Pac-12: Peter Sirmon

Lunch links: Arizona's RB depth

March, 21, 2013
3/21/13
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It is only through mystery and madness that the soul is revealed.

Q&A: Washington DC Justin Wilcox, Part II

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
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Continuing our Q&A with new Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

Read Part I here.

Tell me about your defensive philosophy: What are the first things you tell your guys that need to happen?

Justin Wilcox: The first thing is you've got to develop an identity. The great thing is, from the core values Steve Sarkisian has implemented here in terms of the competitiveness, the toughness, the work ethic, those things have been ingrained in these kids. How they train, how they work, how they prepare. That is paramount to being a successful program. From our side of the ball, on top of everything Coach Sark stands for, the toughness and competing that we're going to emphasize to these kids, the big thing on defense, especially this day and age, is the execution. Effort and toughness -- you have to have those. They are non-negotiable. Unfortunately, they won't win you games. You can play with the greatest effort and the greatest toughness, but if you don't execute at a high level, you're going to play bad defense. What we need to focus on is being able to execute at a high level, down-in, down-out, up-tempo, for four quarters, even when we are tired. That's just conditioning your mind, conditioning your body. That's what we're focusing on. The scheme is important. There's no doubt. But how you execute the scheme is even more important. That's what we're focusing on this spring, getting good at what we do. There are a lot of different defenses, a lot of different ways to do things. Throughout the country, everybody's got a little bit different wrinkle. But at the end of the day, if you're a 3-4 team or a 4-3 team or a quarters team or a three-deep team, you've got to be good at what you're doing. That's what our focus is going to be. We've got to find out a little bit who we are in terms of personnel and what we think we can be good at. We're always going to be fundamentally driven. We've got to be great tacklers; we've got to be great at taking on blocks; and we've got to be great at covering people. That's what defensive football is. Whatever scheme we play, whatever coverages we play, it always goes back to tackling, taking on blocks and covering people. Those are the things that we're going to work on day-in, and day-out. You could have 800 defenses, and they could be the greatest defenses on the board, make the most sense and cover everything, but if you are not good at what you're doing, you're just flailing in the wind -- a jack of all trades, master of none. We need to find our identity of what we are going to be schematically, and then play better football. I know that sounds kind of boring but that's the truth. It's going to be fundamentals for us. And it's going to be execution.

Give me a CliffsNotes version of your scheme. It seems more teams are using 3-4, odd-front looks, and that's more your reputations, too, but you also seem kind of flexible.

JW: Yeah, that's fair to say. We're a little more 3-4, under-front, odd-front in our base downs. We've got to play more nickel and possibly some dime, depending on our personnel, because we will see a fair amount of 11-personnel, 10-personnel -- meaning one-back stuff. So we will practice that the first day, nickel and some dime, so we can try to get our best coverage matchups, which will give you more flexibility with what you can do, coverage-wise, when you have another DB out there. We need to find out, personnel-wise, throughout the spring, who we are. Who can we put the stress on? Who are the guys on our defense who we can say: This guy can win the one-on-one battles. And if we need to help protect another position, that we've got to build it around that. We'll install our base coverages out of our base group, our nickel coverages and all of our blitzes and fire zones, and then we'll kind of hone it in on what we think we'll be good at. You're going to do the scheme part of it, but we really need to practice the fundamentals and get good at it -- playing three-deep, playing quarters, playing press, taking on blocks and tackling. All those fundamental things that sometimes can get loose if you are not careful.

What have you seen on film from the guys you've got coming back: Did anything stand out?

JW: I'm excited. There's some good young talent. There are some edge player -- the Josh Shirleys, Hau'oli Jamora, [Andrew] Hudson -- those guys who are more edge-type guys. We've got some young defensive ends who we think have a chance, guys who haven't played a lot. There's a young noseguard who has flashed, Danny Shelton. You probably know about him. We've got to continue to develop our defensive ends and continue to develop in recruiting in terms of size and length. At linebacker, it's going to be very competitive there. We've got some guys who we might move around in terms of changing positions, to try to give us a little bit more flexibility at those spots. The secondary, there are some good young players. Obviously, you've got [cornerback] Desmond Trufant coming back. That's a big deal for us and we're excited for him. There will be some competition at corner. Greg Ducre, Marcus Peters, some freshmen who redshirted. At safety, you've got Sean Parker and some guys who played last year, Nate Fellner and Justin Glenn. There's a redshirt freshman who has flashed some, Travis Feeney. I'm trying not to miss anybody. The other thing is we'll play a lot of nickel, so developing that nickel position, and possibly a dime, because we have some of those body types. Again, we're trying to find out who are the best guys and who do we think gives us the best chance to win. If you get so rigid on, 'We're a 4-3 team, so we're going to play 4-3 no matter what,' but what if your fifth DB is better than your third LB, then you're kind of spinning your wheels and not playing with your best guys. We want our best guys out there.

