- Greg Katz, Columnist, WeAreSC.com
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As that famous movie trailer voice begins, “In a world where truth is stranger than fiction,” a storied college football program has reached into a parallel universe and brought back a former assistant coach whose close friend is the former fired USC Trojans football coach.
The hiring of former Trojans assistant Steve Sarkisian as the new University of Southern California head football coach is something that would seem to be a storyline right out of nearby Hollywood, a real docudrama.
In fact, the hiring of Sarkisian has left the Trojans masses in stunned disbelief in either uncontrollable enthusiasm, or unabated catcalls. If Pat Haden was looking to unify the USC family, he has really rolled the dice on this one.
Not that Sarkisian is a bad hire. He may turn out to be a great hire. He is completely likeable, a capable offensive coordinator, and he can recruit with the best of them. The truth be told, the “USC Trojans Sark” recruiting the gold mine of the Southland will be even more effective than the “Washington Huskies Sark” mining the same region.
The albatross in hiring Sarkisian is his attachment to Lane Kiffin. Is Sarkisian a more polished version of Kiffin? They both use the Denny’s play-calling menu and sunglasses, have toyed with the idea of uniform color changes, use the fade and bubble screen, and run basically the same offense, an offense that was despised by USC fans everywhere.
While Sarkisian was locked into the extremely competitive Pac-12 North Division with the likes of heavyweights Stanford and Oregon, he did bring the Huskies back from the depths of despair upon his arrival and early-on even beat a Pete Carroll USC team.
Is Sarkisian a superstar hire? No, not on the surface with the expectations of most Trojans fans. However, with the vast and plentiful USC resources at his disposal, that doesn’t mean he won’t blossom into one and therein the intrigue. Time will certainly tell.
The real burden of Sarkisian’s hire is on the shoulders of Haden. Trojans fans were expecting home run hire, and you wouldn’t call the signing of Sarkisian a tape measure blast. However, maybe the Trojans did get themselves a triple. At least Haden hopes so because if it isn’t, he will forever be remembered as an athletic administrator as the one who hired Steve Sarkisian.
By hiring Sarkisian, this is somebody who obviously knows USC, the recruiting strategies, and is well liked by high school coaches in Southern California, a major plus. From a recruiting standpoint, there is nothing not to like.
Then there is the USC assistant coaching staff to be assembled. If Sarkisian elects to bring the likes of Justin Wilcox as his defensive coordinator and even Tosh Lupoi as a defensive line coach, two blockbuster recruiters, then look out.
If reports that Trojans interim coach Ed Orgeron has chosen not to remain part of the program are confirmed, it would be a natural for Lupoi to become the Trojans new defensive line coach and possible recruiting coordinator.
It would seem likely that Sarkisian will name himself offensive coordinator and call the plays. There is no problem there because at least there will be no pretense like Lane Kiffin’s folly and there won’t be the doubletalk.
So what’s the bottom line to this hire?
When Kiffin was hired, the immediate reaction here was the Titanic and that truly turned out to be the case. The hiring of Sarkisian is more of a wait and see perspective. He probably won’t be a disaster, but can he make the Trojans a player on the national stage and in the mix in the new College Football Playoff? Of course, he still has to make it to the Pac-12 championship game, something he and the Trojans have never experienced.
And perhaps nobody will be more interested in Sarkisian’s success or failure than good friend Kiffin, and that in itself is part of this unexpected hire.
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