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University of Washington Huskies Football

A decade after Steve Sarkisian left, his 2013 Huskies have witnessed Washington’s rise

Steve Sarkisian chats with quarterback Keith Price while head coach of the Washington Huskies on Nov. 2, 2012 in Berkeley, California.  (Getty Images)
Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – A decade after Steve Sarkisian abruptly departed UW, Bishop Sankey is in his second year of law school at the University of Tennessee.

Keith Price is the outside receivers coach at Idaho State.

John Timu is an assistant defensive line coach for the Los Angeles Chargers.

And Sarkisian is standing in Washington’s way.

“Man, how ironic,” said Price, laughing while driving on a recruiting trip to Salt Lake City. “How ironic that 10 years later Sark is playing against the school that he started his head coaching career at. It’s special. Sark was able to get that program off the ground and get Husky Nation some national relevance. To see where coach Pete [Chris Petersen] took the program, and now coach [Kalen] DeBoer, it’s really cool to see.”

From the ground floor to the penthouse, Price has witnessed Washington’s ascent. A dual threat quarterback from Compton, Calif., he originally committed to Tyrone Willingham, then recommitted to Sarkisian following a winless 2008 campaign. The 6-foot-1, 202-pound passer started three consecutive seasons in Seattle, delivering UW’s first winning record in a decade in 2011 and just its second bowl win since 2000 in 2013. He completed 64% of his passes and threw for 8,756 yards with 83 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in 38 games.

Together, Price and Sarkisian sailed through a persistent storm.

They were beaten and battered and bonded.

“Man, that’s my guy right there,” said Price, who Sarkisian offered a graduate assistant job coaching Texas’ quarterbacks this offseason but instead accepted a more advanced role at Idaho State. “Say what you want about him, but that guy came to work every day. You can ask any of my other teammates. He gave us his all, man, and really set a standard. He kind of brought that USC mentality in terms of: ‘We’re going to be deep at every position. At every position, you’re going to have to compete year in and year out.’ We thrived off that.

“Obviously we had a lot of great recruiters on that staff and a lot of great coaches who really set the standard of, ‘This is how we’re going to get back to the old Don James era of football.’ ”

While Sarkisian set UW on that path, he stopped shy of the penthouse.

And promptly plummeted.

On Dec. 2, 2013 — three days after leading UW to a 27-17 win over Washington State in the 106th Apple Cup — Sarkisian denied rumors he’d interviewed to succeed Lane Kiffin at USC (where he served as an assistant from 2001-03 and 2005-08). He told KJR Radio: “They reached out to me, and I talked to them, but I’m not anywhere in the course of taking that job. I continue to say I’ve got a great job at Washington.”

Hours later, UW’s players found out their coach was leaving while watching “SportsCenter” in the locker room after a lift.

Like that, an era was over.

“We were like, ‘Damn,’” recalled Timu, a UW linebacker from 2011-14. “Then we got a text that we were going to have a team meeting, and he came and addressed the team.

“It’s the nature of the business. He was doing what was best for his family, and we can’t fault him for that, as hard as it was. There was a lot of lives affected by it, but ultimately we all have to decide what’s best for us. We were young and angry and pissed off, because we bought into the things he poured into us. It is what it is. I’m happy for him, man. But we were pissed off. We were all pissed off.”

Sarkisian has stumbled and soared in the decade since. He was fired by USC on Oct. 12, 2015, after appearing intoxicated at a pre-practice meeting. From there, the Torrance, Calif., native rebuilt his career and reputation, via two stops at Alabama (2016, 2019-20) and a two-year cameo as the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons (2017-18) in between.

In his third season at Texas, Sarkisian has taken the Big 12 champion Longhorns to the brink of immortality.

But to storm college football’s penthouse, he must first confront his past.

“I’m just happy for Sark, man. He’s come a long way,” said Timu, who produced 328 tackles with 13.5 tackles for loss and six interceptions in four seasons in Seattle. “You obviously know his story and what he’s gone through. It’s pretty cool to see that the story is not over.

“We know how this thing works, man. When [expletive] falls and it’s burning down everybody wants a piece of that story. They want to continue to bash on somebody. That’s part of it. But it’s cool to see a story that’s coming up.”

For both Sarkisian and his Huskies — who bounced BYU 31-16 under interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo in the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl — the story is not over.

See: Sankey.

After producing 3,495 rushing yards, 5.4 yards per carry and 38 total touchdowns in three sizzling seasons in Seattle (2011-13), the Spokane product was taken by the Tennessee Titans with the No. 54 overall pick in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. But he was cut after managing just 762 rushing yards with 3.8 yards per carry and four touchdowns in two seasons and 29 games.

Over the next four years, Sankey bounced between NFL practice squads, the Alliance of American Football and the CFL. His playing career came to an abrupt and uninspiring end.

But there’s more to Sankey’s story.

“I always saw myself being connected to sports in some way,” said Sankey, who’s on pace to graduate from Tennessee in 2025. “I felt like pursuing a law degree would provide me with the knowledge and tools and skill set to succeed working in sports, whether it be management or football operations or athletic administration or compliance or even on the agency side. Anything related to sports, I felt like a law degree would help me grow and give me the tools to succeed in those areas.”

Suddenly, Sankey is back in school — and he’s still watching Washington. The 31-year-old joked: “It makes old guys like me proud to see them have success. I’m really nostalgic. Every time I watch, it just brings back memories of playing at UW and the fan base and Seattle. It was a really special time for me.”

When No. 2 Washington (13-0) meets No. 3 Texas (12-1) on Monday in the Sugar Bowl, Sankey will watch his former team and coach … from the Caesar’s Superdome. Along with his father and other family members, he’ll drive 530 miles from Nashville to New Orleans to attend the game.

“Hopefully it’s like a mini reunion [for former Huskies],” he said, “and hopefully we get the win.”

UW’s past and present will occupy the sidelines, as well as the stands.

And after the game, life will go on.

“Life is happening, man,” marveled Timu, who’s in his third season on the Chargers’ staff. “It’s bigger than where we came from, or football. We’re talking about how our kids are doing or where we’re going to settle at. I still talk to Danny [Shelton] and all those guys. There’s quite a few guys I’m still connected to.

“The foundation of UW connected us, and now the tree has grown and branched off to different things. But it still keeps us connected.”