How much can a defense improve from one year to the next? Do fans need to be patient, or do you feel like this defense can put up much better numbers than in 2011?

JW: It's hard for me to get into all that. I could stand on a soap box and say, 'We're going to do this, this and this,' but really it's going to be a product of what we accomplish this spring, in our offseason workouts and fall camp. As long as we are playing as well as we can possibly play, that's what I care about. The stats are what they are, as long as we are playing up to our capability that's what I am focused on. I don't think any of us are very patient. We want to play good defense. That's why we are here. That's what we spend our time trying to do. That's a multi-level question. For me to sit here and say, 'We're going to be here, here and here,' I have a hard time doing that.

Speaking of patience, your name is starting to pop up on lists of hot coaching candidates: How patient are you about getting a chance to be a head coach?

JW: I appreciate you saying that, but to be honest I never have thought that way. I've really not thought that way about moving jobs. I don't spend time getting involved in that part of it. All I really care about, for me, is that we are playing as good as we can play and we are coaching them as good as we can coach them and we're doing whatever is best for us for our team to be successful. That is really all that consumes me. I think once you start worrying about things that are out of your control, you are wasting time. All that drives my professional life is how we are going to play better, how are we going to improve, how are we going to coaching them better, how are we going to teach them better, how can we practice better.

Q&A: Washington DC Justin Wilcox, Part I

March, 28, 2012
3/28/12
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Washington's defense was terrible last year. Perhaps the worst unit in school history. That's why third-year coordinator Nick Holt was fired.

And that's why Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian brought in Justin Wilcox from Tennessee. Wilcox, who became a rising star while running Chris Petersen's defense at Boise State, is charged with rebuilding a unit that has been mostly poor-to-middling since a dominant run under Don James and coordinator Jim Lambright in the 1980s and '90s.

Here's what Wilcox had to say as the Huskies get ready to start spring practices next week.

Looking back a bit, you left Boise State for Tennessee: How big of a change was that for you, jumping to the SEC?

Justin Wilcox: Obviously, there is great football in the SEC. It was a totally different experience, totally different environment. An awesome, unbelievable experience. Football is football, though. There was a lot of carry-over. There's a different style of offense that we played against. There were different things you dealt with. The recruiting was obviously different. The types of kids were different types of kids than we had at Boise State. There is scrutiny everywhere, there was scrutiny at Boise State, but there were a lot more people involved at Tennessee. That was definitely different -- not better or worse, just different. It was an awesome experience. I learned a ton.

The conventional wisdom is the SEC keeps winning national titles because it has the best talent. Is that your take during your time in Knoxville?

JW: I always hated to get into this because everybody would bring it up when I was at Tennessee -- that could Boise State play [in the SEC]? I would say, from top to bottom, from the conferences I've been in, [in the SEC] the physical ability was pretty substantial in terms of the depth and the size and speed of the kids down there. That doesn't mean there's not great football other places. There is great football other places. I would just say on a physical scale there were bigger guys. I don't want to get into comparing conferences and leagues, but there were some extremely talented guys playing down there. There's no doubt about that.

You're a West Coast guy: Did you always imagine you would return to the West Coast in your career?

JW: My time at Tennessee was unbelievable. It's a great place. A lot of unbelievable people there, some great kids. But you kind of are who you are. You grow up in certain places, and that's kind of what you are used to. Now in our profession, you don't get to choose where you work all the time, so I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to come back here. I was grateful because it is closer to home for me. That's not everything by any means -- that was a small part of it. The chance to work with Steve Sarkisian and knowing Washington as I was growing up, seeing Washington and knowing what this place is about is very appealing to me. So the big picture of it was this was an awesome opportunity. It wasn't necessarily just because I'm from the West. But I am who am. I'm from Junction City, Ore. That's not too far from here and my family is closer. That is exciting but that wouldn't be a sole reason by any means.

