Coach's Corner

We're only about two weeks out before the opening of training camp and UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian continues to make changes in his roster. First with the stunning announcement of the dismissal of tight end Kavario Middleton, and then the unexpected addition of Josh Shirley, a UCLA dismissal in his own right, to the Husky linebacker corps.

That's what is so ridiculous about ranking recruiting classes; you never know who you really have until they enroll and even then they might be mixed with freshmen from the class ahead of them.

What's positive is that coach Sarkisian is not afraid to move kids both ways in order to instill discipline and get the kind of players who he believes best fit his system. Since he has taken over the program the roster has really undergone some changes. He and his personnel people have done a marvelous job of weeding out and replacing when appropriate.

He brings kids straight into college before they even graduate from high school. He tried the junior college route, and even though many failed to qualify he still landed a quality punter in Will Mahan. He brought kids in and didn't hesitate to dismiss them before they even started if it was the right thing to do. If it wasn't obvious from his initial press conference back in December 2008, he means business - and you'd better do things the right way or you're shown the door. Middleton learned that lesson the hard way.

It is important to remember that scholarships are no longer four-year deals but rather one-year renewable contracts. If you don't fulfill your obligations to the team and to your academics then you won't be back. Policy is determined by the program and the school and student-athletes are held to standards for both team and school.

I thought it was classy that coach did not go into detail about Middleton's dismissal. He did not give any reason other than the general violation of team rules, but I promise you it was probably for a number of reasons. This system requires a commitment to doing things the expected way and doing so with the proper attitude.

Whatever the reasons for the dismissal, it isn't necessary to beat the kid up going out the door. You only hope that it helps him in the long run and that he grows from the experience. I wouldn't be surprised to see Kavario playing in the near future at some school like Portland State, Eastern Washington, or Central Washington where he would be immediately eligible. I hope he has success both on and off the field; it just won't be happening in Seattle.

Roster development is still one of the key components in any winning program, and in less than two years Sarkisian has brought in over 40 scholarship players. He has also weeded out over 15 who still had eligibility remaining.

Sometimes you have addition by subtraction, but the kids coming into the program this year might be the best looking group we have seen in decades. To add a kid like Josh Shirley to replace a linebacker who didn't qualify in Darius Waters only means they are adding another big running athlete, which seems to taken a high priority in their recruiting efforts.

Regardless of the circumstances that have brought Shirley north, it still reflects positively on coach Sarkisian. They know the kid and they know his family and they know his character. When he didn't sign with them in February, it was a crushing blow, which even adds more intrigue to his entrance to UW now. Josh Shirley will prove to be one of the best football players on this team by the time his career ends. I would be totally shocked if they ever have a problem with this kid.

Also part of the comings and goings recently is the addition of Damon Huard to the broadcast team as the color commentator for play-by-play man Bob Rondeau. Change is always hard, and many listeners had grown accustomed to the combination of Rondeau and Chuck Nelson as the voices of Husky Football. Chuck Nelson will be fine and will adjust accordingly. He is a class act and always has been. Chuck will continue to be a strong supporter of the program, and hopefully Damon will bring an interesting perspective to the games.

I recruited the whole Huard family: Starting first with mother Peg, and then her husband Mike, and then all three of her sons - Damon, Brock and Luke. My wife and I got to know them real well, and Damon was the first and probably the most accomplished of the three quarterbacks. I was actually on the offensive staff Damon's first year as our starter and know he has a wonderful understanding of the game. He was raised in the home of a high school football coach, and this looks like a perfect fit to me.

The reality for me is - as long as Bob Rondeau is calling the games and they keep Elise Woodward as the sideline reporter and the Husky Honks are getting paid - I'm cool.

It's cliche to say, but every team and every year is completely different. The UW coaches will continue to tinker with the roster, but are limited to 105 kids for the training camp that starts in August. Shirley gives them an extra piece to the puzzle and hopefully can pick things up as camp goes along. Speaking from experience, it is very difficult for a true freshman to come right into a college program and start immediately as a linebacker. They can contribute to the depth but there is just too much to learn between the high school and college games to expect them to play as a starter. Fortunately, the Huskies have good front line players at the linebacker spot, so if he could get into the depth and help on special teams that would be great. Another fortunate part of Shirley's game is that he could be immediately used as a straight pass rusher, which would require less from the playbook. He's just too good of an athlete to keep on the bench if they can find a way to use him.

Shirley is a great addition to the linebacker depth, but Middleton's departure leaves a giant hole at the tight end spot. I would imagine that they will be moving someone to that position from another spot, and that incoming freshmen Michael Hartvigson and Evan Hudson will be expected to play. Certainly Dorson Boyce, who was moved to fullback in the spring, could moved back immediately, but knowing Sark someone else will be entering the picture come camp time.

A possible positive out of all this is that Austin Serferian-Jenkins, the highly recruited tight end out of Gig Harbor, will be more encouraged to sign with Washington. Certainly with Middleton's departure his opportunity to play right away has increased.

At this time of year we are all starved for information about the Huskies and Sarkisian has certainly filled those Husky needs with these latest comings and goings, whether intended or not. Recruiting is always a continuing process and certainly the relationship the Husky coaches had with Josh Shirley has paid off with an unexpected addition.

Can't wait for camp to begin.


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