Huskies say goodbye to the Willingham Era

Note to the University of Washington football team: Welcome to the 24-hour rule. It's been a long time since you were able to take the day to enjoy a win - Sunday would have been 666 days from UW's convincing 37-23 triumph over California. Steve Sarkisian made sure that string fell apart in short order, picking up his first career win in only his second start as a head coach.

"This is how it's supposed to be," Sarkisian said, matter-of-factly. And while the team appropriately christened Sarkisian's first win with a gatorade bath (it was really water), the Huskies' first-year head coach had earned something even bigger with their 42-23 win over Idaho Saturday at Husky Stadium; he earned the right to turn the page on the Tyrone Willingham era.

"It's one of those special moments you'll always remember," he said of the bath.

For the last 22 months the Huskies have needed a bath, because to put it frankly - they stunk. With each successive loss - 15, to be exact - the cloak of failure became heavier and heavier and heavier, to the point where it brought the Huskies crashing down with an 0-12 season in 2008 - Willingham's last.

He never seemed to have any answers for the epic slide, the worst in the history of the program. After each loss, he would solemnly trot up to the podium to answer questions from the media, almost always bringing the same answers along with him; the coaches couldn't get the players in positions to make plays.

Ironically enough, Willingham's first win as Washington's head coach also came against Idaho, a 34-6 win. It took him three games to do it, followed by six-straight losses.

It never got much better than that.

"They were as low as low could get when I took this job," Sarkisian said of his players. "It's been a long time to feel victory, to smile after a game."

"I'm not sure how to describe this right now," added freshman offensive lineman Mykenna Ikehara. "It's a big change from last week and last year, that's for sure."

Daniel Te'o-Nesheim wasn't thinking about the win - he was thinking about options. "Should we shake hands first?" the senior defensive end thought. "Or should we go sing the song? It was kind of funny. It feels awesome to win a game."

Even their first game, against LSU, felt like it was miles away. Instead of having red zone troubles, the Huskies played very well, scoring five touchdowns inside the Vandals' 20. Sarkisian even felt like the defense improved from week one to week two.

"We were better against the run, and I thought we're starting to understand what we're trying to get done," he said. "Hopefully we can clean up our assignments and get guys playing fast."

They were also able to win by using a lot more players - seven more than they did against the Tigers a week ago. Anthony Gobern, Jordan Wallace, Curtis Shaw, Adam Long, Mykenna Ikehara, Scott Shugert, Romeo Savant and Dorson Boyce all played for the first time in 2009. Justin Glenn, who came in as a reserve cornerback against LSU, started at safety against the Vandals.

"When you're playing with young guys, things are new to them," Sarkisian said. "The speed of the game can be new to them, and we have to keep working at it."

The new staff infused a sense of purpose and meaning to the team the moment they stepped on campus, and with every Idaho third down the Washington sideline was buzzing, waving towels and doing their best to get the crowd into the game.

"For the last nine months, whether it's been through off-season conditioning, spring ball, summer conditioning, training camp and the two weeks so far of in-season practice, these kids have given everything we could have asked of them," Sarkisian said. "And I'm happy that they get to reap the rewards and benefits of winning.

"I just want these guys to be themselves. Through the good times and the bad times, be yourself. Don't try to conform and be something you're not. These kids need to be who they are so they can maximize their opportunities. That's when you can perform the best."

The Vandals outgained Washington 412-374 and had a decided advantage in clock too - much like the Huskies outgained and out-possessed LSU. But this week it was the Huskies got the win, and it came with the free monkey removal Sarkisian was looking for. "Hopefully that's just one of the many milestones you get as a head coach," he said of his first. "It feels great."

He said he's going to enjoy the win with his staff and family, and he'll probably pop on the USC-Ohio State game so he can get a first look at the Huskies' next opponent. The team has until 3:30 Sunday afternoon to let that winning feeling soak in before they turn their attention to Southern Cal. "The kids deserve it," Sarkisian said. "And hopefully this is the first of many."

He also admitted that he's going to take one more look at this game Saturday night before turning in. And as he left the media room, he turned back to the group.

"You guys get to write something positive tonight!" he said.

Damn straight. Top Stories