Tuesday, November 8, 2011
First look: Washington
By Pedro Moura
It's an unusual relationship Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin have.
Not too many opposing head coaches around the country were as closely connected as the two of them were under former USC coach Pete Carroll, and even fewer have continued to stay that way as their coaching trees broadened over the years. Sarkisian served for seven seasons under Carroll, Kiffin six, and they often worked together on the prolific offenses of those days.
But, with the two friends matching up Saturday for the second time as rival head coaches, both men insisted Monday that their shared histories don't play any role in the importance of the upcoming battle between USC and Washington, where Sarkisian is in his third year as the head coach.
"This isn’t about Sarkisian or Kiffin," Kiffin said after the Trojans practiced Monday in preparation for Sarkisian's Huskies. "We want to beat Washington because they beat us. We want to win every game that we play, especially when you feel like you had a game that we could have won.
"You do have a sense from your players that you’d like to get those back because you felt you could have won them with so many opportunities and you have to wait a whole year to have a chance again."
They've had to wait more than a whole year. Kiffin, of course, is referencing the Trojans' 32-31 last-second loss to Washington at the Coliseum last October, when Huskies kicker Erik Folk made a 32-yard field goal as time expired to upset USC for the second straight year.
Thirteen months before that, on the same day that Kiffin's Tennessee Volunteers lost to then-No.1 Florida, Folk made a 22-yarder with seconds left to provide the margin of victory on a 16-13 Washington upset under the Trojans.
So, really, many of the Trojans have been waiting two whole years. But, back to the rivalry -- Kiffin memorably said a year ago that Sarkisian joke-texted him in the week leading up to the game that quarterback Jake Locker had gotten hurt in a freak accident and would miss the contest.
But there won't be any more trash talk going from one side to the other this year, according to Kiffin. It seems the two men, among the youngest head coaches in college football at 37 in Sarkisian's case and 36 in Kiffin's, have grown up quite a bit recently.
"Not with us," Kiffin said about the smack talk. "Maybe other people do that. We don’t really. I think we both respect each other.
"Maybe we would have done that stuff five years ago or something, but we’ve got enough other stuff to worry about."
Asked then if he and Sarkisian's relationship had deteriorated since they had both become college head coaches, Kiffin shook his head.
"No, not at all," he said. "We still find time to end up at the same places sometimes. Our families hang out and are very close. I don’t think so at all. It probably brought us even closer, both becoming head coaches in understanding what the other person has to go through."
Sarkisian confirmed that, opining that the friendship has evolved over the years into a long-distance one, one built on alternative forms of communication more than the daily meetings and conversations of the past.
"We don't see each other nearly as often," Sarkisian said. "But a lot of the communication is over the phone, pregame, postgame type stuff about the game. We're both still the play-callers. We can analyze it that way.
"Outside of that, we're not seeing each other as frequently as we were used to seeing each other. And anytime that happens with whomever, you can grow apart in a sense at times, but then you find your way back as you talk more, and I think the distance has been that factor."
Sarkisian's first win over USC in 2009 vaulted his debut season with Washington into a unequivocal success, and his first win over Kiffin last year allowed the Huskies to become bowl-eligible. Now, for USC and Kiffin, winning against Washington appears to be crucial to the 2011 season's success, in general.
Not that it wouldn't do the same for Washington and Sarkisian. And such is the nature of the two coaches' long-standing relationship.
"It's a healthy friendship and a healthy rivalry and I think we're both competitive guys who like to win, not for us individually but for our team and for our kids and coaches," Sarkisian said. "Lane's done a nice job.
"He's got them really improving from week to week to week -- you can see it on film."