Tough Call in a Tough Profession

The choice to let Nick Holt, Mike Cox, and Jeff Mills go had to be the hardest decision in Steve Sarkisian's life, much less his professional career. The performance by the Husky defense in the Alamo Bowl basically gave him no alternative. Regardless, letting go of one of his good friends, as well as three families is no easy call.

He made it, and now must make their replacements and recruiting his highest priority.

Holt, Cox, and Mills just experienced one of the realities of the coaching profession. There are only two kinds of coaches - those who have been fired and those who are going to get fired. All three of these coaches have been fired before. They understand it comes with the profession, but that doesn't make it any easier. Their contracts will be honored next year per their agreement with Washington, but their most important priority now is getting re-employed to support their families. Believe me there are a lot of us who have been in this situation. The devastation is deep for every family member, and coach Sarkisian knows that. Still, he did what he thought was right for his program. I promise you he thought this thing through and only he alone can make the final call.

It is hard for me personally because I consider all three men to be my friends. I have known them professionally for years and know their wives and families. For whatever reason - and there were many - they simply were unable to get it really going on the defensive side of the ball. These guys are all good football coaches and know the game, but they also know they weren't very good on the defensive side of the football.

The 777 yards given up to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl is a figure that will stand out in the memory of Husky fans as much as 0-12. The 482 yards rushing they gave up to the Bears - an average of 9.3 yards per attempt - featured lots of kids out of position as well, as many, many missed tackles in the open field. It was sad to watch but sometimes the game gets away from you, and the only thing that stops the bleeding is the end of the game. These guys know they got rolled up and also know that by redshirting a bunch of defensive kids that they have really helped the next staff. They will be leaving lots of good young players who are only going to get better.

It's not necessary to pile on with all the negative stats; the record shows that this was simply a defense that didn't work. Against Baylor they were solid at times, forcing a stop on a fourth down, a field instead of a touchdown, two punts, and one turnover. But for the most part they looked totally lost, including having only 10 men on the field at the end of the game which cost them their last time out. With the actions of New Year's Eve, it's clear this is a team game. It wasn't just Nick Holt.

All three will land on their feet somewhere, so now it gets down to how coach Sarkisian will restructure his staff. He has some major moves to make and is greatly helped by the recruiting dead-period. He has one call to each recruit and he'll probably be making them himself. I'm sure he's already making calls to all the big-name high school coaches out there to assure them things are being taken care of. He needs to cover recruiting in a big way and that is obviously why Johnny Nansen survived this purge. That and the improved play of the special teams made Nansen the only defensive coach to make the cut. Believe me - his work load just quadrupled.

It's a tough way to make a living knowing this could happen at any time, in any year. It's nice that all three fired coaches have two year contracts and will be compensated for 2012, but that's of no consolation. Coaching at the college and professional levels is such a short-term deal in the first place and you have to be realistic about that going in. It makes me feel privileged to have spent 15 years at Washington before I too was fired. That kind of longevity just doesn't happen very often in this profession anymore.

Just knowing coach Sarkisian I believe he has some personal contacts who he thinks he can get. With four positions to fill he has his work to do but there are lots of candidates who just got fired someplace else, and even more will be looking for work after 'Black Monday'. There are guys from four Pac-12 schools looking for jobs. The rotational process has begun already just like it does every year at this time. At both of the "entertainment industry" levels of football (college and pro), the dance of musical chairs begins every year at this time. I know coaches who have coached at 15-20 different places, including a number who have worked at Washington. Some guys actually go back to teams they been with before only to get fired again. Former UW and current Stanford Defensive Line Coach Randy Hart is just one example.

It makes sense not to purchase a home if you're going to be in the coaching profession because you're only going to have to sell it. Best live in a trailer so you can just tow it to the next town.

It's just such a tough way too make a living simply because there is so much uncertainty for your kids. They have to adjust with each move and you'd better have a wife who is strong enough to hold the family together while you go look for that next 6 am to 11pm job that will also send you out on the road recruiting for big chunks of the year.

Fortunately for these three coaches, they do. Julie Holt, Jill Cox, and Carmen Mills are the ones I'll truly miss. They understand the game from the family perspective and are all really cool ladies. They have been there before, they know how to pack up and move on, they know all about the transition phases that come with the profession. These men will all get through this because they have those women, and all of them know their children will get through it too.

The family disruption was precisely why I decided to get out of that rat race and retire when we all got fired with coach Lambright back in 1998. Kim and I were from Seattle, born and raised, had four children, and our parents were still with us. The fathers have since passed but we got to spend all that quality time with them before they did. Had we packed up and left for that next coaching job we would have missed all that. We made a tough decision to stay.

Sometimes you have to make tough calls; coach Sarkisian can tell you that. The bottom line reality for Holt, Cox and Mills is that once the decision has been made then you have to move on. It's a bottom line profession: You win or you're gone. There are only about 120 or so schools playing at this level of football, and there are only nine coaching spots per school. That means there are really only about 1,200 jobs in the whole country. The NFL has about 20 coaching jobs per team but there are only 32 teams - or 600-700 jobs at most. That means there are only about 2,000 "entertainment" level football coaching jobs in the country and easily a million coaches who would like to have them. That's a bad thing for these coaches but a good thing for coach Sarkisian because there are lots of coaches who would like to work at Washington.

I believe he will introduce his new defensive coordinator at his next press conference and then take his time so that he can balance all aspects of his staff. Until then he is a recruiter; only this year he is doing it for both players and coaches.

Happy New Year.


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