Will UW football changes be enough for a challenging 2012?
After an embarrassing 67-56 loss to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, the Washington Huskies have made big changes to their defensive coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt was fired, along with the team's linebackers and safeties coaches.
Two coaches with ties to the Northwest were hired from Tennessee. But will it be enough to help the Huskies face what promises to be a very tough schedule in 2012?
New hires 'good on paper'
KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says the Huskies' new defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, was very successful at Tennessee despite not having a lot of great talent. New linebackers coach Peter Sirman is an NFL veteran who's relatively new to coaching.
Both men have ties to the Northwest. Sirman is a native of Washington and played at Oregon with Wilcox, who also coached at Oregon.
"I'm sure some Husky fans are going to be upset over the fact that they have this Duck lineage. But I also think that's a very small consideration when you're trying to win. If you're trying to win, you might as well steal from the best. And Oregon and USC have been the best, and so the Huskies are stealing coaches from those programs - and as well they should."
Key player moving on
Washington will be without one of its best next season. Running back Chris Polk announced this week that he will be entering the 2012 NFL draft. Art says it wasn't a surprise move for the fourth-year junior.
"He could've come back if he wanted, but he sees the money in the NFL and I don't blame him for seizing the moment. He became the second leading rusher in Husky football history and has nothing left to prove. I don't think that's a surprise but it also makes the task more difficult next year."
Defense needs work
One of the Huskies' biggest problems is not offense, but rather defense. Art says that's where Nick Holt was largely responsible.
"He failed to get his guys to tackle properly and be in the right place to do their job. Those two flaws caused his demise - I think. Now they've got the coaches in place. The question is will the transition hurt recruiting? Already, three of the top five recruits (in Washington) are going out of state."
WSU more attractive
Art says another problem for the Huskies next season is the emerging threat of Washington State under new head coach Mike Leach. He was most recently at Texas Tech, where he led them to 10 bowl games in 10 years.
"With Mike Leach in charge, I think there's a real uptick in the profile and the quality of the Cougar football program. Even though he hasn't won a game over there yet, people are excited."
In the first six games of 2012, the Huskies will play four Top 10 teams. In Week 2, they face No. 1-ranked Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
"They are really going into a difficult environment there. And they're having to do it with new coaches. And they hit Stanford, Oregon and USC all in a row early in the season. So, it's going to be very difficult."
Can they keep the momentum going?
The Huskies ended this year 7-6 - the same record as last year. They went to their second bowl game in two years, but they also lost five of their last seven games. Art says a lot of fans weren't happy with how the season ended.
It doesn't look like it's going to get any easier in 2012.
"It's not looking as good as it did, but Steve Sarkisian, the head coach, has proved adaptable and flexible. I would give him the benefit of the doubt right now as far as being able to pull the program out of, at least, a detour."
You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.