Good Coach, Bad Coach: The Naked Truth On Steve Sarkisian

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The type of information I want to share today you’ll probably never hear in a news conference. In all reality, if we do say anything as players at a press conference, it will always be cliché and far from the heartfelt truth.

Living in the fast paced lifestyle of sporting events, we are never given the opportunity to really reflect on our experiences and truly access our development and relationships until we’ve moved on to another phase in our lives.

We are not able to fully exercise our experiences and lessons during this period, because we are living and learning.

When speaking in the capacity, as I will today, you would know how to reflect on these feelings only after you’ve seen growth in yourself when you’ve moved on from an experience. Then you look back and see which people in your life aided in this growth and which people held you back from your growth.

My name is Victor Aiyewa. I attended the University of Washington and played football under coach Steve Sarkisian.

During the 2010-2011 season, which was my senior season, I reluctantly made a position change from safety to linebacker upon coach Sarkisian’s request. To many, it proved to be a difficult feat, but I was able to rise above the challenge and live out my dream of playing in the NFL.

As soon as my college career began, I learned instantly that there was a business side to the game, although at the time I didn’t truly understand the magnitude of the business in college football.

There was a coaching change during my sophomore year. Admittedly, I believed. I’m sure you would agree it was necessary, but I wasn’t aware of the broader implications that would arise as a result. To put it bluntly, I felt that everything I invested into the first coaching staff was removed along with them.

Subsequently, I was required to start over and prove myself to a new coaching staff, but as a stepchild player not fully confident whether the new coaching staff would exercise the option of waiving me of my scholarship or claiming me as a valuable player on the new team being built.

Everything we did once Steve Sarkisian was hired was under a watchful eye. The heat was on to find the troublemakers from the previous season’s team who would not contribute positively during the rebuilding process.

For the next months there was an uneasy feeling throughout the locker room. It seemed as though staff, coaches, and academic advisors were all looking for valid reasons to get rid of you if your values did not match the new value system in place.

It was a new team and it was time for me to readjust my comfort zone. I could tell it was going to be a long season.

And they were very committed to winning a championship.

I come now to give my honest assessment of coach Steve Sarkisian and the impact he had on my career. This is only my opinion and I’m honestly calling it how I see it. This article is filtered through one person’s point of view.

My own.

As of late, Steve Sarkisian has been under the media spotlight for a controversial incident that has taken place.

As a result of this event, I have been receiving countless inquiries from various media outlets aggressively questioning Steve Sarkisian’s character, integrity, and his ability to be a leader of a powerhouse team like USC in light of his current situation.

In recent discussions with various media reporters about Sarkisian, these controversial questions arose. They were interested to know whether I knew if he had a substance abuse problem or not.

Did I notice any drinking problems while he was at the University of Washington? Did I notice him inebriated at any UW events?  On the other hand, people are also still concerned about the allegations of him being a racist.

This concern leads to more questions like, what type of culture did he bring to the University of Washington? What was his relationship with different players of different origins? And did all of these allegations surprise me after what happened a few weekends ago?

The way I see it, me not finding solace in writing this article would have contributed to its fare share of social secrets.

You want a team secret? Ok. You got it.

Lets just say, “A little party never killed anybody.”

Before Steve Sarkisian came to the University of Washington, we never had seen such types of exotic gatherings. There was no formal invite my first time going. Beverages were flowing uncontrollably, music blasting and it was an uproar of mayhem.

I’ve never seen anything like it. It was something like the Mardi Gras, or a parade, or an amusement park or carnival. I mean at every corner there were bodies recklessly jumping and chanting in excitement.

Mason Foster acting out of his mind. Jake Locker with his cool country boy demeanor interacting contagiously. Chris Polk laughing uncontrollably at the top of his lungs.

It was a rather large gathering, given the fact we were all crammed in a private meeting room on campus. There were about 100-130 attendees. Assistant coaches, who were supposed to set sensible examples for us, came running in with their shirts off.

We were encouraged to let loose of any morality that we may have learned from the other coaching staff and learn to just have fun. This was on a weekly basis. And these parties would be even greater after a win.

This gathering was coined as the “Wake Your Ass Up Meeting.” This was an electrifying meeting; a parade style meeting, intended to create extremely alert practices, team comradery, brotherhood, singleness of purpose, and an engagement of our task at hand.

In turn, we competed for Sark like a group of wild Trojan warriors, defining new battles weekly and building our lives around winning them.

The drinks were Gatorade often mixed with electrolytes protecting us from having cramps. The party was held in the team meeting room. The only people who attended the gathering were players and coaches.

Various other people brought props intended to add a special theme to the meeting, whether they were guess speakers or the UW marching band.

Coach Sark would look over from his view and see his elaborate plan of making us a “band of brothers,” teaching us to embrace the moment we shared that day, was a success.

