USC's Sarkisian confirms move to replace Willingham at Washington

Updated: December 6, 2008, 11:17 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Steve Sarkisian might need all the energy his youth can muster in order to turn around Washington's program right now.

USC's offensive coordinator was hired as the 23rd head coach in Washington's history on Saturday night and became the third-youngest head man in all of college football.

His task will be gigantic: breathe life into a program at its lowest ebb in history after going 11-37 in four seasons under Tyrone Willingham and hasn't won a game since November 2007. Only hours before he was officially announced by Washington, the Huskies wrapped up the first 0-12 season in Pac-10 Conference history with an embarrassing, uninspired 48-7 loss to California.

"It's great to know who it is, so you're not sitting around waiting for the coach to be announced," Washington linebacker Mason Foster said after the loss to Cal. "We can get an early start on what we need to do next year to show everybody that this season is only temporary."

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUSC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is the 23rd head football coach in Washington's history.

And if Sarkisian can mend a fan base that severely fractured during Willingham's tenure, all the better. The simplest way, of course, is with wins. Washington's hope is that Sarkisian can provide needed stability for a program that has cycled through four head coaches in the last 10 years -- Willingham, Keith Gilbertson, Rick Neuheisel and Jim Lambright.

"I'm excited. It's been a great program in the past and they're obviously down now. But I'm going to get them back to fighting for a championship," Sarkisian said at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., following USC's 28-7 win over the Bruins.

Sarkisian's announcement ended a secretive six-week search by Washington athletic director Scott Woodward. Only in the recently did the names of candidates start leaking out, capped by a wild Thursday on which Fresno State's Pat Hill and Texas Tech's Mike Leach pulled themselves from consideration. By Thursday night, reports surfaced that Sarkisian was Washington's choice.

Both Washington and USC wanted to wait until after the teams concluded their regular seasons on Saturday before confirming anything. Sarkisian will be formally introduced at a news conference on Monday morning.

"We got that distraction out of the way and went out and played today," USC quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "We're losing a great coach and a better friend."

According to the Orange County Register, Sarkisian said he will remain at USC through the Rose Bowl, while also recruiting coaches and players for Washington. He also said he will call plays for the Huskies next season but will hire an offensive coordinator.

Sarkisian, 34, will become the third-youngest head coach in college football behind Tennessee's Lane Kiffin and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald -- both 33.

He'll inherit a Washington program in shambles and coming off the worst season in school history after Tyrone Willingham's tenure. Willingham was fired in late October with the Huskies already in free fall.

"I'm thrilled to have Steve heading up our football program," Washington president Mark Emmert said in a release from the school. "He's a very talented, energetic coach with a great work ethic and values that match the UW. His challenge is very clear -- we believe he's entirely up to it, and we look forward to a return of the glory years for Husky football."

His name getting leaked a few days early revved up some of the Huskies playing on Saturday who were for all intents and purposes auditioning for their new coach.

"It feels good to know what's going on. There's a lot of energy and excitement for the new guy. It's been a little revitalizing, knowing you have a young guy coming in who knows how to win," freshman tight end Kavario Middleton said. "Some guys were ready to get on the bus, but a majority played hard. They know it's about next year."

Sarkisian was a star in college at BYU Cougars, but his professional career consisted of three seasons in the Canadian Football League playing for Saskatchewan. But he's made a rapid rise in the coaching ranks since joining the USC staff in 2001 as quarterbacks coach. He intends to begin recruiting for Washington and putting together a coaching staff immediately, but will still coach the Trojans in the Rose Bowl.

"We'll proudly see him off. It's a remarkable climb for such a young guy. We wish him the very best," USC coach Pete Carroll said.

Carroll then added with a smile: "From what I know, we play him Week 2 [next season] and we're going to go after him."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report

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