gather 'round for a world-class butt-chewing.

"It was such a big point of emphasis this week in practice, but it didn't hit home as completely as I hoped," he said. "I was a little emotional myself. I felt like it had to be addressed immediately. I didn't want them to jog 65 yards to the locker room. I wanted to get them right there. Hopefully, the point got made."

Time will tell, but a more discernible point was that Sarkisian is a man on edge. He lacks a little credibility on the subject of team discipline while his own lack of personal control will be a part of the weekend's national TV highlight shows. The Huskies deserved the blistering, but the timing and manner in which it was delivered will certainly invite speculation as to whether his players get it.

The rest of the irony developed because it happened after Sarkisian abruptly created his own distraction by changing in mid-week his policy about disclosing injuries: He's not doing it anymore. Claiming that sharing was a competitive disadvantage with coaches who refuse to do so, Sarkisian is forcing reporters to nose around with players, families and staffers to find out what's going on. Such a nuisance.

The school finally disclosed that starting right guard Colin Tanigawa has a knee injury that will keep out awhile, meaning that the Huskies are filling three of the five offensive-line spots with players who began the fall as backups. Also missing Saturday was DE Talia Crichton (concussion) and LB Travis Feeney (shoulder). Also out for most of the game was star NT Danny Shelton, whose leg injury was not deemed serious; "he'll be fine," said Sarkisian, breaking his new policy.

Given the production to date, including Saturday, where the numbers against a weak FCS-division school in turmoil -- Portland's defensive coordinator was fired midweek -- are virtually meaningless, Sarkisian has reason to be on edge. A fair portion is not his fault -- injuries are crippling his team. But it's also true that injuries and immaturity are creating a situation that grows more unmanageable, particularly regarding his specialty, creative playcalling.

He and quarterback Keith Price seems to be a little out of sorts, even though the Huskies scored easily on short drives in their first two possessions for a 14-0 lead, and Price ended the day completing 14 of 19 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns. But those are empty calories because Portland State's defense is truly terrible. The 52 points may have been the most Washington scored since putting up 53 in 1996 against San Jose State. But that was a Corey Dillon-led team, and there are no Corey Dillons wearing purple right now.

It's hard to even say whether Sarksian's bellicosity really registered, at least with Glenn, perpetrator of the final misdeed, the late hit that ignited the coach.

"Coach Sark got on me a ltitle, which was fine," said Glenn, nonchalantly. "That's what coaches are supposed to do. He was mad; that will never happen again. He's done stuff like that at practice when he wants to send a message. He wanted to make sure it didn't happen again. So I just put it in the past and move forward."

Well, good for him. No need for Dr. Phil, then. But it was another small part of an awkward day, which included the deployment of a successful trick play.

Ahead 14-0 but stopped on third down on the PSU 48-yard line, placekicker Travis Coons, subbing for regular punter Korey Durkee, faked a punt and threw a 16-yard completion to Sean Parker, normally a defensive back, for a first down. Six plays later, it was Washington 21-0, and the game was over.

But was a rare play against a woebegone opponent worth showing to Stanford, the formidable opponent 10 days hence?

Then again, maybe if the Huskies learn during the bye week to curb their penchant for embarrassing moments on national TV, Stanford will be thrown off.

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