Opening the mailbag: Sark's hotseat?

February, 3, 2012
2/03/12
5:45
PM ET
Happy Friday. Welcome to the post-signing day mailbag.

I arranged these questions in front of me like hats, then picked them.

If you wish to follow me on Twitter, which you most certainly should, then go here and follow the directions.

To the notes.

Pheezie from Nor Cal writes: Reflecting on the moves and news of the last few weeks in the conference, [Washington coach Steve Sarkisian] program raids now seem to smack loudly of desperation. While you could view them as savvy, it seems to put the impetus on winning, like now. I don't think you can count on raiding other schools' top recruiters every single year and hoping they flip enough guys -- especially at the prices they're paying. At what point does Udub admin sour on Sark's antics? I know a lot depends on wins, but, is Sark on the #1 P12 hot seat heading into the 2012 season? And what is his magic win number to beat the heat?

Ted Miller: Sarkisian is not only not on the Pac-12's hottest seat, his seat isn't even warm.

It's fair to say, however, that Sarkisian made a mistake when he hired Nick Holt, his good friend and former colleague at USC, as his defensive coordinator. At the time, Sarkisian sold it as a home run hire, which was justification for the Holt's exorbitant $650,000 salary.

It wasn't. So that is on Sark.

But there is nothing desperate about hiring Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau away from California, or Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon away from Tennessee, or Keith Heyward away from Oregon State. I call that savvy without reservation. Those are good coaches and good recruiters. Further, beyond the respect all those guys command, Sarkisian immediately generated some positive momentum for his program after a lackluster finish to the season.

As for winning "like now," well, welcome to the world of big-time college coaching. Every AQ program needs to win "like now." You mention a hot seat. Sarkisian isn't on one, but if the Huskies post a losing season in 2012, his seat would certainly warm up in 2013. That's the nature of the business. But I don't think that's going to happen. I see a program with a clear upward trajectory.

Wilcox is one of the bright young coordinators in the country, a guy who is headed for an A-list head coaching job, perhaps within the next five years. Lupoi is widely regarded as one of the nation's best recruiters. Those hires are about right now but they are more about rebuilding Washington into an elite, top-25 program.

Wilcox should yield immediate help on defense. I'd be shocked if the Huskies give up 33.3 points and 426.3 yards per game next fall. And while Lupoi perked up recruiting this go-around -- hello Shaq Thompson! -- he should be an even greater asset in 2012.

But, of course, my typing it doesn't make it so. Sarkisian, just like any other coach, needs to produce. What I am merely saying is the Pac-12 blog is still putting a "buy rating" on the Huskies.

Will from Norfolk, Va., writes: What do you think about Rich Rodriguez's unimpressive recruiting class for Arizona? Do you think it'll get better next year?

Ted Miller: I think: 1. It's probably better than it's being rated; 2. Absolutely, things will get better. And, by the way, if Arizona inks Davonte Neal that one signature would make Rodriguez's first class a success. He's a guy who could provide immediate help on either side of the ball.

One thing that might have hurt Arizona's short-term recruiting success is Rodriguez hired a staff with very little West Coast recruiting experience (other than retaining respected O-line coach Robert Anae). Don't take that wrong: As you know, the Pac-12 blog has repeatedly said that new coaches need to hire their guys -- guys they know and trust. Rodriguez learned that at Michigan when he couldn't lure defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel away from West Virginia, as he did for Arizona.

It's best to view this class as a "getting-to-know-you" effort. Sure, Wildcats fans would have loved if Rodriguez reeled in some big names based on his big name. But his recruiting track record is strong. Just look how successful Michigan was this season with his recruits.

Of course, Wildcats fans also have a right to expect Rodriguez and his staff to land a higher rated class in 2013.

Brent from Salt Lake City writes: A little shocked by the Brian Johnson hire at the U. Can you make me feel better about the prospect of a 25 year old OC?

Ted Miller: Of course, it's a risk. Johnson, who doesn't turn 25 until Feb. 16, has only been a full-time assistant coach -- quarterbacks -- since 2010. When you see a want ad, just about every one requires a certain amount of experience. Why? Because it means you'll know the ins and outs of said job. You'll have already seen -- and overcome -- the myriad challenges a job presents. There is no way around it: Johnson lacks experience. He hasn't seen a lot as a coach. Further, you could argue that Utah hasn't exactly been lights out at quarterback since he took over the position.

Again, a risk.

That said: What successful person doesn't take risks? As they say: High risk, high reward. That's what Johnson represents.

You need reassurance, Brent? Let me introduce you to someone. His name is Kyle Whittingham. He's your highly successful coach. He made a former BYU fullback your defensive coordinator in 2009. What do you think about Kalani Sitake now?

The obvious read on this is Whittingham sees something in Johnson. When he interviewed Johnson about the job, Johnson wowed him. Whittingham's spidey senses started to tingle. My guess is Whittingham is a believer in his instincts. And he went with his instincts.

