University of Washington

UW coaches put in the hours

When the University of Washington bid farewell to former football coach Tyrone Willingham, its intention was to clean house.

Naturally, new coach Steve Sarkisian, hired last December, would want to bring in his guys to fill out a staff, which he did.

That’s not to say all of Willingham’s staff went completely amiss. Three key members of the UW’s football support staff, directly involved in day-to-day planning – offensive program coordinator Craig Spence, defensive program coordinator Torrey Myers and recruiting program coordinator Matt Peterson – were retained by Sarkisian.

And the one who most closely reports to Sarkisian is Spence, who spent two seasons as the football coach at Charles Wright Academy.

The 37-year-old Spence is no spring chicken, and has crossed paths with Sarkisian a number of times. They were Pacific-10 Conference graduate assistants at roughly the same time – with Spence at Stanford and Sarkisian at Southern California.

When Spence became an assistant at Ventura College, Sarkisian recruited players for USC from that two-year program.

Even so, those connections could have mattered little last winter. Spence was a loyal staff member on two of Willingham’s staffs. It would have been understandable to send him packing as well.

But Spence tried to “lay low,” and find ways to help ease Sarkisian’s transition into the new job. And it paid off, because in February, the new coach asked Spence to stay on board.

“There was definitely some anxiety,” Spence said.

So, what exactly does an offensive program coordinator do? In general, he works with all the offensive coaches in an administrative capacity, especially Sarkisian.

Spence updates the playbooks daily. He draws up some of the scripts. And he makes sure the proper playbooks are distributed before practice begins.

“Sometimes, we have six versions of the scripts,” Spence said.

Every play from fall camp is charted, and input into the computer by Spence. He also edits practice footage.

“After the fourth day of camp, any player can come up to me and see each time they’ve touched the ball during a practice,” Spence said.

But most importantly, Spence is Sarkisian’s question-and-answer sounding board.

He admits just a little more than half the time, he’ll have an immediate answer for any Sarkisian question. And he’s learned that if he doesn’t know, trying a beat-around-the-bush response doesn’t work for the new coach.

“You’re always trying to get a handle on how he wants things done,” Spence said. “And you know the result – he wants it done right.”

Even with a newborn daughter, Spence is out the door at 5 a.m. from his home in south Auburn, and doesn’t usually return until well past midnight.

He’s on the field for practice, and constantly in coaches’ meetings.

“The pace these guys work at is very, very fast,” Spence said. “And there’s a lot more dialogue between the coaches, offensive and defensive.”

Extra points

Cornerback Dominique Gaisie’s career at UW is over after three days. After Gaisie was ruled ineligible by the NCAA on Tuesday, Sarkisian noted he’d be “very shocked” if the junior college transfer was reinstated. … Defensive end Darrion Jones (hand), fullback Paul Homer (hamstring) and safety Nate Williams (knee) did not practice. None of their ailments should keep them out an extended period. … The Huskies will be in full pads today. Sarkisian said what will be monitored closely is the team’s overall tackling, and how adept the offensive linemen are to cut-blocking. … Rain came down at the end of practice Thursday, and just in time for a mini-scrimmage. “I think they got excited. It was supposed to be … in the forecast since Monday, and it hadn’t really occurred,” Sarkisian said. … Sarkisian said the staff likely wouldn’t start putting in a game plan for the Sept. 5 season opener against Louisiana State for another week or so. … Former Huskies coach Jim Lambright (1993-98) attended practice.

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442