Provo • Along with leading BYU to one of its finest football seasons in school history, former All-America quarterback Steve Sarkisian now Washington's head coach was known for his sense of humor, ex-teammates say.
It might be fitting, then, if Sarkisian has a full beard when he brings his Huskies to LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday (5 p.m., CBS College) for the season opener for both teams.
Asked about how he handled BYU's strict Honor Code during his two years in Provo (1995 and 1996), Sarkisian, whose family is Catholic, joked, "Well, I didn't get kicked out."
He said the most difficult of the restrictions for him those two years were the grooming and dress standards that forbid BYU students from having facial hair.
"One thing that was hard for me, … I am not a big shaver," he said. "I will go a couple of days without shaving. That one was tough for me. You gotta go in the testing center, and [if] you are not cleanly shaven, they kick you out. You gotta go home and shave before you come back and take your test. I had a little bit of a difficult time with that one."
All in all, though, Sarkisian said Monday that "it was a great experience for me, being at the Y. The fans were tremendous to me, the community was very good to me and my family."
Washington's second-year coach, considered one of the college game's hottest coaches, said he is eager to bring his resurgent program into the stadium where he led the Cougars to many great wins, especially in 1996 when BYU went 14-1 and won the Cotton Bowl over Kansas State.
Sarkisian will be honored at halftime along with BYU's other former All-American quarterbacks who played for the legendary LaVell Edwards. He has joked that "if we're not winning at halftime, I'm not coming out."
Asked what kind of reception he expects from the crowd, Sarkisian said, "Well, I hope it is better than the first half of the 1995 [game] against Utah, when they were booing me." He was intercepted four times in a 34-17 home loss to the Utes.
All joking aside, Sarkisian said he hopes to get the sentimental aspects of his first trip back to Provo since 1997 out of the way early.
"I will take a few moments at the walkthrough on Friday to kind of reminisce," he said. "We had some great moments, some great wins there. But ultimately my concern is about the 105 kids we have in our program today, and the 76 who will be traveling to Provo. This is their weekend, this is their day, so that will be my focus."
That Sarkisian, who turned 36 in March, is already directing a Pac-10 football program isn't a surprise to those who knew him in the mid-90s when he transferred to BYU from California's El Camino College. Sarkisian said he was intrigued by BYU's passing offense and the opportunity to play right away, having been tipped off at the time by childhood friend John Walsh that Walsh planned on leaving BYU early to enter the NFL Draft.
Washington "kind of took a gamble on a 34-year-old guy without a lot of coaching experience, but I think they got the right guy," Edwards said recently. "But he's got the whole package. He's got charisma and energy, and you know he is always going to be prepared, and organized."
Running backs coach Lance Reynolds is the only remaining coach on BYU's current staff from Sarkisian's days.
"He was a real sharp guy, a real uptempo guy. He still is," Reynolds said. "Maybe because he was only here two years; he doesn't get the recognition that maybe those other guys get. But statistically, that one year , probably stacks up with anybody that's ever quarterbacked here. He was thrown into the fire his first year. But that second year, he just took off like a shot."
Reynolds said he wasn't surprised in the least when Sarkisian got into coaching after a brief stint in the Canadian Football League.
Sarkisian said he has lost track of most of his former BYU teammates, but still occasionally talks to Chad Lewis, the ex-NFL tight end. And he remembers getting advice and mentoring from Robbie Bosco and current athletic director Tom Holmoe.
His rise to the top of the college football coaching world has been nothing short of meteoric Sarkisian was even offered the Oakland Raiders' head coaching job in 2007 and BYU's Reynolds said he takes pride in what the former Cougar has accomplished in the profession.
Quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman said he and Sarkisian were in the same signing class, but Doman left on a church mission prior to enrolling and didn't get to meet the man they call Sark.
"It's going to be fun to have him here again," Doman said. "We consider him a Cougar through and through, and people I've talked to are excited he's coming back."
Steve Sarkisian's BYU career
Year Gms Att-Cmp Yds TDs Int
1995 11 250-385 3,437 20 14
1996 14 278-404 4,027 33 12
Senior year honors for Sarkisian
• Second-team All-America, Football News
• Third in Davey O'Brien Trophy balloting (top quarterback)
• WAC Offensive Player of the Year
• Threw for 536 yards and six touchdowns in win over Texas A&M
• Led NCAA in pass efficiency at 173.56
• Co-MVP of the 1997 Cotton Bowl
Sarkisian's coaching career
2000 • Quarterbacks coach, El Camino Community College
2001-03 • Quarterbacks coach, University of Southern California
2004 • Quarterbacks coach, Oakland Raiders
2005-06 • Quarterbacks coach, USC
2007-08 • Offensive coordinator, USC
2009-present • Head coach, University of Washington