SEATTLE — At some point during the past eight months, Steve Sarkisian was reminded to take time to savor the foundation work and appreciate his opportunity to re-mold the once proud program at Washington.
Sounds simple. It's not necessarily easy when sifting through the wreckage of an 0-12 season that will be remembered as one of the worst in college football history.
"He's handled it magnificently," said Nick Holt, Washington's defensive coordinator, who came with Sarkisian from USC. "He's handled it exactly how I thought he'd handle it."
Picking up the pieces from last year's winless meltdown and reinvigorating the Huskies' once proud program was Sarkisian's charge when athletic director Scott Woodward picked the 35-year-old to take over last December at the lowest point of Washington's history.
They were winless for the first time ever, carrying the distinction of the first 0-12 season in Pac-10 history. Fans furious that former coach Tyrone Willingham was given a fourth season to begin with became even more enraged by the continued slide, capped by an Apple Cup loss to equally woeful Washington State and a blowout to California that ended Willingham's tenure at 11 wins and 37 losses.
So Sarkisian's first eight months on the job have included a series of calculated, measured moves that are distancing the program from the previous four years, whether it be open practices for fans and media or bringing back a traditional defensive chant that was barred under Willingham's tightly controlled regime.
"He's done everything to this point exceptionally well," Woodward said. "We talked about it the minute we met — changing culture, changing the way we did things, bringing tradition back. He understood the importance of what this job and what the tradition was here. That was big with me."
Sarkisian's changes in the general attitude of the program, combined with his energetic style and approach have reinvigorated Washington's players and fans. He's a social media buzzsaw, "tweeting" incessantly. He pipes AC/DC and U2 into the stadium throughout practice. The players are encouraged to act like 18-, 19-, 20-year olds who enjoy playing football.
"They bring a different energy that I'd say a lot of the younger guys tend to rally around," defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim said about the new staff. "And a lot of the players feed off the coach's energy."
Mostly, Sarkisian and his new crew don't speak of last year's collapse. They've wiped clean the past transgressions and struggles by a group of players who haven't won a game since Nov. 17, 2007.
Now comes the challenge of translating the renewed attitude to the field.
Certain to help Sarkisian's attempt for a quick turnaround is the healthy return of quarterback Jake Locker, who missed most of last season with a broken thumb.
But unlike his first two seasons where the Huskies ran an offense that capitalized on Locker's unique running skills, Sarkisian is determined to make Locker into a passer. The pro-style offense that Sarkisian used with USC's talent to great success, made its way north.
"It was new for us (during spring) so maybe the learning curve was a little slower," Locker said. "We're familiar with it now and I think we'll be able to excel in it quicker now."
Aside from Locker the Huskies do have some talent in the likes of Te'o-Nesheim, wide receiver D'Andre Goodwin, and perhaps the finest set of linebackers in the conference that aren't Trojans.
But with depth still lacking and a schedule that includes non-conference games against LSU and Notre Dame, year one for Sarkisian will be measured in incremental steps, not massive leaps.
"I don't think it's going to take us very long. We will become a great football team," Sarkisian said. "Whether it's game one, game five, game 12, game 13, two seasons, three seasons, I don't know when it will occur. But I don't think it's going to take very long, I know that."