OK... this is fan-type question. You played at Oregon. Same for new Huskies LBs coach Peter Sirmon. Oregon and Washington have perhaps the most bitter rivalry in the Pac-12. Was there at least a momentary grin when you first donned the purple of Washington?

JW: This has come up before. I coached at Cal. I coached at Boise and we played Oregon. In our line of work, my allegiance is with the University of Washington. I am proud to be from where I am from. I had a great experience [at Oregon] as a player. I have a lot of great friends that I made there. They are both great places. I know sometimes the fans, it might be kind of a hard dynamic, but I know where my allegiance is now. But that doesn't mean I'm not proud of where I'm from, having gone to school at Oregon, and having been a part in that. I kind of got over that way back when though, when I was a young coach, when my first full-time job was at Cal and we played Oregon. I went through that three or four years after being out of college, so it was a little bit different then. I've been down that road. It's not hard for me to prepare for them. I'd prepare just as hard as I would for any other team. I know that's not an exciting, fun answer that you want but it's the truth.

In Part II, Wilcox talks specifics about philosophy, scheme, personnel and the future.

Opening the mailbag: Sark's hotseat?

February, 3, 2012
2/03/12
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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?

Huskies top Pac-12 assistant coach pay

January, 23, 2012
1/23/12
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Washington's rebuilt football staff is in the money, but perhaps not as in the money as some speculated in would be during a flurry of postseason hires.

Tosh Lupoi, the recruiting ace who bolted California to be the Huskies defensive line coach, won't get $500,000 as speculated. Lupoi's memorandum of understanding -- the figures released by the school have not yet become signed contracts -- calls for guaranteed $350,000 per year from 2012 through February 6, 2015. It includes one-time payment of $100,000 and an additional $100,000 if he remains on the Huskies' staff through the agreement's end date.

Including a $51,000 supplement on top of a base salary of $164,000 Lupoi made $215,000 in 2011 at Cal.

New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will be paid $750,000 in 2012, with $350,000 in base pay and $400,000 in supplemental pay. He will get $800,000 guaranteed in 2013 and $850,000 in 2014.

Wilcox is essentially taking a pay cut to move back to the Northwest from Tennessee. While he was scheduled to make $700,000 in 2012 with the Volunteers, Seattle has a substantially higher cost of living than Knoxville -- making $750,000 in Seattle is the equivalent of making $552,000 in Knoxville.

In total, the Huskies staff, which includes five new members, will be paid $2.73 million in 2012, which is more than any Pac-12 staff was paid in 2011 (though USC's and Stanford's figures are not public records because both are private schools).

New offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau will be paid $375,000 this year, $400,000 in 2013 and $425,000 in 2014. His first-year pay is $10,000 more than what the man he replaced -- Doug Nussmeier -- earned last year. Nussmeier left for Alabama. Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian will still call offensive plays.

Linebackers coach Peter Sirmon, who came with Wilcox from Tennessee, is getting a two-year contract that will pay him $225,000 in 2012 and $250,000 next year. New secondary coach Keith Heyward, who came from Oregon State, will get $150,000 this year and $160,000 in 2013

Also, according to the release, "All the new assistants can earn incentive pay for reaching the Pac-12 championship game, for winning it, for appearing in a bowl game and for appearing in a Bowl Championship Series game or the BCS title game."

Former defensive line coach, Johnny Nansen, got a raise with his new title as assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and recruiting coordinator. His salary of $165,000 in 2011 will increase to $200,000 in 2012 and $225,000 in 2013.

Jimmie Dougherty, the 2011 wide receivers coach, is now also the pass game coordinator. His salary of $135,000 in 2011 will increase to $190,000 this year and $205,000 next year.

Running backs coach Joel Thomas has added the title of associate head coach for offense. His pay goes from $160,008 to $190,000 in 2012 and $205,000 in '13.

Offensive line coach and running game coordinator Dan Cozzetto's salary remains $300,000 per year.

The Huskies staff was paid up from $2,305,028 in 2011. It is scheduled to be $2,895,000 in 2013.

You can read more here.

Cal to UW, take II: Huskies hire Kiesau

January, 17, 2012
1/17/12
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Washington again raided California to complete its revamped coaching staff on Tuesday, hiring Eric Kiesau away from the Bears.

