For seven seasons Steve Sarkisian stood alongside Pete Carroll on the USC sidelines, coaching the Trojans during one of the most dominant periods in the school’s history.
This Saturday, however, Sarkisian, now the head coach at Washington, will be looking across the field at the man who gave him his first big-time college coaching job when the Trojans take on the Huskies in Seattle.
“From a personal standpoint, it’s exciting,” Sarkisian said. “You think about seven years of my really young coaching career I’ve spent with Pete. I’ve learned so much not just from an X’s and O’s standpoint, but from just an overall standpoint of how to handle situations not just with yourself, but with the football team, with your peers as coaches.”
Carroll hired Sarkisian as an offensive assistant in 2001, Carroll’s first season at USC. Sarkisian became the quarterbacks coach in 2002 before leaving for a year for the same job with the Oakland Raiders in 2004. He returned to USC in 2005 and was named offensive coordinator in 2007.
Washington hired Sarkisian in December along with former Trojans defensive coordinator Nick Holt to turn around a team that went 0-12 last year. The Huskies already look improved, playing No. 11 LSU close in their opener and defeating Idaho last week to snap a 15-game losing streak.
“It’s exciting to watch Sark and Nick and all the fellows up there get this program underway, to get their first win, and get the monkey off on the back of the program,” Carroll said. “It’s a major accomplishment.”
Sarkisian has taken Carroll’s emphasis on competition, as well as large parts of his offensive and defensive schemes, and has tried to implement them with the Huskies.
“We brought quite a bit. I think I’d be a fool to come up here and try to reinvent the wheel,” Sarkisian said. “The preparation process that Pete has assembled there is one that has withstood the test of time. Obviously we have our own wrinkles to things, we have things that we have to do differently to fit our personality and my own personality, but ultimately, they’re very similar.”
With Sarkisian and Holt less than a year removed from the Trojan program, both teams will enter Saturday’s game with inside information on how the opposing coaches game plan.
“They know a lot about us. We know a lot about them. I don’t think anybody has an advantage,” Carroll said. “But it’s really fun, it’s fun from our vantage point because it has to be very detailed and intricate subtleties of the adjustments that we’ll do and they’ll do.”
Sarkisian, though, offered a word of caution about trying too hard to predict what their opponent would do.
“You know, we’re trying our best here not to get caught up in overanalyzing this thing too much and getting into a situation where we could get some paralysis by analysis,” he said. “If we start looking too far into this thing and trying to mind read and looking three, four steps down the road, we can get ourselves in trouble.”
Despite all the game planning and scheming, both coaches are looking forward to the chance to go up against one another.
“There’s nothing I’ve liked more than playing against people that I really love, and friends and people that I’ve worked with,” Carroll said.
“It’s exciting,” Sarkisian added. “Hopefully as we get moving forward here and as we continue to improve as a program, it will kind of shape itself up to become kind of a fun, friendly rivalry.”