Chow Down to Washington 2009
Indian Wells, California, 17 March 2009
was bright and serene with clear blue skies and just enough warmth in
the air to suggest the searing desert heat of late spring was
on its way.
Speaking of heat, hot seats,
As we checked into the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa, my wife and I remembered former
coach Tyrone Willingham and his wife Kim, who had led our way to the
lobby the year before. We had been hopelessly lost in the large hotel,
meandering near some elevators from where they suddenly emerged and
acted as our tour guides.
Last year, the expectation
was for Willingham to win at least half of his games and take the
Huskies to a bowl. After the 0-12 season, expectations for the 2009 season
have been considerably lowered -- however, Husky enthusiasm is
skyrocketing thanks to the new, ebullient coach.
The dinner, “Chow down to Washington,” concluded a Washington alumni
function called "Dawg Days in the Desert," which consisted of a lunchtime
keynote address by coach Steve Sarkisian at the Desert Dawgs Golf
Tournament on March 16. Sarkisian was also the guest of honor at the
20th annual Chow Down to Washington banquet on the 17th.
The banquet was held in the Emerald
ballroom, which is located in a separate building apart from the hotel,
just north of the pool area. In the ballroom itself, the dinner tables
surrounded a raised speaker’s platform that was setup in the middle of
the ballroom, giving everyone in attendance a ring-side view of the two
speakers, University president Mark Emmert and
As we ate dinner, a slide show played on the large screens that
were arranged on three sides of the large room. The slide show consisted
of photographs showing old buildings on campus, former students and
faculty members, student activities – and one photo of Gil Dobie, the
Emmert talked about the high quality of students attending the
university, saying that their grade points are getting so high that half
of us here would be Cougars. He said anyone concerned about the future
of this country should come to campus and strike up a conversation with any of the
students at random. You’ll go away, he said, and feel optimistic about
Coach Sarkisian followed Emmert to the speaker’s platform. Sark spoke
for 37 minutes, which included a session where he answered questions
from the audience.
He said we are going to get back to competing for conference championships
and national championships. Those are our goals. In this regard, he drew
the largest applause of the night when he acknowledged the presence of
former coach Don James, who was seated at his table.
Sarkisian said that football nowadays is about speed and space: changing
direction and speed, speed, speed.
This year is not to be
remembered as being a transition year, he added.
We start spring practice March 31, he said. We are going to practice so
intensely that we won’t have any physical workouts at the end of practice. I
hope by that he meant bear crawls, too, which I think are demeaning to
non-performing players. He encouraged all of us fans to
attend the practices.
Asked if Locker might switch to another position, he said Jake Locker is
going to be our quarterback. He added that Locker is a football player,
not a baseball player, intimating he won’t be playing baseball this summer.
One woman asked him what the alumni could do to help the coaching staff. He said
buy tickets to the games, attend them and make as much noise as you can.
That reminded Sarkisian of
the 1995 game with Washington in Seattle, when as a BYU quarterback, he
was sacked 8 or 9 times, and later taken to a hospital for an MRI on his
knee. BYU (14-1) suffered its only loss of the season, and he still
remembers all the noise in the stadium that cost the Cougars numerous in-motion
Another fan asked him about how the recruitment of a well-known, local
athlete was going. Sarkisian threw a yellow flag at him, telling him he
was being penalized for asking a question that NCAA rules don’t permit
him to comment on. A bowl of yellow flags sat on the table, just in
After Sarkisian’s talk and the question-and-answer period – with fans,
dignitaries, and alike mingling together in the emptying ballroom -- I asked
Sarkisian how he felt about the offensive line and whether a few
defensive players might be asked to help out on that side of the ball.
He said the OL was in good hands with Dan Cozzetto and that some
defensive players might switch sides.
Since I’d written an article about stopping the
run, I asked him whether he thought his defense could stop the run
this year. With uncertainty showing in his eyes, he told me his
team was going to stop the run. What he
meant, of course, is that the Huskies need to a better job than last
year in stopping the run when they gave up 240.58 rushing yards per
game, finishing 117th
in FBS football. I put words in his mouth, so I'm giving him a break
here, as it was also an off-the-cuff remark.
Several of us fans talked
with Sarkisian about the personalities of past Washington coaches. I
chimed in saying that Sark reminded me of Neuheisel. "Neuheisel!" he
replied, his voice inflection implying that umbrage was being taken.
Meekly I replied, "I meant your personalities," then realized
I was being conned.
My wife told him that I ran
a Husky website, and he replied that I'd already told him that -- which
was at a time before the dinner started when we'd posed together for a
picture. He has a good memory for faces.
One incident incurred with
an alum showed me the coach has good judgment that go beyond his years
when dealing with fans.
wife asked former coach Don James how many games he thought the Huskies
would win this year, and he replied, “a couple of games,” most likely
thinking about games with Idaho and Washington State. They should win a
couple of games he repeated, not budging off the diminutive “a couple,” like say,
winning several games, which I hoped he would say.
He said we could have won a
couple of games last year.
And there were some minor
goofs from the big pooh-pahs.
During his talk, Sarkisian
referred to a 13-game season this year. Since there are only 12 games
scheduled in the Huskies 2009 season, maybe he was talking about a bowl
game, too. ;-)
Dr. Emmert referred to all
those red-shirted Ohio State fans in town last year as part of his pitch
for the tourist tax and the stadium funding issue. Those were Oklahoma
fans, Dr. Emmert, so touché. ;-)
;-) means tongue-in-cheek.