Cal confirmed Kiesau's departure with a short statement from coach Jeff Tedford and athletic director Sandy Barbour. It has been reported that Kiesau will be the Huskies' offensive coordinator -- he coached receivers for Cal -- but it seems likely that head coach Steve Sarkisian will continue to call plays, as he did with former coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, who is leaving for Alabama.

On Monday, the Huskies hired Tosh Lupoi away from Cal. He is considered perhaps the best recruiter in the conference.

Kiesau is the fifth new coach Sarkisian has hired this offseason. In addition to him and Lupoi, Sarkisian hired Justin Wilcox (defensive coordinator) and Peter Sirmon (linebackers) away from Tennessee and Keith Heyward (secondary) away from Oregon State.

What has become clear: Washington is willing to pay big money to stock a staff around Sarkisian. When the numbers are published, it's possible that Washington could have the highest paid coaching staff in the conference in 2012, though USC doesn't release salary information. It's certainly clear that Cal couldn't keep up, even though both schools will rake in big money from the Pac-12's new TV contract. Simple fact: Washington is a wealthier athletic department, as Mitch Sherman notes here.

Here is the statement from Tedford: “Tosh and Eric have decided to take other jobs, and we wish them the best. When people have career opportunities they make decisions based upon a wide array of reasons that are important to them. We appreciate their contributions to Cal football, and we exhausted all of our resources to try to retain Tosh and Eric within the confines and continuity of our coaching staff, but both chose to take advantage of new opportunities. We will proceed to replace them with quality coaches who will continue to stand for what the University of California and our football program represent, just as Tosh and Eric did.”

And from Barbour: “Tosh and Eric are outstanding football coaches that did a terrific job during their tenures on the Cal staff. We certainly valued everything they brought to our football program and appreciate their time with us. We did all we were able to do to have them remain at Cal and appreciate our community’s willingness to assist in that effort. We remain excited and confident about the direction of Cal football under the leadership of Jeff Tedford.”

And, yes, it is fairly unusual for the coach and athletic director to release statements after they lose assistant football coaches. Tedford and Barbour probably felt they needed to in this case because Cal fans -- understandably -- aren't taking this well, particularly so close to national signing day on Feb. 1.

Opening the mailbag: Ducks are Huskies!

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
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Happy Friday.

Follow me on Twitter. But only if awesomeness doesn't frighten you.

To the notes.

Shad from Eugene, Ore., writes: I'm a Duck fan. I loved watching Peter Sirmon and Justin Wilcox play here and I think they've both turned into great coaches. Now they work for dogs though, what should I do?! I'm having a hard time hating them as much as I ought to, even though their talents will make an already very scary Husky team that much better. What is the appropriate etiquette when a respected former player starts coaching for hated rivals?

Ted Miller: I had two reactions when the hiring became official. 1. Great hires by Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian; 2. Wow. Both are Ducks. And I'm guessing lots of serious Pac-12 fans -- not just Oregon and Washington fans -- thought the same thing.

You've got to admit it's amusing. Wilcox's brother, Josh, was at the Rose Bowl working for Comcast SportsNet -- some of you might recall him catching 11 passes for 135 yards and a TD in the Ducks’ 38-20 loss to Penn State in the 1995 Rose Bowl -- and he was able to laugh when I asked him if he would feel conflicted or start wearing purple. My guess is Wilcox will continue to love his brother, only without wearing purple. And he'll hope the Ducks beat the Huskies 3-0 every year.

But once we get past the amusement -- and there will be plenty of moments, at least this first year, when Wilcox and Sirmon quietly will crack wise with each other about being inside Husky Stadium with the home team -- it gets down to this: This is a business. It's a high-stakes game of winning and losing, and that sort of pressure quickly wears away emotional biases for jersey colors.

If the Huskies defense improves under Wilcox -- and there is every reason to believe it will -- Wilcox probably won't last more than two or three years before getting significant looks for head coaching jobs. Wilcox is a West Coast guy, so a move back to the West suggests that's where he wants to end up. Joining the Huskies was a business decision, and both parties benefit only if Wilcox does well.

Same for Sirmon. He's an up-and-comer. His next step is running a defense. If the Huskies defense improves, and the LB play is notably good, Sirmon will raise eyebrows as a potential coordinator, the next step for him up the coaching staircase. And if, say, Oregon State offered up a defense, he'd jump at the chance, even if that meant standing on the opposite sideline during the Civil War.