Understand: This is not a move that would be made by a coach with questionable job security. If the Utes offense falters next fall -- it wasn't exactly the cat's meow in 2011 under the venerable Norm Chow, by the way -- Whittingham won't get fired over it. He can afford to take a big risk and hope for a big reward down the road.

Shane from Fort Lewis, Wash., writes: How is Washington State truly going to do next year? Is Mike Leach the real answer to get us back in the top 10? Last question; when will WSU be back in a RoseBCS bowl game?

Ted Miller: Shane wants answers!

1. Washington State is going to go 7-5 next year; 2. Yes; 3. The Cougars will play in the 2016 Rose Bowl.

I think Leach will produce immediate results. I think the Cougars will be a bowl team in 2012. How much of a "bowl" team depends on the defense stepping up.

As for the Rose Bowl and top-10, that could take some time. And some savvy recruiting. But Washington State has been to two Rose Bowls since 1997, and Leach produced top-10 teams at a Washington State-like program (Texas Tech). It's entirely reasonable to believe the marriage will yield success.

I'm in the process or reading Leach's book, "Swing Your Sword." Here's something of note. Leach, who never played college football and went to law school before he swerved into coaching, had to work his way up through the coaching ranks, starting at the very bottom of the bottom. Here is Leach recalling his time with Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan.
In these sorts of situations, it's easy to fixate on how the other team has better resources than you do. But it's more important to concentrate on maximizing your own resources instead of worrying about things you can't control. It's a challenge, obviously, because the stronger and faster the other team is, the better they can minimize damage and the better their chances of popping open a big play. Regardless, you just can't spend a lot of time dwelling on what you don't have. Instead, you think about the areas you need to fortify and find your opponent's weaknesses so you can direct your attack.

Leach's coaching strength is doing more with less, with outsmarting more talented foes. That means Cougars teams with five-win talent, win six or seven games. And Cougars with seven-win talent win nine or 10.

Alex from Las Vegas writes: So USC was limited to 15 signings but only got 12. What happens to the balance? Does USC lose them or do theyet to apply those 3 next year?

Ted Miller: I could answer this, but Michael Lev of the Orange County Register did such a good job today that, well, I'm going to steal from him.

The short answer: Signing 12 works in USC's favor. The Trojans are presently at 77 scholarships, according to Lev, which means two players will need to be shaved in order to be in line with NCAA sanctions, which mandate that USC can't have more than 75 scholarship players over each of the next three seasons. That will be easy to hit with natural attrition.

Further, Lev points this out:
As things stand now, Kiffin and his staff can bring in three midyear enrollees next winter. Add those to the 15 signees allowed next February, and you’ve got a total of 18.

That’s a meaningful number.

According to the USCFootball.com’s database, USC signed an average of 18 players from 2007-10, with a high of 19 (2008) and a low of 17 (2010). So this year’s total of 17 and next year’s projected total of 18 are hardly out of the ordinary.

What we're starting to see is that coach Lane Kiffin has a plan to manage the scholarship reductions, and it just might work out. There's no way around being down 10 scholarships each year. It limits options and makes a team more vulnerable to injuries due to depth issues. But if the Trojans stay healthy, and touted recruits pan out, they might just be able to weather the next three years pretty well, despite sanctions.

Mister Kilmister from Front Range, Colo., writes: Ted. You seem like a nice guy. You've done well trying to include CU and Utah into the mix. We're trying out best to fit in with our new conference. We want things to go well. But if you ever call us part of the West Coast again I swear to God I will put a cutout of Ubben's head on a stick and wave it in front of you anytime you set foot in our state. I hope we don't have to go over this again.

Ted Miller: You mean you'll make me younger and better looking?

As new members of the Pac-12, and as a school with a lot of students from California, you guys are a little West Coast-y, aren't you? I'm in landlocked Arizona -- no coast to be seen -- and I'm West Coast-y.

Or do you Utah and Colorado folks insist on being mountain folk even as you settle into the Pac-12?

D from Oakland writes: Got to tell you Ted. I frequent your blog less and less these day. Primarily because the discussion has been overrun by [people D doesn't like in the comments sections]. I know its not your fault and there may be no way to reign in these losers but it makes for a [not fun] lunchtime read. I now go elsewhere for my college football lunchtime fix.

Ted Miller: D, you do realize you can read my wonderful posts -- each and every one, over and over and over -- without reading the comments section? There is no rule that you have to trade barbs in the dark netherworld of the blog comments section.

Jeffrey from Flagstaff, Ariz., writes: For the sake of offseason humor, can you please refer to the upcoming Cal-UW match as the "Raise Bowl."

Ted Miller: "Raise Bowl" is good. We definitely have to figure out a good, snarky name for Washington's visit to California on Nov. 2.

Tosh-o-palooza?

The Welcome Back &%$##@ Bowl!

Thoughts?

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