The look on Steve Sarkisian's face when he stood in the middle of the field after a humiliating loss to his former team that was now completely ignoring him will probably forever be etched in the dark coils of my brain. The moment struck me so hard that I wasn't even really celebrating a huge win by my favorite sports team, the lasting image of a human low being broadcast across the nation was just too sobering.
While there was some pity fluttering around my mind at the time, my empathy was outweighed by one major question... what happened?
To me, Sarkisian is a classic case of a little bit too much a little bit too soon at almost every step along the way.
The overall big crazy proof of this is stopping and thinking that Sark was able to secure arguably the two most prestigious jobs in the Pac-12 before he was even 40 years old (one of which was his dream job). I had really never thought about how crazy that was until now (especially for a guy with average success), but let's go back to where it all started first.
It was insanely funny timing that the Trojan War 30 for 30 aired the day after Sark was fired and I bet few got through later scenes showing a very young Sark in the war room with Pete Carroll without at least letting out a slight coincidental chuckle. Sark was in his mid-20s and had a seat at the table next to a member of the Mount Rushmore of Pac-12 coaches in Carroll, and that's where it all starts.
He was then there when the USC program took off to heights never seen before by another Pac-12 program in the modern era. He was part of two national championships, was the position coach for two Heisman winners and eventually became an offensive coordinator for the best program in the nation which had a rock star-like aura by the time he was in his mid-30s. That's a lot to absorb.
A lot of this personal success for Sark was well-deserved. As a quarterbacks coach, he turned Carson Palmer from a disappointing bust to a Heisman winner, built up Matt Leinart into an instant Heisman winner and overall coached maybe the highest quality position at any school in the country in that slice of time.
I am sure this reputation played a major role in Sarkisian securing the Washington job and, for the majority of his time in Seattle, he lived up to the quarterback guru moniker. In his first few seasons at Washington, Sarkisian turned a raw athlete with Top 10 potential (Jake Locker) into a Top 10 draft pick at quarterback and made a small, weak-armed, injury-riddled Keith Price one of the most prolific quarterbacks in Washington history.
There is no real arguing that Sark was anything but a great quarterbacks coach, and looking back, that is probably what he should have been in the long run, or at least at this point in his career.
However, the same life of the party, carousing personality that ultimately did Sark in, led him to getting in over his head too soon in his career. It probably got him the offensive coordinator job at USC too soon and it probably got him the head job at Washington too soon, (though I think he was a good hire and did a solid job) because it just doesn't appear to me that Sark was ready to be a head coach yet.
While Sark did some good things at Washington in his first couple of seasons - giving the program hope in 2009 after an 0-12 2008, getting the program back to its first bowl game in nearly 10 years, restocking the program with NFL talent - his overall legacy is one of mediocrity. He won more than seven games just once, rarely got his team to compete in big games, and struggled mightily to keep top local high school talent home. I believe that had Sark not been hired away by USC, he would have led Washington to the same 8-5 record Chris Petersen did in 2014, the Washington administration would have put out feelers and found out that Petersen would take the job, and the Huskies would have fired Sark and hired Petersen a year later anyway.
But somehow, Sark got hired away by USC and how they went through with that is the biggest mystery of all to me. Tales of Sark's indulgences were already pretty well-known to people who were even just slightly-connected fans. Regardless of his struggles on the field, Sark's off-field struggles should have been more than enough for him to fail his background check.
Once at USC, Sark proved to pretty much be what he is - a good recruiter who could talk well who struggles to get his team to play up to teams that loses at least a game or two he shouldn't each year and who has a serious love for drinking and partying. Along with this, I think Sark's lack of development left him unprepared for the grand pressure of the head coaching jobs he obtained and it led to him sinking further into the comfort of the drinking which eventually led to his demise.
So what happens now? I don't know, but I at least know what I hope happens.
I hope that Sark can find a legitimate solution to his problem no matter how long it takes and then gets back onto the track he probably should have been on, as a wiz quarterback coach who might eventually get a second shot at being a head coach, this time with a little bit more experience and humility.