There’s a story I’ve been meaning to tell you guys, but haven’t gotten around to it until now. With the Petersen Era about to begin, it seems a good time to take one final look back at how the Sark era ended, and a message I received during one of the darkest times.
By last November, I felt discouraged and worn down when it came to Husky Football. UW coach Steve Sarkisian, for whom I’ve always felt disdain, had recently given his gaudy “GO! HUSKIES!” rally cry at the memorial service of Don James, while soon after stating that he wanted to be at Washington longer than James had been, which was 18 years.
Sark had just destroyed Oregon State, and was winning just enough to maintain the support of many fans and media. But discerning fans could tell we had an egotistical frat boy with no situational awareness at the helm. Husky Football would never be a respectable championship program under Mr. House Money.
My dad, who has been a UW season ticket holder since 1957, expressed his sadness that I lacked the enthusiasm I used to have for the Huskies.
But after years of trying to bring attention to how Sark and his predecessor Tyrone Willingham were damaging the program, I was worn out. When I wrote Bow Down to Willingham, Kim Grinolds at Dawgman immediately called local media to alert them that Dawgman.com was distancing itself from me. Scott Eklund while on KJR called my book a “money grab” as if I didn’t have the best interests of the football program at heart. And then the Dawgman folks allowed and encouraged my name to be endlessly slandered on their message boards. (They were cut and pasted and emailed to me regularly.) This was topped off by Grinolds, who publicly said “Derek lost a lot of credibility when he started criticizing Sark.”
So there we were, last November, and I turned to my dad and had this exchange:
Derek: “What are we supposed to do as fans if Steve Sarkisian is here another 30 years?
Dad: “He won’t be here another 30 years.”
Derek: “He says he wants to be here longer than Coach James, and Sark is only 38 years old. Enough people seem happy with him; the media provides no pressure on him to win. All that guy has to do is eke out 7 wins a year and keep mentioning the 0-12 season of 2008, and the Pavlovian fans and media will lap it up.”
Dad: “I think you're underestimating the pressure he would be put under."
Derek: "I really don't think so. This fan base and media didn't stop Emmert when he betrayed the program by bringing back Willingham [in 2008] and turning away the chance to hire Jim Mora.”
Dad: “Mora is at UCLA son, and he’s not coming up here anytime soon. You need to let it go.”
Derek: “You’re probably right. But the love I had for this team isn’t there anymore… You know what dad?”
Dad: “What’s that?”
Derek: “If Sark goes 7-6 for the next 30 years in a row, that’s another 210 wins. If you ignore the winning percentage, that would put him in the pantheon of the all-time coaching greats.”
Dad: “Derek…. Cut the crap.”
Soon after that, a couple days later, I made some sort of post on Hardcore Husky expressing my weariness. Along with a group of buddies and co-investors, I had created Hardcore Husky back in 2012, to offer a place where fans could say what was on their minds without being deleted and banned, as was happening en masse on Dawgman.com.
After a few slow months, our website exploded to mind-bowing levels in terms of message board traffic. We’re talking millions of page views. But as I posted on the boards that night, none of it seemed to make any difference. Sark was destined to be here until 2045, the identity of the UW football program was no longer anything I recognized or related to, and despite all my efforts of speaking out and trying to reason with people, I was (and we were) powerless to alter the course of events.
And then late at night I received a PM from The_KobeStopper, aka AllPurpleAllGold. I had recently sent him and a handful of other buddies (the notorious “Bored of Investors”) a message that more funds were needed to handle the growing expenses of running our site. I had also asked them their thoughts about continuing the website through future decades of frat boy mediocre football.
Like myself, KobeStopper had been deeply wounded that dreadful day back in December 2007, when Emmert brought back Willingham instead of hiring Mora. And like myself, Kobe couldn’t stand to see what happened to Dawgman, morphing from a magnificent website into Stalag 13.
I reprint his response here with permission:
Did you just send me a form letter? Where's the personal touch? If I had any feelings, I imagine they would be hurt.
I want you to know that I don't have a lot of money. I didn't send very much but it wasn't just throw away money to me. It was money I very much could have used. And I didn't just send it because I want a place to bullshit with Half Brains. I sent it because I know what it's like to love something and to fight for it. But I also know what it's like for that fight to feel hopeless and to give up fighting.
It should have worked. Should of worked? Should have worked? One of those two. We're right. You're right. Sometimes that's not enough though.
You did a good thing here. It's very much appreciated.
As far as this place going forward, I don't know. I'm not the right person to ask. But you and this site have my support. I'll do whatever I can, no matter what happens, to help.
One last thing. That thing that I loved, that I gave up fighting for. I very much regret that. This is pretty lame but I think about that movie 300. The Persian guys say "our arrows will blot out the sun" and Gerard Butler says "then we will fight in the shade". I wish that when it seemed hopeless, when all seemed lost, when I could no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel, I wish I would have fought in the dark. Do what you're going to do. Just be sure that you're ok with it. Regret suuuuuuuuuuuuuucks.
And don't you dare ever reference how emo I just got in this pm.
Good day sir.
I read that late at night, and went over to YouTube to see that 300 clip again. And I smiled and nodded while a tear came to my eye. And I thought for a bit, and recalled a story that the late mythologist Joseph Campbell quoted about some group of Native Americans riding off into battle, vastly outnumbered, and shouting “It’s a great day to die!”
And I thought, you know what? F**k it. If we’re going to lose then we’re going to lose. But this is the war we’ve been waging, and we’ve come too far to stop now. Let’s keep going.”
I posted the next day on the message board a link to that scene in the 300, and said something like “to hell with it, let’s keep this thing going” or something like that.
KobeStopper responded with a post that said something like, “I just did a fist pump! If you’re saying what I think you’re saying.”
Within a day or two, there were suddenly rumors swirling at 7AM that Sark was headed for USC. Sark immediately went on KJR to deny the rumors, to which I texted a buddy, “That settles it! That lying sack of s**t is outta here!”
But I didn’t allow myself to get sky high until early that afternoon, when USC AD Pat Haden made official the hiring and of one of the biggest bamboozle jobs in NCAA history, aside from Mark Emmert ascending to the NCAA Presidency.
About ten days later, former Boise State coach Chris Petersen was hired as the new UW coach. Here was someone who was a proven winner, disciplined, modest, and professional. Someone who is a true fit for the University of Washington.
The guys at Dawgman stopped beating their chest and began stomping their feet in a perpetual pout that has lasted to this very day. From what I’m hearing, their message boards have cratered. And then a few months later, KJR lost its rights to KOMO, and the good news just continued...
Through all this, Hardcore Husky has grown and offers a dynamic place for people to talk, argue, joke, philosophize, complain and hang out freely without being stifled by political correctness or egomaniacal moderators with itchy trigger fingers. On top of it all, someone from an Oregon board recently said our site was “absolute lunacy”, so we must be doing something right.
And so a couple months ago I bought a new license plate frame for my car that read “Washington Huskies”, and immediately placed it upon my car. That may sound like an empty gesture, but it actually signified a lot. I then called dad and told him of my renewed excitement for Husky Football.
“Welcome back, son,” he said.