There were players simultaneously feeling joy and remorse if they weren’t getting on the field as frequently as they would’ve liked, but at this very moment everything was just right.

This was college football at its finest and one of the most intimate moments we all can look back at as players and remember the fun times we shared together.

We were growing from boys to men together, learning together, just being players, no censorship just love for one another. I’ve created long lasting friendships because of this.

After one particular meeting, I saw coach Sark in the locker room. I remembered feeling torn, as there were guarded rumors of me having to do a position change during the most vital time of my career—my senior season. Those days, I was pretty cynical about everything.

But there was something contagious about this coach.

He was like an enchanted wooden match used best when lighting the fire within you.

Over the course of my career, I’ve come to notice we are so deeply embedded into what people say on blogs, social media, and other media outlets to the point that it actually begins to shape other people’s perceptions of us.

If done with ill intent it can tarnish a person’s brand and/or image. Although I grant that there have been issues under much scrutiny by the media, I cannot accept the image that is being created for Steve Sarkisian.

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Nonetheless, Steve Sarkisian is the type of coach that if you backed him into a corner you would have given him no other choice but to succeed. And he’ll have fun while doing it.

I believe Steve Sarkisian is one of most inspiring coach I’ve had the honor of playing for throughout my playing career. His influence on me extends way beyond any inspiring message I can emotionally garner from within myself.

Over the last six years he has added some of the most invigorating principles to my personal and educational voyage of life.

Throughout this article, I will explore the positive role model he has been in my life and career and illustrate the vital impact his teachings can play in living an empowered life.

It’s been years since I’ve been under Coach’s Sark’s influence, but brainstorming and writing this article has served as a benchmark of my growth as a person and has been a pleasant reminder to live out every experience fully by conveying to the world your best work each and everyday.

As a reader, I encourage you to make these principles your truth as well. Think of my memories of Sark as your personal manifesto to proclaim inspiration, self-spirited motivation and a wealth of proven experience.

I will be passing out majestic jewels “principles” from my understanding, in the form of bolded bite size chunks throughout this article. Try them on every morning while you’re getting prepared to strut through life on your newly empowered runway.

I believe if you practice a new way of thinking, you will eventually create a new way of being.

This is the one principle that has made the most significant impact in my life, the ability to transcend my mindset through uncharted waters, breaking through new grounds and establishing myself as the ruler of new heights.

Coach Sark taught me it was important to adopt a belief system that empowers you to greater limits beyond what you normally would expect of yourself.

Everyday he was consistently preparing us and his attentiveness had no limits.

Before every practice and every game we would often talk about the psychology of being a great player, which specific qualities would make us great players, and how these same qualities transfers over to life outside of football.

He made me aware of some special qualities that could be used as a roaring blaze in the right moments.

When it came to certain individual accolades, he would often say, “Victor you should earn that award this year,” “You are a better player than him. Why can he have this and not you?” “Do you believe you can prove you are a better player than he is?” “Is there a life situation that triggers pain in you to a point where you lose control?” “That’s good. On the field use it.”

Creating your own vision is a road that is not commonly traveled only if it was uncommonly designed by you.

Looking into this vision that was painted in front of me, I began to give clear thought to what I wanted for my career. Coach Sark allowed me to become more aware of the different levels of success that I should not only be striving for, but which I was more than capable of obtaining.

I was a little overwhelmed initially, because he had so much conviction and vigor behind his beliefs, but then I felt it. As a young player the transformation began. I was blind, but now I see. I began to believe that I should aspire for success beyond the visible goal that is so commonly at reach.

His unprecedented approach was brilliant; he was able to create a flurry of emotions inside of me ranging from desire to envy and corralled these emotions to be used later as supreme self-confidence to accomplish my goal of being a great player.

He wanted us to be the kind of players who approached every endeavor with vision, a sense of urgency and a reassured fortitude that our best output was possible every time we stepped on the field or in the classroom.

Coach Sark had an incorruptible vision for me to achieve. The only way I was going to live up to his expectations was to begin to regard myself as a greater player than I actually was.

Your goals should exceed what you believe your capacity truly is, this way you will exhaust all opportunities throughout the process.

I remember one day after practice coach Sark asked me, “Victor have you ever tried to make every tackle on the field.”  My stubborn mind was resistant to the question. I said, “Uh coach that’s impossible.”

He said: “But wait, Victor have you ever had that type of mindset to try to make every tackle in a game. What would that look like on film? What type of playing style will it take to accomplish that? It might sound crazy, but next practice try it and see if you’re playing style changes.”

At that very moment his statement resonated in me. This was at the same time I was switched from Safety to Linebacker. I did everything he told me to do and I began to receive recognition.

I want you to go on YouTube and type in “Victor Aiyewa highlights“; there you will find some of the hardest hitting you’ve ever seen in your life in college and while I played for the Green Bay Packers.

