-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)
What a difference a weekend can make.
The Oregon Ducks entered the weekend as the clear-cut No. 1 team in the Pac-12 North and a likely preseason top five team nationally for 2012. The Washington Huskies still had holes to fill on the coaching staff and in the ’12 recruiting class.
Three days later, Steve Sarkisian’s bunch might be the pick in the Pac-12 North in 2012.
Ducks’ quarterback Darron Thomas made a peculiar decision to leave early for the NFL after back-to-back 30-touchdown seasons in Eugene. Certainly, he has been incredibly productive, but he does not have the skill-set required to play under center at the next level and will likely fall deep into draft weekend. He had a chance to be the top star on a beautiful — in all senses of the word — campus next fall and would have entered the season pointing to a November 3 meeting in Los Angeles with USC as 2012’s “Game of the Century.”
On Monday, however, Coach Sark sent shockwaves rippling down the West Coast when he hired former Cal defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi. The young, talented rising star joins a completely reworked defensive coaching staff that also includes former Boise State and Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and former Vols linebacker coach and star recruiter Peter Sirmon.
Lupoi, who was the 2010 National Recruiter of the Year (Rivals.com), will take over as the defensive line coach and defensive run game coordinator at Washington. It sounds like a lateral move, so why did Lupoi jump ship for a Pac-12 rival after 12 years in Berkeley? Especially considering that the up-and-comer was the youngest full-time coach in Cal history, was selling the hottest name brand on the recruiting trail and helped coach the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12 in 2011?
Did I mention he did all of this for his alma mater?
The newly minted 29-year-old Washington Husky was an All-Academic defensive lineman for Cal from 2000-2005 after winning a prep national title at famed De La Salle High School in California. He coached a defense that led the league in total defense, first downs allowed and passing yards per game. He had developed first-round talents Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan, making the Golden Bears only the second team in league history to place a defensive lineman into back-to-back first rounds. He is the complete package.
The two-fold answer is rather simple. First, Wilcox has been a mentor to Lupoi and likely played a huge role in pulling him to Seattle. Second, Sarkisian backed up the Brinks truck. Lupoi made $164,000 in 2011 and could make upwards of $500,000 in 2012. Sarkisian and the Huskies spent roughly $2.1 million on their coaching staff last year and will be well above that number this year, according to @BCondotta.
The program has recognized an opportunity and clearly appears dedicated to building a top-10 program.
“Coach Lupoi is a terrific young coach and a dynamic recruiter,” Sarkisian said. “He will have an immediate impact with our team both on the field and in recruiting.”
With Wilcox and Sirmon, who developed a reputation as an incredible recruiter while at Tennessee in his own right, Lupoi gives Sarkisian arguably the most talented defensive coaching staff in the league. All three are proven commodities on the sidelines and will undoubtedly improve a defense that ranked 11th in the league in total yards allowed and scoring defense. They certainly can’t get any worse than the last time U of W took the field, when the Huskies allowed 777 total yards of offense — 482 on the ground — to Baylor in the 67-56 Alamo Bowl loss.
More importantly, however, the new staff will bring an energy and passion to a Washington recruiting trail that has been largely dormant since the early '90s. With just over two weeks until National Signing Day, fans of all parties involved should have a recruiting fireworks show of monumental proportions in the Pacific Northwest.
The No. 1 defensive back in the nation, Sacramento (Calif.) Grant Union’s Shaq Thompson, recently committed to Cal at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. During his time in San Antonio, the Athlon Consensus 100 prospect proved that his lofty status as the top safety in the America was well-deserved. Thompson was very close with Lupoi as well as Wilcox — who recruited Thompson’s older brother Syd’Quan Thompson to Cal.
He is now “50-50 between Cal and Washington,” according to @TaraFOXSports. The Huskies and Bears were his two finalists, and Lupoi was given most of the credit for landing the star defensive back. I fully expect him to be suiting up in Husky Stadium over the next few years.
Arik Armstead, a two-sport star from Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove, is the nation's No. 4 overall player and Cal might have been eliminated from his list now that Lupoi is gone according to @sb_joedavidson. "Tosh was a big reason I'd go to Cal," Armstead said. "I've got more to think about." His announcement could come as early as tomorrow and it appears Notre Dame, Auburn and Cal are his finalists.
Lupoi also gets credit for landing star wideout Keenan Allen two years ago as well as the nation’s No. 2 defensive tackle in 2012, Monrovia’s (Calif.) Ellis McCarthy. McCarthy, a soft verbal to Cal, now appears destined to land in Los Angeles. Needless to say, there will be plenty of movement between now and Feb. 1.
Fellow AC100 tackle Aziz Shittu, from Atwater (Calif) Buhach, had the following to say on Twitter in response to the news. It should pretty much sum up how Cal fans feel today:
“WOWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!! The Game Just Changed,” and eight minutes later, “I want to cryyyyyy.” Shittu had narrowed his list to Cal, USC, UCLA and Stanford.
That should tell you all you need to know about the impact Lupoi will have in Seattle.