University of Washington

Stoops, Sarskisian have similar styles

You play gumshoe and identify the subjects.

Earlier in the week, this comment came from an unidentified player in today’s Washington-Arizona football game at Husky Stadium:

“He loves football. He lives for football. Our practices are pretty high energy, hitting people. He’s told us, ‘Practice how you play.’ He comes across in games a little crazy to people, but it pumps us up. I can’t imagine playing for another coach.”

Who was the player talking about?

Steve Sarkisian, UW coach?

Mike Stoops, Arizona coach?

Could he be talking about both?

If you answered Stoops, mark one down in the win column.

If you deduced both coaches, you certainly see the parallels between what is starting to emerge at the UW in Sarkisian’s first season at Montlake, and what has been going on in Stoops’ five-plus seasons in the Arizona desert.

The two similar coaches trade wits tonight in a key Pacific-10 Conference matchup.

It’s a rivalry that’s been full of entertaining and unpredictable drama over the past decade.

It’s the kind of wild action Sarkisian expects to see in the Pac-10 from here on out.

“I don’t think conference play is ever mundane, especially in this conference,” Sarkisian said. “It’s a war every time you go out. It’s very physical, and it’s going to be the same way (tonight). Arizona’s a very physical football team. We’ve got to be able to match their physicality.”

Sarkisian and Stoops. Stoops and Sarkisian.

Both were formerly the top coordinators of the most dominant college program of its time – Sarkisian the offensive coordinator at Southern California (2007-08) and Stoops the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma (1999-2003).

Their management traits are similar, too.

Both are high energy and demanding, and have hired staff members who carry that forward. And both inherited programs headed in the wrong direction.

Stoops has the obvious head-start as a head coach. Arizona was 2-10 in 2003, John Mackovic’s final season, and surrendered 40 or more points in six of those defeats.

The Wildcats won just three games in each of Stoops’ first three seasons.

People around Tucson began to wonder if the school hired the right guy. But a 6-6 campaign in 2006, and an 8-5 season last year, including a Las Vegas Bowl victory over Brigham Young, dissipated the doubts.

“Some guys make quicker impacts than others, based on skill-position (talent) at quarterback and other personnel. Some (programs) aren’t as decimated as others,” Stoops said. “In college, you can only do so much, so fast. You persevere through some pretty difficult times. It takes a good four-five years to assess where you’re at.”

The UW is 2-3, with a big upset over then-No. 3 USC to its credit. That is what has made Sarkisian’s quick rise in a month all the more impressive.

“I don’t think there’s any comparison,” said Stoops, comparing this UW team to the struggling ones of the recent past. “As a team, obviously the organization is much different.”

There is no guarantee the Huskies will continue to ascend. Bumps in the road should be expected. One could come tonight in a very talented and zealous Arizona squad.

“We’re battling. Our guys are starting to understand the mental toughness it takes to battle week in and week out. And we’re becoming a mentally tough football team,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve been through a lot of highs and lows and adversity already in a short amount of time this season, and our kids are starting to respond.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442

Huskies gameday

ARIZONA (3-1, 1-0 PAC-10) at WASHINGTON (2-3, 1-1)

Kickoff: 7:15 p.m. Husky Stadium.

TV: FSN. Radio: 950-AM.

The series: UW leads, 16-8-1, but the Wildcats have won four of the past six meetings, including a 48-14 drubbing last season in Tucson, Ariz. Arizona has won its past two games at Husky Stadium – in 2004 (23-13) and 2007 (48-41).

What to watch: Because of injuries in the secondary, how much of a disadvantage will the Huskies be at defending “Air Zona?” Coaches have almost conceded the Wildcats will assuredly move the ball, especially going after a new safety combination (Greg Walker-Victor Aiyewa). It will come down to the UW’s red-zone defense – again. ... Who has the upper hand, UW’s Chris Polk or the Wildcats’ rushing defense? Can we say both? Polk had 13 runs of 10 yards or longer against some of the best defenses in the country. Arizona can tolerate giving up a few of those as long as it limits Polk’s moving-the-chains capability.

What’s at stake: The winner can say it is still in the race for the Pacific-10 Conference title at the midway point. For UW to realistically keep thinking about a bowl bid, it must win tonight at home.

TNT pick: Huskies, 30-28.

Todd Milles, The News Tribune>