I started knocking players out of games. I won conference honors and I started believing in coach Sark. He added to my perspective of life and he changed the trajectory of my career.

He would often tell me I would make a play that would change the scope of the game and he said it so convincingly, although at the time I was the most inexperienced player on the field. How does a coach say something like that to a player who’s new to a position and mean it?

He regularly gave me compliment after compliment. For example: “You’re looking good and if you look good you play good.”

He building my confidence. In return, I wanted to be a success for him and my film during the 2010 season showcased it.

He was crafty at getting the best out of you. I wasn’t the best player at the time, but when he moved me to linebacker, I turned out to be one of the best linebackers in the country.

Behind a lot of my big hits were the words of Coach Sark telling me before every game, before I even knew I could be an impact player that I was going to make a play that would impact the game. 13 games later I led the country at my position in tackles for a loss. I lived up to my coach’s expectations of me.

Coach Sark has proven to be a different kind of coach, at times he could be a bit irrational, other times he was successfully innovative. But the key principle that he often preached was the person willing to go the furthest for their dreams will usually be the first to achieve it.

This truth has serviced me greatly. My career path to the NFL was far from promised, but there came a time when I was forced to seize the moment at a peculiar crossroad.

This period was one of my most vulnerable years and I had to become irrational in my methods of actions.

I gave myself the daunting task of becoming my own NFL agent, representing myself in an attempt to prove that I deserved to be on one of the thirty-two NFL rosters. I strategically mapped out the teams I planned to target and put a plan in place that I felt would yield me the best result.

I figured if I was able to get into my selected teams’ buildings and sell myself to a general manager directly, at the very least, I could get a tryout. I was in the best shape of my entire life and I was confident that I would impress any scout looking for a player with my skill set.

But how would I get into the building?

First, I targeted the Seattle Seahawks. This was a very risky job and I was unsure of the type of response I would get if I were caught trespassing on private property. There was 24-hour security, and I was faced with a nearly impossible dilemma of entering the building.

I almost aborted the mission in an effort to think rationally.

Then I asked myself, if I had lost my mind. There were no other options for me at this point. I had already been undrafted.

What’s worse, face being humiliated or going home and watching football from my mom’s couch on Sundays?

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can possibly go.

I was committed enough to my insane plan that I had no choice but to see it through.

To say the least, I was successful in my motives and I was able to meet with the great Pete Carroll in the flesh. I was able to garner enough attention from my highlight film and player profile to get a workout.

My desire to play in the NFL was greater than the possibly of me being humiliated. I was forced to fly out and travel to a handful of other teams; most of the trips were unsuccessful.

But I had to push it to the limit. I had to become irrational in my motives to see if there were endless possibilities on the other side.

On one summer morning 2013, I got the call that changed my life and showed me that I could actually go further than I thought I could. The Green Bay Packers wanted to bring me in for a workout and later they signed me.

Since graduating from the University of Washington, I’ve been trying continuously to find new and effective ways to build on and convey Sarkisian’s message of empowerment to people I encounter in life.

With the world filled with so much information today, people around the world are in need of a more modern way of receiving these types of positive affirmations.

I’ve created three companies: the V.M.A Experience, S.T.A.R Housing, and a nonprofit organization named the V.M.A Pathway—all tailored at creating this type of culture in young individuals.

The V.M.A. Experience, designed by Very Motivated Athletes, is an online community of the industry’s most successful coaches and players, aimed to be a resource tool for athletes used to create a platform and achieve their athletic and academic goals.

This year, the V.M.A Experience will be launching the V.M.A tour, an event where we bring together current NFL and college players to speak to the younger generation ages 6-18. We’ve spread our message of empowerment in areas of Arizona, Texas, and plan to reach California and Washington this year.

Through S.T.A.R Housing, a housing company for underprivileged Junior College students, we created a tour that took ten current residents who attend Junior College looking for this type of inspiration and we attended the USC spring football game, where they were able to see Coach Sark live and direct.

We believe what they saw will help push them in the proper direction for their career. Our goal is to cultivate a continuous cycle of positivity in young individuals lives.

To share this message, I want you to read this article, not only as recollection of coach Sark’s teachings and philosophy but also as a self help to push you further along to accomplish your goals and dreams.

Whatever you do work at it with all your heart. If that is not working, find someone who can inspire you like Coach Sark once did for me.

Coach Sark knew that life is a mental game of right mindsets. To create success you must first create a successful way of thinking. This is an illustration of the qualities of a valuable coach and his ability to transfer that coaching over into your everyday life.

To me success is not measured by wins and loses. In my case my mentor used football to help better me in the game of life, to share his lessons and encourage others to pursue their dreams with the same vigor.

“Your candle loses nothing when it lights another.”

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