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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

January 11, 2012 at 10:19 PM

Sarkisian talks about defensive coaching changes; and indications Keith Heyward is set to join the staff

While UW coach Steve Sarkisian has yet to talk to the media about the changes on the defensive coaching staff, he spoke at length about that and a few other topics in an appearance on this week’s “Huskies All Access” show on ROOT Sports.

The show is part of Washington’s media rights deal with ROOT Sports and the interview was presumably done earlier this week with recruiting in a dead period and coaches home for a few days.

In the interview, Sarkisian made some pretty frank comments about the process of hiring new coaches as well as re-evaluating the type of players UW is recruiting.

Asked by host Angie Mentink when he made the decision to fire defensive coordinator Nick Holt and two other coaches, he said it wasn’t based solely on the Alamo Bowl.

“I think, just like we talked about our team, not one game is going to define our football team and not one game is going to define a defense or a coaching staff,” he said. “It’s an overall body of work. And I don’t know if there was one exact moment that this was it, but I just felt like as we were assessing the season and you have time to reflect on that heading into the bowl game and then after the bowl game of where we are headed as a program, I just felt like the direction we were heading in wasn’t the right one and it was time to make a change. And only time will tell if it was the right change or not.”

Asked about hiring Justin Wilcox as the new coordinator, he said: “I think again it’s the body of work, where he has been for his playing career. I know he’s an (Oregon) Duck, but we’ll get over that.”

Mentink then interrupted to make a joke about Wilcox’s Oregon background and Sarkisian said “I had to explain that (defensive line coach) Johnny Nansen was a (Washington State) Coug and we are dealing with Cougs and Ducks now and I guess I’m giving him a 10-year grace period or something, after 10 years it’s not about where he went to school.

“But it is about the body of work and where he’s been, from Cal to Boise State to Tennessee. And I think he’s one of the most young, dynamic coaches in the country and I love the style of defense that he plays, the brand of football that he plays, and I think it’s something that Justin and (linebacker coach) Peter (Sirmon), as they bring in and and as we fill out our staff, that it will be one we will be proud of and really want to embrace.”

Wilcox and Sirmon each came from Tennessee and their hirings were announced at the same time. Asked if it was a package deal, Sarkisian said: “It wasn’t necessarily a package deal. I wanted to make sure once I hired the defensive coordinator — I wanted to do that first — and obviously Justin was the key to that. And then we wanted to hire the next three pieces together to make this work and not go in reverse order where you hire all the other members and then try to hire a coordinator. So we did the coordinator thing first and got Justin on board and Justin highly recommended Peter for the linebacker job. I had a chance to visit with Peter and it was pretty quickly I could tell he was a great fit for what I wanted to do here and what Justin wanted to do here and it felt really well, and now we are in the process of filling out the last couple of spots, which is going great, quite honestly.”

Asked to expand on filling out the staff and hitting the ground recruiting with letter-of-intent day looming on Feb. 1, he said “we are in the process of trying to interview to fill those last couple of spots. This is a process we are doing together and I want Justin to feel great about the guys he is going into that defensive war room with every day and I want to feel great about those guys on the defensive side as well as on the recruiting front and representing the University of Washington. So that’s part of it. Recruiting is a whole ‘nother part of it, and strategically making sure we get guys that fit our schemes and what we want to do, from a body type and a personality standpoint. So we are really trying to reevaluate our class, in a sense, and the type of kids we are recruiting, from representing the University of Washington but also fitting our defensive mentality and our offensive mentality and I think that is going great so far.”

Asked if it was important to make the coaching changes quickly to help recruiting and if it is a challenge to keep all the commits in the fold, he said: “I think it’s a challenge. But kids are bright and high school coaches are bright and they recognize the changes that are being made and they understand that who we are bringing in and the respect he demands across the country is tremendous, and also I think they also understand the type of team we want to become. So some guys, that might not quite fit everybody so it’s fair to say the guys who are still committed to us we feel great about, and the slots we have available, which has kind of grown in the last few days, is going to be filled with some tremendous players.”

That was the end of the interview.

Also, one candidate for one of the two remaining defensive coaching spots whose name has emerged is that of Oregon State defensive backs coach Keith Heyward (who was also known as Keith Heyward-Johnson during his playing days). Here’s his bio, showing he’s been fulltime at Oregon State the last four years.

And like departed cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin, he is a native of southern California (a graduate of Taft High in Woodland Hills) and recruits that area for the Beavers.

Here is his bio, showing who he has been recruiting.

Heyward, who played at OSU during a time when current UW offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto was an assistant there, was cornerbacks coach solely his first three years at OSU before taking over the entire secondary last season when the Beavers’ defensive coaching staff underwent a makeover. As a player, he was a key got in OSU’s 11-1 Fiesta Bowl champion team in 2000.

UPDATE, 11:30 p.m. — Strong indications tonight that this is a done deal and Heyward will be the next coach to join the UW defensive coaching staff.

According to USA Today, Heyward was the lowest-paid assistant on the OSU staff at $105,000 in 2011.

Every UW assistant last year was making at least $124,000, so Heyward is surely getting a raise, and likely a multi-year deal, to come to Washington.

Greg Biggins, who covers recruiting for, called the hiring of Heyward “a big time move” and also called Heyward an “excellent coach & recruiter” on his Twitter page.

It’s unclear if Heyward is being hired to coach the entire secondary or just cornerbacks or safeties. UW will have one assistant coaching spot remaining to fill.



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