Washington introduces new coach Sarkisian

SEATTLE -- Steve Sarkisian has already been successful selling air.

So, heck, selling 105 Washington Huskies football players, plus wavering recruits, angry fans and turned-off boosters on how he will quickly turn around their rock-bottom Huskies should be no problem.

"I'm going to bring a lot of passion to these kids. We just have to change the way they think," Sarkisian said after being introduced as Washington's third coach in five years Monday morning.

After ending his career as a quarterback in the Canadian Football League a decade ago, the former star at BYU briefly worked in the dot-com world.

"I was selling vapor. We hadn't even made a product yet -- but I was selling it," Sarkisian said with a huge smile.

Minutes earlier, a couple hundred fans, cheerleaders, alumni and students chanted "Sark!" and the school's band played "Bow Down to Washington," as Southern California's offensive coordinator was hailed as the Huskies' anti-Tyrone Willingham, Sarkisian's failed predecessor.

"I love it. Wow, what a moment!" a wide-eyed Sarkisian said, looking to his left past his wife, his 6-year-old daughter, Ashley, and 3-year-old son, Brady.

There, he saw four shirtless students who had S-A-R-K painted in Husky purple on their chests.

"I can't wait to get this thing going," he said.

The 34-year-old Sarkisian got a five-year deal worth $10 million plus incentives for his first head coaching job as the third-youngest coach in major college football, after Lane Kiffin of Tennessee and Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern. Sarkisian will continue to coach USC through its Rose Bowl on New Year's Day against Penn State, while recruiting for Washington.

He met with his new team on Monday morning and said his first calls to Huskies recruits were going to be Monday afternoon.

Sarkisian's task seems as tall as nearby Mount Rainier: Turn around a once-proud program that just completed the first 0-12 season in Pac-10 history. Washington was the only winless team in major college football, and Willingham was 11-37 in his four seasons with the Huskies.

"It's going to happen fast," Sarkisian said at a news conference at Husky Stadium's Don James Center -- named after the coach who led the Huskies to Rose Bowls and national championship contention, the standard against which Sarkisian will be judged.

Sarkisian promised to open practices and the program to boosters, fans, alumni and media. That would be the opposite of Willingham's closed-ranks regime that chafed many around the former powerhouse.

That would also model the program run at USC by Sarkisian's mentor, Pete Carroll.

Former Trojans linebacker Lofa Tatupu, now a star with the Seattle Seahawks, said Sarkisian has the same energy and enthusiasm for games and especially practices for which Carroll is renowned.

How open are USC's practices? In Los Angeles, rapper Snoop Dogg and other stars frequently drop by, just for fun.

"Might be tough to get Snoop up to the Northwest for practices," Tatupu said, laughing in the Seahawks' locker room in suburban Renton. "But Sark's got pull."

Carroll brought Sarkisian to USC as an assistant in 2001, made him quarterbacks coach the following year and then added the title of offensive coordinator in 2007. The Trojans are going to their eighth bowl, including their sixth Rose Bowl as Pac-10 champions, since Sarkisian and Carroll arrived.

Sarkisian spent one year with the Oakland Raiders as quarterbacks coach in 2004 before deciding he belonged in college football.

His Washington contract starts with a base salary of $1.75 million in the first year and incrementally increases each season, up to $2.3 million in 2013. It includes incentive clauses worth up to $1.25 million for championships and bowl appearances, something the Huskies haven't had since 2002. There's another $250,000 available for reaching academic performance goals, plus unspecified bonuses for season tickets sold for all sports.

"We think we got our guy," university president Mark Emmert said. Some critics are likely to scoff at Washington trusting the rebuilding of a program to a 34-year-old with no head coaching experience. To that, Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward scoffed back.

"Nuts," Woodward said, with a stone-cold expression. "The guy's been a winner."

Sarkisian, who wowed Emmert and Woodward with an interview on Thanksgiving night, said he will call Washington's plays and will use the same system he's running at USC. The molder of Trojans Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart emphasized he will work on making talented Huskies quarterback Jake Locker a better passer -- and on surrounding the junior-to-be with better players.

"It's one of the things I'm probably most excited about is he's really done well with a lot of guys and put them in good situations to be able to move on and play at the next level," Locker said. "I heard he's pretty tough and pretty meticulous."