My take for Oregon fans: Wilcox and Sirmon are great Ducks and always will be, but that doesn't mean you should dislike Washington any less. Or want the Ducks offense to take it easy on the Huskies defense. When Wilcox and Sirmon don the purple shirts, they become Huskies. And that means they are only slightly more likable than Mephistopheles.

And, likewise for Washington fans: Once in purple, Wilcox and Sirmon are your guys -- yes, Huskies -- particularly if the defense starts forcing three-and-outs.

Still, I dug this up from The Oregonian in 2009. It's an article about the Huskies-Ducks rivalry. It made me smile.

First-year [Oregon] graduate assistant Peter Sirmon said he had "a little passion for Washington" while growing up in Walla Walla, Wash. But that quickly went away as soon as he suited up against them as a standout Ducks linebacker from 1996-99.

"Once you've played in the Oregon-Washington game, you realize that no other game shares the same intensity," Sirmon said. "When you're at Husky Stadium or you see those purple jerseys running out of the Autzen tunnels, you can tell that it's not just a regular game."

Sirmon kept that rivalry going when he played for the NFL's Tennessee Titans, making friendly bets with Tennessee teammate Benji Olson. The former Washington offensive lineman will be honored at the game Saturday and Sirmon looks forward to exchanging more friendly rivalry talk with his friend.

"For years and years and years, they dominated the Northwest," Sirmon said. "In fact, they dominated the West Coast. It was a big step for this Oregon program when we started beating them consistently."


Now Wilcox's and Sirmon's job is to reverse that trend, an embarrassing one for Washington. You should expect them to pour every ounce of passion into it, wanting to beat Oregon perhaps even worse than any other team because losing to family is almost as bad as losing to an enemy.


Sean from Portland writes: What's your sense as to how much people are looking forward to this Championship game? To me it seems like people aren't caring nearly as much as they have in years past. this could easily be because I am living in Pac-12 country, but I'd like to hear your take on this.

Ted Miller: I've noticed some SEC/rematch exhaustion in the comments section. Some have said they won't watch the game.

I think that's crazy talk, though, of course, I respect everyone's right to talk crazy.

If LSU beats Alabama, it will have posted perhaps the most distinguished season in college football history. It will have beaten nine teams -- counting the Crimson Tide twice -- that were ranked when the Tigers played them. It will have beaten six teams ranked in the final BCS standings, including three in the top six. It will have beaten two BCS bowl game winners (Oregon and West Virginia).

And it will have done so without great play at quarterback, which I find very NFL-ish.

Will the game be as much fun as the Rose Bowl or Fiesta Bowl? Maybe not. As much as everyone touted the great defense in the first game, it was as much about terrible -- and terribly cautious -- offensive play.

Still, these are two epically good defenses. Count on me watching. And I'm guessing more than a few folks who claim they are boycotting the game will, too.


Jake from Boise, Idaho writes: You question the non-conference schedule for the Ducks next year but as you may recall, Oregon had a home-and-home series scheduled with Kansas State that was cancelled by the Wildcats. Also consider that last year, Oregon got hammered in the polls for shooting itself in the foot in a virtual road game against LSU. It's a subject you've mentioned at times in the past year: is it really worth playing a difficult non-conference schedule when the risk-reward can be so high?

Ted Miller: It is true that Kansas State backed out of a home-and-home series with the Ducks, and New Mexico backed out of a repeat game this year in order to get a bigger -- and less humiliating -- payday at Texas.

And your point about the overreaction in the polls to the LSU loss is valid, though it's notable that the Ducks moved back up fairly quickly with wins as well as a realization that LSU was really, really good.

I love tough nonconference games. I see them as true measuring sticks for the national pecking order. It certainly helped LSU gain respect on the West Coast. I'd hate for Cowardly Lion scheduling practices to take over in the Pac-12. The alliance with the Big Ten will make that difficult.

If Oregon had won that game, however, and ended up 12-1 after losing to USC, my guess is the Ducks would have finished No. 1 or No. 2 in the BCS standings -- with all other games across the nation remaining the same -- and played for the national title. So there was a potentially high reward.

Yes, there also was a high risk. But Oregon's season turned out OK, right?

And let's remember: This is supposed to be about competition. Avoiding it is lame, even if some schools artificially elevate their standing by doing just that.


