By Brent Stecker
It turned out it didn’t really matter if Steve Sarkisian was ever on the hot seat as the Huskies’ head football coach.
Sarkisian won’t be sticking around in Montlake as he is leaving for USC, the news coming just three days after the Huskies won the Apple Cup to eclipse the seven-win mark for the first time in Sarkisian’s five years at Washington.
The timing is surprising, considering some members of the Washington fan base and local media were calling for Sarkisian’s ouster as recently as a week ago. But USC, which fired coach Lane Kiffin earlier this season, apparently always had its eye on Sarkisian, a southern California native who spent seven years as an assistant coach with the Trojans before he was hired by Washington.
Not surprisingly, Sarkisian’s departure creates a lot of questions for the future of the Huskies’ program. Here are some of the most pressing:
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox would be a logical candidate to be Washington’s next head coach if he doesn’t follow Steve Sarkisian to USC. (AP)
Who will become Washington’s next coach?
Within minutes of the news breaking about Sarkisian’s departure, speculation about his potential replacement was running rampant. The candidates ranged from members of the current staff (defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox) to pipe dreams (Alabama’s Nick Saban), but one obvious candidate is UCLA’s Jim Mora. His ties to the school and the area are well-known – he played for and coached under Don James, and graduated from Bellevue’s Interlake High School – and it’s long been believed that the Washington job is the one Mora has always wanted. Boise State’s Chris Peterson has also been mentioned in the rumor mill, though he’s turned down several jobs to stay in Boise since he became the Broncos’ head coach in 2006.
Will Sarkisian take his coaching staff with him?
Sarkisian built a strong staff at Washington, but it’s very much his staff. Will Washington be able to retain the assistants it wants – which would most likely include Wilcox – or will they be too be swayed by the prospect of moving to southern California?
Who will coach the Huskies in their upcoming bowl game?
Washington still has a bowl game remaining, which is rumored to be the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against BYU in San Francisco. The possibility of Sarkisian sticking around to coach a final game with the Huskies seems slim to none, especially with him moving on to a Pac-12 rival. Could it be a tryout of sorts for Wilcox or another current assistant coach? Or will they have already left for Los Angeles with Sarkisian?
How will Sarkisian’s departure affect recruiting?
It didn’t take long for recruits to start tweeting their intentions to decommit from Washington after the news broke. The first was wide receiver Rahshead Johnson (Long Beach, Calif.) in the early afternoon. It’s safe to assume that the promise of playing for Sarkisian was a selling point for many of Washington’s current recruits, and that puts the Huskies in a tough spot, especially as they’re scrambling to fill the coaching vacancy.
Are Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins more likely to leave after this season?
Sankey, a junior running back, and Seferian-Jenkins, a junior tight end, are finalists for awards given to the best player at their position, and legitimate NFL draft prospects if they leave school after this season. Perhaps Sarkisian could have talked them into staying for their last year of eligibility. Perhaps his replacement will be able to do the same. But you have to believe the chances of them sticking around were much better before Sarkisian decided to leave.