The news came out of nowhere and swept across the Pacific Northwest like a tornado. On December 2nd, it was announced that head football coach Steve Sarkisian was leaving the Washington Huskies to take the same position at USC. Nobody saw it coming, least of all the Husky players, who remained stunned and confused for several days, as uncertainty hung in the air.
Washington athletic director Scott Woodward had two pressing tasks at hand: Provide immediate stability to the team and then conduct a search to land Sarkisian’s replacement.
Rumors abounded about which assistant coaches would be leaving with Sarkisian to Los Angeles. Among the staff members was Woodinville native Marques Tuiasosopo, who had quarterbacked the Huskies to the 2001 Rose Bowl Championship over Drew Brees and Purdue.
Woodward sat down with Tuiasosopo and said he was considering naming him the interim head coach to lead UW in the Fight Hunger Bowl game against Brigham Young University on December 27th.
"I told Scott I would be honored to do it," Tuiasosopo said. "I said that I would love the experience and I know I can do this. A couple days later they came back and said "we’re going to make you the interim coach.’
"Scott announced it to the team, and then I got to address the players," Tuiasosopo said. "I told them that this is a time of uncertainty and it’s an emotional time, but we’ll get through it together. One thing I do know is that I’ve been through this process. So if there’s anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to reach out. Also, we don’t know how the staff (situation) is going to play out, but whoever’s here we’re going to get you ready to go play in a bowl game and finish this season out right. You guys have done a great job, sitting at 8-4, and you have a great opportunity to get to 9 wins. I told them I was honored to do this and excited, so let’s take advantage of this opportunity and seize the moment."
Still, losing one’s football coach is always traumatic to players, and some Huskies took it hard.
"Initially, that first week it was tough, especially with the younger guys," Tuiasosopo said. "They had signed less than a year ago, and what they knew of Husky football was gone. They were wondering if this was still the place for them to be.
"I met with some of the older guys and said to grab those young guys and take them under your wing. Don’t worry about the future, just take care of the team. My main message to them was ‘Take care of the locker room and come together as a team.’ I wanted to get them to play fast and have fun playing football. Focus on getting better and competing. I was focused and very confident that we would be able to play well and win the football game."
As for the game itself, Washington dominated. A 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Washington freshman John Ross in the 2nd quarter and a 47-yard kickoff return by Jesse Callier that led to another touchdown helped set the tone for the Huskies, who outgained BYU in yardage 473-319.
"Celebrating on the field after the game was the biggest reward," Tuiasosopo said. "Seeing guys hug each other and being fired up. Some guys with tears of joy in their eyes. Just excited about what they did.
"From my viewpoint, I wanted them to play like Huskies, and they did that," he said. "To be tough in the tough times. I was very proud of them. Very proud of Keith Price and Sean Parker and I was proud of the younger guys like Shaq Thompson and John Ross and some other players that made great plays. I mean, Dwayne Washington on the very first kickoff, runs his guy over — we had been asking him to do that all year. Unfortunately he had to come out of the game because he got a bit dinged up. I was very proud of how they played physical. I was like a proud papa."
In the aftermath of the bowl win, newly hired Washington coach Chris Petersen offered Tuiasosopo a position on his staff as tight ends coach. As fate would have it, Sarkisian also offered him the same position, but with a twist: A pay increase and the additional title of associate head coach, which could be helpful as the 34-year-old Tuiasosopo wishes to be a head coach someday.
"I fly down to LA on Sunday night (January 5th)" he said. "I’m starting right away."
Photo courtesy of Joshua Bessex at The Daily of the University of Washington
Former Woodinville standout and Rose Bowl MVP Marques Tuiasosopo led the Huskies to a bowl victory as interim head coach last month. He begins a new job this week as an assistant coach for the USC Trojans.