Matt from Chicago writes: Watching OSU's offense dismantle Stanford's D made me wonder how things might have been different had Shayne Skov been healthy. Dude was a beast the few times I saw him play in 2010. Any insight as to his progress, and whether he'll back in a Cardinal uni next season? This Trojan wouldn't mind seeing him in the NFL!

Ted Miller: Not sure Oklahoma State "dismantled" Stanford's defense. The Cowboys rushed for 13 yards, so it certainly wasn't a linebacker issue.

As for Skov, he's a beast, but this was a serious knee injury, requiring two separate surgical procedures to repair his ACL and MCL. He won't be available for spring practices, but the prognosis is good for a full recovery by preseason camp.

And my guess is he's got a nice future playing on Sundays.


Every VT Fan and any self respecting Michigan Fan from Blacksburg, Va., writes: How was Danny Coale's catch not a catch? I asked you about Coale's catch because the officials were from the pac-12.

Ted Miller: This note refers to the officials' decision to overturn a diving TD catch by Virginia Tech's Danny Coale in overtime of the Sugar Bowl against Michigan. The official explanation was Coale briefly -- really, really briefly -- lost possession of the ball as he hit the ground, negating the touchdown.

My feeling -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- is that Virginia Tech fans, with all due respect, disagree with the call? That's it, right? I'm on the right track, right?

I thought it was a catch, but this picture does give you pause. Just a little. I still think it was a catch. But I'm just a lowly Pac-12 blogger.

And, as our your Pac-12 fans will tell you, we are shocked -- SHOCKED! -- that Pac-12 officiating left you wanting.

Please, tell our visitors from Virginia Tech how much you like Pac-12 officiating.

Washington hires Wilcox from Tennessee

January, 2, 2012
1/02/12
12:29
PM ET
Washington has raided Tennessee to replace fired defensive coordinator Nick Holt, according to ESPN.com's Chris Low.

The Huskies have hired Justin Wilcox, a former Oregon player who built his reputation at Boise State, to replace Holt. Volunteers linebackers coach Peter Sirmon, another former Duck, is also part of the deal.

This looks like the foundation of a rebuilt defensive staff. The Huskies still have two vacancies: Jeff Mills also was fired, and Demetrice Martin was hired away by UCLA. Both coached in the secondary.

Sarkisian fired Holt, Mills and linebackers coach Mike Cox following a 67-56 loss to Baylor in last week's Valero Alamo Bowl, in which the Huskies yielded 777 total yards. The Huskies' defense was, arguably, the worst in program history this season.

According to Low:
Not a lot went right for Tennessee this season, but the Vols finished 28th nationally in total defense, and Wilcox and his staff were able to hold their own with one of the youngest defenses in the country. Three true freshmen -- linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt and safety Brian Randolph -- started most of the season.

Wilcox, 35, has been a hot commodity since his red-hot run at Boise State. He was wooed by Texas last season, but elected to stay at Tennessee.

Sirmon, a Wenatchee, Wash., native, played seven seasons with the Tennessee Titans as a linebacker. He spent the 2009 season as a graduate assistant at Oregon before coming to Tennessee in 2010 as a grad assistant working under Wilcox. In addition to being one of the Vols' top assistant coaches, Sirmon also was one of the program's best recruiters

Tennessee is probably getting tired of the Pac-12. Not only have the Vols lost four consecutive games to Pac-12 teams -- California, UCLA twice and Oregon -- USC hired away after just one season coach Lane Kiffin, who did a masterful job this year leading the Trojans to a top-five ranking while the Vols finished 5-7 under Derek Dooley.

As for Wilcox's contract issues coming and going, there's this from the Knoxville News Sentinel:
Wilcox does not owe UT anything by leaving for another job. His original contract stipulated that he owed the school $300,000 if he terminated the deal before Dec. 1, 2011 -- with the exception of leaving because he obtained a Division I head coaching position -- but that clause was completely wiped out when it was amended in August.

Wilcox was to receive $700,000 in 2012, a base pay of $275,000 and a "broadcast/endorsement" payment of $475,000.

Holt -- notoriously -- made $650,000 annually, an amount the Huskies will be on the hook for in 2012 because of a two-year contract. So the expectation is Wilcox is likely to exceed that total. It certainly is more expensive to live in Seattle than in Knoxville.

But Wilcox, a Eugene, Ore., native, also likely wanted to get back to the West Coast. He figures to become a top head coaching candidate if the Huskies' defense starts to excel, so he probably has his eyes on a Pac-12 post down the road.

