Steve Sarkisian’s exit to USC has left Washington searching for a new head coach.
Though Sarkisian was only 34-29 during his time in Seattle, he inherited a program that had gone 18-53 in the six seasons prior to his arrival.
In short, Sarkisian left the program in much better shape than it was prior to his arrival.
With upgrades to Husky Stadium and other facilities, a strong alumni and solid recruiting bases, and a talent-filled roster, the Washington job is a much stronger draw than it might appear on the surface.
That in mind, here are a few early names to watch:
James Franklin (Head coach, Vanderbilt)
Though Vanderbilt claims that Franklin was never contacted by USC, he looks like a better match for Washington anyway. Franklin loves Nashville and has done a nice job both selling it for recruiting and getting the city behind the program. There’s little doubt he could do some serious damage with the city of Seattle and the Husky program at his disposal. Franklin’s turnaround with the ‘Dores has been nothing short of remarkable, and Washington appears to be a more natural fit with much higher upside than his present situation.
Jim Mora, Jr. (Head coach, UCLA)
While Mora, Jr. might seem like a stretch, he was a walk-on defensive back for the Huskies and and served as a GA there in 1984. There’s also the draw of being coach at a “football school,” which Washington is — despite some recent success on the hardwood — and something that UCLA will never be. Add the lure of being the city/state’s main college team — which, again, UCLA simply won’t ever be — and it doesn’t seem so unlikely.
Doug Nussmeier (Offensive coordinator, Alabama)
Nussmeier is a West Coast native (from of the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego), and was the Huskies’ offensive coordinator from 2009-11. After winning a national title in his first season at Alabama, Nussmeier directed a Tide offense that scored 38.8 points per game in 2013. If Washington doesn’t hire Wilcox but decides to target an up-and-coming assistant, he’s likely to get a long look.
Chris Petersen (Head coach, Boise State)
Living in Los Angeles and the USC fishbowl would be a lot of for anyone, and was almost certainly too much for Petersen given his son’s health situation. But Seattle and the UDub seems like a much more natural transition. The chatter has long been that this would be the year Petersen finally makes a move from Boise, and there simply aren’t many jobs that make more sense for Petersen and his family — both in terms of football and family — than Washington.
Gary Pinkel (Head coach, Missouri)
Pinkel is a Don James disciple and two-time Huskies assistant (first in 1976 and then again from 1979-1990), so athletic director Scott Woodward won’t have to sell hard to convince him of Washington’s potential. Despite Pinkel’s success in Columbia, Washington is a better job than Missouri and the idea of competing year in and year out in the Pac-12 is undoubtedly less stressful than the SEC. Did his time on the hot seat last year leave Pinkel with enough bad feelings to make a move westward?
Justin Wilcox (Defensive coordinator, Washington)
Though it’s been reported that Wilcox is “likely” to join Sarkisian in Pasadena, that’s only if he doesn’t land the Washington head job. Wilcox is an Oregon alum that was defensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2011-12 before joining Sarkisian’s staff. If Wilcox doesn’t get the job and winds up at USC, expect assistants and ace recruiters Peter Sirmon and Tosh Lupoi to follow.