After 10 years of staff turnover involving five different head coaches and five different systems, the Washington Huskies do not have to waste another set of spring practices. Instead of implementing and introducing something new, they will now simply enhance what they already have in place.
From the coaching standpoint they can actually work with players they know and who know them. The addition of maybe a half dozen or so new kids will require them to re-teach, but essentially the team knows what to do, when to do it, and more importantly how the coaches want it done.
It is this last part that happens to be so unique in the Steve Sarkisian system. The fast pace and high intensity of each practice takes some getting used to. For Sarkisian, having the same group of guys will enable him to instantly create the competitive atmosphere of practice that is so important to both conditioning and evaluation.
During my 15 years on the Husky staff, we had a nucleus of 6-7 guys on the staff that stayed together year-in and year-out. I firmly believe that was why we never had a losing season and always went to bowl games. In coaching it literally becomes one big family in which everyone knows and socializes with each others' wives and children. Success gives opportunities for advancement, and you always experience some changes, but maintaining a core group gives you the best chance of winning both in recruiting and on the field. You learn to work together, and this applies to every job or occupation. Football is no different.
I firmly believe that Sarkisian is into this for the long haul and that excites me to the potential of getting the most out of his players. Having the support of his Athletic Director also is a positive; it's something that Coaches (Jim) Lambright and (Keith) Gilbertson never had, and Coaches (Rick) Neuheisel and (Tyrone) Willingham eventually lost. That is just as critical as staff continuity, and indirectly was a major cause in the decline of Husky football. Coach Sarkisian now has the opportunity to head into his second spring not worrying about the axe to fall, but rather concentrating on teaching and development. He will win because he has implemented his system and now can concentrate on making it better.
Having watched almost all of the spring practices over the past decade I can honestly say that this program was set back by the constant turnover of coaching. That and not getting the rewards of 15 extra practices for going to a bowl game has really cheated the players and made it difficult for the program to develop properly.
Obviously, when you win it's because of the players and when you lose it's because of the coaches. As a coach you just accept this as part of the profession but working with the same group year after year greatly enhances your chances of success. Unfortunately, the previous administrations have not understood this and have crippled this program by both lack of support and constant turnover.
What is really positive is that all of these coaches want to be here and feel a part of building this program back into a consistent contender for the Pac-10 championship and the Rose Bowl. That consistency only comes by sticking with a system and believing it will work.
Now obviously you will lose coaches along the way, and hopefully to head coaching or NFL opportunities, but for a coach and his family job security is critical and all of them realize the longer they stay together the better their chances of success.
The most coaching continuity at Washington is actually on the defensive side of the ball, where four of the five coaches have connections going back to the University of Idaho. This became a factor as last season progressed and even though they lost their two best players this spring to graduation, they are positioned to make great improvement on that side of the ball. That's because the players know what is expected and don't have to be taught a whole new system again.
Then to have the head coach be part of the offensive staff allows the players on that side of the ball to develop under his guidance and allows that coach, who in this case also happens to be the play-caller, a direct hand in the actual teaching of the offense.
That is really what it's all about; the teaching methodology that goes with any program has a direct correlation with success. Changing that, like Washington has so many times, was a constant setback in the development of the players. Additionally, knowing your players and knowing their strengths and weaknesses is critical to coaching and is directly related to what you decide to do.
That's why this spring will be so much different than last year. These coaches know their players and that is the most important thing in coaching. The fact that there will be a number of missing players due to injury rehab allows coaches to move up their depth and develop the younger kids. Spring ball is a review and an opportunity to develop your depth. They know what players like Ryan Tolar and Chris Polk can do, so in some ways their lack of participation can be spun into a positive.
Just take the running back position, for example. Coach Joel Thomas knows what Polk can bring to the table, and will now have the opportunity to evaluate and develop not only Johri Fogerson and Demitrius Bronson, but also his two highly-touted true freshmen, Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier. One or both may find themselves in the playing depth come fall, so being here for spring will certainly help both.
Each session, be it spring-ball, fall-camp, or in-season, starts with insertion, meaning that every day you add a little more of your package. That is usually coordinated between offense and defense, so that when the offense is putting in plays from one-back and two-tight ends, for example, the defense is correspondingly putting in their schemes designed to work against that particular personnel grouping.
Likewise when the defense is putting in the blitz package, say from their base alignment, the offense is putting in their blitz pick-up protection schemes. It is this type of coordination that is so critical for squad development.
If you are starting all over all the time, then naturally it restricts what you can and cannot do.
One coverage on defense could easily have six to 10 different adjustments, depending on the formation and personnel grouping they are facing. When you are starting over from scratch so many times, it reduces greatly what you can get covered during any given session. This is precisely why having your system already intact and having a returning quarterback makes for a more rapid progression and therefore allows you to get more of your system implemented and refined.
Spring also allows you to teach and repeat basic fundamentals in each position area. Constant repetition of fundamentals is the key to sound play, and when you have to teach each drill and what you want to accomplish because it's all new then you don't get nearly as much done.
This spring will also give the coaches an opportunity to further develop the kicking game, and that certainly looks like an area where Washington can make marked improvement. With both kicking specialists returning, it amounts to developing a complete battery for PAT/FG and punts. This spring it will be interesting to see who emerges as the snappers and returners, and you can bet the coaches will be looking at lots of kids in particular to find a good punt returner.
Because Special Teams Coach Johnny Nansen has already implemented his techniques and drills for one year, all the kids know what to expect. Therein lies the major difference in this spring and last spring; the kids know what is expected and what the purpose of each drill is and therefore will be more prepared for each and every period.
This staff proved their system worked last season, even though it took until the last two games to fully realize how well it could work. With all of them back we can expect an even more productive and well organized 15 practices. They won't be starting from Square One again and they already have the kids' belief system intact.
Hopefully this continuity will show next fall and they will all be rewarded with a bowl game and another full set of 15 bowl practices.
That's how it works in college football, and I'm excited to see that high tempo, fast pace, and coordinated daily practices. When it comes to assessing your squad, you are always asking yourself: Are they making steady progress? Are they continually getting better?
When you have continuity of staff, your chances at getting better increase exponentially.
Staff Continuity Strengthens UW Program
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