Before that happens, of course, the Huskies will have to start playing good defense again, something their fans have been hoping for since the mid-1990s.

Opening the mailbag: Does Tennessee have inside information?

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
7:20
PM ET
Welcome to the Thursday mailbag!

Decided to move it back a day because many of you have begun your, er, game preparations by the time we'd post it Friday afternoon.

Follow me on Twitter. Please.

To the notes!

Dave from Portland writes: I keep hearing about a zipper conference schedule. Just what is a zipper?

Ted Miller: It's the idea of splitting the Pac-12 up by rivalry pairs instead of geography (North-South).

So Arizona and Arizona State, Oregon and Oregon State, USC and UCLA, etc., are in opposite divisions but guaranteed a game each year, though perhaps not on the dates their fan bases are accustomed to. So a team would play five games each year in its division, one guaranteed game with its rival in the other division and then a rotating schedule of three games with the other five teams. There also could be further designated games if, say, Cal and UCLA wanted a guaranteed game or Oregon and Washington, though that could complicate things (or could be solved within the divisions).

The advantage is it ensures the Northwest schools are paired with one team from Southern and Northern California and, at worst, will make a visit to each region every other year. Northwest schools want trips to California for recruiting purposes. The zipper plan also maintains traditional rivalries.

The California schools are resisting the plan because they want to be guaranteed games with each other on an annual basis. There are other downsides. For one, not going regional means increased travel costs. Also, if rivalry games are preserved for the final week of the season, it's possible you'd have have a rematch a week later in the new Pac-10 championship game (imagine, say, Oregon-Oregon State on back-to-back weekends). Further, when you don't break up divisions by geography, it's difficult for casual fans to know which team is in which division. As in: Name all the ACC teams in the Coastal Division.

While the idea isn't new, the first time I can recall reading the term "zipper" was from Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News.

Dan from Olympia, Wash., writes: One of the things that I've noticed that the Big10, Big12, and SEC do well is schedule and market their rivalry games. Which brings me to these two questions: 1) Would the Pac10 be better served if they spread out the in-state rivalry games over three to four weeks instead of the two we have now? That way, people would get a chance to see all of the games and would give the conference to showcase each game without them overlapping? 2) Is the Pac10 missing a trick here and should promote other rivalry games inside the conference that do not have a name or title sponsors? For example, the Washington-Oregon game could be marketed in the same way the Red River Shootout is. The intensity between the fan bases are surely there.I can see nothing but good coming from this? Your thoughts?

Ted Miller: Some good points. When it comes to marketing and promotions, the new Pac-12 under Larry Scott strikes me as cutting edge, so I'm sure what you're saying here is also being said in the Pac-10 offices at present. Repackaging the rivalry games and relentlessly hyping them could become a prime directive for, say, a Pac-12 network.

There is a major reason why most rivalry games fall at the end of the season, other than just tradition: The potential for maximum impact. Consider the Civil War last year: The stakes were not only state pride, they were the Rose Bowl. Ergo: The biggest Civil War ever. You could say the same for the Ohio State-Michigan game: It's monumental when the stakes are the Rose Bowl or even the national title game, and you'll note the Big Ten opted to protect the game's date at the end of the season when it decided how to break into divisions.

Just imagine if Oregon and Oregon State had met in, say, week eight. Big game. Big rivalry. But little national interest, unless one or both are in the top-10 and contending for a national title.

As for finding ways to market other rivalries, I agree, particularly with Oregon-Washington. To me, that is the most underrated rivalry in the nation, though it lost some luster when the Huskies went into the toilet from 2004-2008. But all you have to do to get a sense for the bitterness is to read the comments section from the Pac-10 blog, where a story about Stanford's special teams can degenerate into barb trading between Ducks and Huskies.

The Columbia River Calamity? Feel free to provide your own ideas.

What you should take away from my answer here: Going forward, the Pac-12, once the patrician conference that resisted change and aggressive marketing, is now willing to at least entertain just about any idea within reason that promotes the conference and leads to increased revenue.

Torsten from Orlando writes: How concerned should us Duck fans be about Tennessee's new defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox. As Duck fans know he was the former coordinator at Boise State, the only team to beat Oregon the past two years, and because of that probably has an edge about how to stop our system. Not to mention their new Grad Assistant was a Duck Grad Assistant first. Is this something that we should start sweating and worrying about or am I just sweating the small stuff?

