SAN FRANCISCO – His stint as a college head coach has lasted three weeks, long enough for Marques Tuiasosopo to confirm that his post-playing ambitions were properly placed.
He knows now with clarity that he wants to do this again — and next time, for real. Tuiasosopo’s interim shift running the Husky show in the wake of Steve Sarkisian’s departure ends when the Fight Hunger Bowl does on Friday night. But not his desire to one day be in charge of his own program.
“It has opened my eyes,’’ he said. “I’ve had a thrill these last couple of weeks.”
Tuiasosopo has handled an awkward situation with grace. Watching him command a practice and a podium with equal aplomb, it appears likely his dreams will eventually be fulfilled. Some politicians just look presidential. For the past fortnight-plus, Tui has exuded head-coachiness.
If he were further along in his coaching career, Tuiasosopo would have been a viable and logical candidate to replace Sarkisian at the school where his quarterbacking exploits are legendary.
But with just three years as a coach — one of those as a graduate assistant at UCLA — Tuiasosopo needs more seasoning before being able to fully embrace the advice that his Friday opponent, BYU’s Bronco Mendenhall, gave him.
When the two met for the first of several Fight Hunger news conferences, Mendenhall took it upon himself to pull Tuiasosopo aside for some tips on the job that he had been thrust into.
“Just get ready for the ride. There’s something new every day’’ is the way Tuiasosopo summed up the gist of Mendenhall’s message.
Mendenhall provided a more nuanced summation: “Maybe the way I expressed it to him best was the constant state of readiness, after you realize your circle of influence is going from a position, now to every single player on the team.
“What they choose, what they do, when they do it, what they’re wearing while they do it, any problems they might have, and or their parents or others, you now are the one everyone comes to. It doesn’t take long before you see the scope and breadth of what you’re doing expand.”
To which Tuiasosopo says, bring it on. But before that day comes, his Husky future will have to be sorted out. It’s a question Tuiasosopo has been deflecting ever since he was given the interim head-coaching job, saying his focus is on preparing his players.
But once the bowl game ends, new coach Chris Petersen will take full control of the job he was hired for on Dec. 6. Peterson has purposely laid low during the bowl preparations, as Tuiasosopo explained Thursday at his final pregame news conference.
“He’s been outstanding in staying out of the way and respecting the situation, but also lending a hand if he could help at all,’’ Tuiasosopo said. “Just give him a call. He’s been very open and very kind.”
In the meantime, Petersen’s focus has been on recruiting and assembling his staff. There were reports last week that he will bring Jonathan Smith, his quarterbacks coach at Boise State, with him to Washington.
Tuiasosopo, of course, was the Huskies quarterbacks coach this year under Sarkisian. To remain at UW, he probably would have to switch to coaching another position — perhaps tight ends, his responsibility at UCLA. Or maybe he will join the exodus of Husky coaches to Los Angeles to reunite with Sarkisian at USC. Another school could make Tuiasosopo an enticing offer, particularly with positive reviews from this bowl.
The picture should begin to clear next week, but I hope Petersen realizes what an asset he has in Tuiasosopo and can figure out a way to keep him. No one loves the program more, and no one is prouder of its rise from the ruins of the 0-12 season, which Tuiasosopo called on Thursday, “the lowest point, I think, in the history of the school.”
Tuiasosopo the quarterback helped the Huskies transition from Jim Lambright to Rick Neuheisel during some stormy times. Tui the coach can be a powerful advocate for the UW program with players who might be uncertain about their future under a new regime.
“Sometimes, what can get lost in the shuffle is that these guys are young men,’’ Tuiasosopo said last week. “Some are not there yet. They’re growing to become men, and sometimes they need to (hear), ‘Hey, I totally understand what you’re going through.’ They need someone there to help them through and manage and navigate their emotions through this process.’ ”
That sounds to me like a vital role for the Huskies, moving forward — one that Tuiasosopo has already begun. Let’s hope he’s allowed to continue beyond the Fight Hunger Bowl.