Coach's Corner

One of the first hires Steve Sarkisian made when he put his UW staff together five years ago was Johnny Nansen, and now he and Dan Cozzetto are the only remaining original members of Sark's inaugural staff. Seven others have moved on but Nansen remains the one constant force and believe me he is a player's coach whose recruiting alone has made him worthy of his title as assistant head coach.

His value as a recruiter cannot be over-emphasized. Nansen is a great communicator with kids and that is why he has been so successful in his role as recruiting coordinator - a role that he will now pass onto Peter Sirmon following coach Sarkisian's recent staff adjustments.

Nansen will also switch positions and become the new running backs coach, replacing Joel Thomas, but he will also retain his role as special teams' coordinator. This doesn't mean Nansen will be backing away from recruiting; now he can concentrate on his own area where he is nothing short of the Pied Piper of Southwest LA. A native of the Long Beach area, he has almost singlehandedly re-established Washington's recruiting efforts in southern California even to the point of replacing the state of Washington as the primary base for the Huskies.

Like Nansen, I was both an ex-recruiting coordinator an ex-WSU Cougar. I think I have always understood and been sympathetic to Johnny's conversion to the Huskies. We were both linebackers at WSU, only thirty years apart. He was actually a quarterback in high school similar to John Timu, who now starts as the middle linebacker for the Huskies but was also a QB in high school. Incidentally, it was the Jordan High - the exact same high school that Nansen himself had attended. Timu is one of at least two to three dozen Huskies who were recruited personally by Nansen. Nansen simply went back to his roots and it has paid great dividends for the Dawgs. He has been a thorn in the side of both of the LA schools for the past five years and the 2013 signing class could be the best ever in the Sark era despite a massive remolding of his staff over the past two years. Sark and his right hand man have continued to appeal to the Southland recruits and there is little doubt that the Huskies are now built primarily in southern California, as well as the state of Washington.

Before coming to Washington Nansen had worked five years at Idaho where he was also a known recruiter but had stops at Louisville, Montana State, and Idaho State before that. At all the schools he has been recognized as a bulldog recruiter. Some coaches, like the Huskies' Tosh Lupoi, are generally regarded as 'super recruiters'. That is often an unfair assessment because Lupoi is also a really good position coach. Certainly coach Lupoi has contributed to this year's class but he is still learning the city, the university, and the Husky culture. Johnny Nansen is already a local and has no problem with being viewed either way. His work with the special teams alone is pretty time consuming.

The Huskies lost their last two games with field goals that could easily have won either contest. Nansen took that personally and even though you never put it all on one kid that is a reality of the game. Nobody remembers a miss in the first quarter but everyone remembers those at the end of the game. Specialists bear a considerable pressure to perform their trades but they are only one part of the kicking game. It's all the team-oriented teaching that consumes the majority of your preparation. Now that coach Nansen will not be coordinating recruiting, you can bet special teams will take a jump in improvement.

Nansen was hired almost the minute that Sark took the job and never even saw Seattle until well into the transition. His first group or class (the 2009 class) was essentially thrown together with less than a month of time to work with. Unfamiliar with UW Admissions they recruited and signed a number of JC prospects who subsequently were not admitted to school. They actually signed 19 players that year and got little or no carryover from the previous staff. Of the 19 signed that year, three were denied admissions, two later flunked out, and six others left the program for a variety of reasons from academics to character to a desire to find more playing time. Regardless, that left only eight, or less than half, of that original class in the program.

All that's left next year from that group are red-shirt seniors Keith Price, James Johnson, and Will Shamburger. It should be noted that Desmond Trufant, Semisi Tokolahi, Nate Fellner, Talia Crichton, and Will Mahan were all starters at one time or another for the Huskies. Nansen had a hand in bringing almost every one of those kids to Washington that first year. Of that nine almost everyone is scheduled to graduate with their degree.

By comparison the previous class (2008) recruited by Tyrone Willingham's staff (which was reputed to be his best class) featured 26 signees of which only 13 survived. That means half washed out to some form of attrition and of the 13 who stayed four made it to the NFL (Polk, Taamu, Kearse, and Kelemete) and 11 of the 13 were starters in the program.

Although there is always a recruiting coordinator, he doesn't necessarily recruit everyone. Recruiting is rather a group effort with Sark and AD Scott Woodward contributing significantly to the process, but the position coach, strength coach, tutors, counselors and professors to name a few are all involved. Certain coaches, however, really have knack for it and they basically give great phone; they can talk to anyone and build relationships with literally hundreds of people who all play a part in the decisions of 18-year old kids. Some guys can just hang with anyone no matter what their age. Johnny Nansen is one of those guys but I never figured out how he could be doing both the recruiting coordinator and special teams coordinator jobs at the same time. Now he doesn't have to but I promise you he will continue to recruit LA.

Over the past few years there has been considerable progress made in the overall kicking game, including the development of Kiel Rasp as the greatest punter in the history of the school. At the same time the Huskies' recruiting classes were being regularly ranked or rated within the top 25 in the nation. The current class is already on the top-10 borderline and with the addition of energetic recruiters like Sirmon and now Marques Tuiasosopo the Huskies are only going to get stronger and stronger in recruiting.

Currently this Washington recruiting class is considered one of the best ever over the past decade and there is no question that Johnny Nansen has been a key player in that rating. Despite some outside criticism of "losing" the state of Washington, the Huskies have simply shifted more focus to the south and realize with the shrinking of society, due primarily to communications like social networking, more and more kids are apt to go away to school. Years ago when we were bringing in kids like Napoleon Kaufman, Beno Bryant, Dana Hall, Lincoln Kennedy, Tony Parrish and Tommie Smith - all out of the Southland - we were accused of the same Northwest neglect. It simply doesn't matter where your players come from as long as they fit. Nansen has done such a great job, particularly in the Southwest LA area. Next to USC and UCLA the Huskies are the most effective recruiting presence of any other university in the country.

As we all wait for the next step in the development of the program, one thing is very clear; the Huskies are still appealing to the kids from southern California. Coach Sark has built a program that is now well respected by prospects, their parents and coaches in that area. The kids really want to be here. They believe in what it stands for and they too have become good recruiters. Sark has built a family atmosphere that is current, and even hip with kids on the West Coast.

Indirectly a lot of the credit should go to Johnny Nansen, who I believe is one of the best recruiters ever to work at Washington. Maybe it's his style, maybe it's their organization, or maybe it's because he has a head coach who is also really into recruiting. Whatever, as we come down the stretch for the 2013 class, there will no doubt be some losses but there will also be some more gains and some will likely come from a few more big name recruits. If that happens, you can bet that Johnny Nansen has been involved. He will transition from the defense to become one of Peter Sirmon's star recruiters.

Remember, "It's not X's and O's, but rather Jimmies and Joes, that win football games". It all goes back to recruiting and coach Nansen is one of the best in the west, especially Southwest LA.

Sark knows he has a true and trusted friend in coach Nansen and I think that is critical to the success of any college football program. He also knows that no matter what he asks of Johnny he will never take Nansen out of his recruiting base. Why mess with success? Of course winning 10 games or so is just as important but knowing Nansen's communications skills with this particular demographic certainly gives the Huskies a chance in attracting some of the future great ones to Washington Football.


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