Ted Miller: Oregon should beat Tennessee on Saturday because it's got better, more experienced players.

Now, if you are looking for reasons the Ducks might lose, Wilcox would be No. 2 on my list behind QB Darron Thomas struggling in his first road start in front of 105,000 at Neyland Stadium. In fact, those two pair together nicely as 1A and 1B.

Wilcox, a former Duck, is one of the bright, young coordinators in the nation, which is why Derek Dooley lured him away from Boise State. His game plans last fall against Oregon and then against TCU in the Fiesta Bowl were outstanding. And it should help him that his graduate assistant, former Duck Peter Sirmon, was a GA at Oregon last year.

These two will be familiar with Oregon's spread-option offense and the skills of individual players -- their strengths and weaknesses. Sirmon, for example, might have specific ideas on what might make Thomas uncomfortable.

So, yes, concern is legitimate.

That said: Sometimes there's information overload and overthinking. Oregon's Chip Kelly also knows what Wilcox did against the Ducks the past two seasons, and he probably knows what Sirmon might add to the equation in Knoxville. Count on Kelly having some counterpunches for the "inside" information that Wilcox and Sirmon might have.

Seth from Santa Barbara, Calif., writes: Here's a question for you: If you were suddenly transported to a mysterious and exotic world in which you were the only sports writer and no other media coverage or ranking systems existed (or had ever existed before). Based on your observations of week one on the field performance who would your top 10 be? Feel free to rank the PAC-10 the same way if you are so inclined.

Ted Miller: OK. So you want a ranking that leans overwhelmingly on what a team accomplished in week one instead of my subjective take on who's the best?

My national top 10: 1. Boise State; 2. Utah; 3. TCU; 4. Fresno State; 5. Jacksonville State; 6. Michigan; 7. South Carolina; 8. Arizona; 9. Kansas State; 10. Oregon.

As for the Pac-10, based entirely on what was accomplished in week one: 1. Arizona (won impressively on the road against a respectable team); 2. Oregon (looked unstoppable against a bad team); 3. USC (won on the road against a respectable team); 4. Oregon State (lost a competitive game on the road against an elite team); 5. Arizona State (created reasons for optimism on offense); 6. California (may have found a playmaker at receiver); 7. Stanford (beat an FCS team about like it should have); 8. Washington (lost to a good team on the road, but one it was expected to beat); 9. UCLA (lost to a middling team on the road, but one it was expected to beat); 10. Washington State (got beat up worse than expected by a middling team on the road).

Max from Sacramento writes: Your stock report reminds me of the NASPAQ.

Ted Miller: Thanks for the link. Worth taking a look.

Mr. Dude from Portland writes: Yup, there sure is a nickname for Barner and James. Last year people started calling them Blaze N' Taze. Blaze for James' ridiculous speed, and Taze for the hybrid tazer position (slot + running back) Kelly implemented last year. Both adjectives are sure to leave many defensive players laying on the ground in a charred, mangled and helpless mess. Also it was a play off the previous years speed power combo (Johnson and Blount) smash and dash.

Ted Miller: OK then.

Sure you don't like "Accelerating Anatidaes" better?

And when someone says, "Dude?" to you, do you go, "Hey, that's Mr. Dude!"

Cam from Albany, Ore., writes: You asked on your blog if there was a nickname for Oregon's backfield and I have it. Traditionally you see "Thunder and Lightning." With James and Barner you have Lightning and Lightning. I humbly submit the title of "Blitzkrieg" for your consideration.

Ted Miller: Cam, you and Mr. Dude need to talk this one out. I know better than to get between wide-eyed Ducks fans.

Steven from Guntersville, Ala., writes: Normally I am content with people being ignorant if it doesn't concern me, but this is rediculous. I am in no way affiliated with Bama, other than being a fan. Do you even watch football? What are your rankings based on? Ill go out on a limb and give you Boise, because they have played in the best game, so far. But to have Bama behind the suckeyes and the horny toads, is borderline insane. For heaven's sake, TCU beat WHO? Maybe Boise and BAMA will go undefeated, and you can see who plays real football in Glendale. You can sit with the boise fans, after the crowd that showed up Monday Night, im sure there will be plenty of empty seats. Lets start voting with our head and not how Lame kiffin taught you to!

Ted Miller: Apologies. I've found myself being rediculous all week.

My bad.

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