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Jerry Brewer explains the thinking behind his columns and invites readers to express their views on the sports world.

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December 5, 2008 12:56 PM

Banking on Steve Sarkisian's potential

Posted by Jerry Brewer

We don't know about him for sure. There's no way to know. The Huskies have hired a newbie as their football coach, an intriguing newbie, but still a newbie.

If you hate the pick, you could be right. If you love the pick, you could be right. Athletic director Scott Woodward chose Steve Sarkisian on the strong feeling of what he could become, not what he is currently.

Who is Sarkisian? He's the 34-year-old USC offensive coordinator, a coach who's learned under some of the finest minds in college football (Pete Carroll and Norm Chow in particular). He knows what championship football looks like. Sometimes, he's performed to mixed reviews as the Trojans offensive coordinator, but USC has a very good offense. He's done a solid job in that role, not as spectacular as Chow, but Sarkisian is a good offensive mind.

The hope is that he's an even better head coach. I'm excited about this pick. The upside for Sarkisian is incredible. But without question, he's a risk, too.

Sometimes, you must be willing to take that risk to be great.

Maybe that's what Washington has done. Maybe Sarkisian is a man with the audacity, enthusiasm and football knowledge to turn Husky football back into what it should be -- a perennial top-tier program that expects to compete for a national title most every year.

Here's why I think Sarkisian has a chance to be successful:

-- He has a solid track record as a quarterback groom, so he should take Jake Locker's game to a new level and have a solid shot at signing Skyline quarterback Jake Heaps.

-- He can recruit. He knows the West Coast, and he should be able to get some good California talent to come to Washington.

-- He's been part of a pro-style system at USC, and assuming he brings that to Washington, he can tell recruits that he knows how to get them to the NFL.

-- He has more charisma and shows more passion to Tyrone Willingham. Of course, you have to back that up with good X's and O's, but I think that's important. He has a demeanor that will get fans excited about the program, provided he produces a good product.

-- He has been around football at the highest level. Yes, it's going to be harder for Sarkisian at Washington without a stable full of blue-chippers. No, we don't know if he knows how to win with less talent. But when you're around winning, when you only know winning, it rubs off. Sarkisian's standard will be very high, which is a perfect match for the fan base.

Here are some questions about Sarkisian:

-- Is his youth a benefit or a burden?

-- Will he hire a smart staff that can both cover up his shortcomings and allow him to grow as a coach? (I think a good mix of youth and veteran assistants would be appropriate for the first-time coach. I'm almost as concerned about whom Sarkisian surrounds himself with as I am with his own coaching abilities.)

-- Can he win while learning on the job?

-- Since he's an offensive guy, who's he going to entrust with the defense? (The Huskies must find an incredible defensive coordinator.)

-- How will he handle scrutiny and criticism?

Unless something about a hire seems ridiculously off, I'm always willing to give a new guy a chance. The goal isn't to win the press conference. It's to build a stable program that wins consistently.

For a young guy, Sarkisian brings a lot of substance. If he recruits well, he'll win here. If he grows quickly as a head coach, he'll win big. As I wrote in a column earlier this week, I'm not much concerned that the Huskies couldn't get a big name. Given their winless situation, the big names were going to balk.

But perhaps what they've gotten is something better: a young guy who knows no limitations, who's bathed in winning as an assistant, someone who will look at Washington and see its possibilities instead of its losses.

This program has been on top before, so it already knows the route. It just needs the right man to lead it.

Woodward took a risk hiring Sarkisian, but it was a worthy risk. It takes that kind of daring to rebuild a great program.

Steve Sarkisian, the floor is yours. Make this work.

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