USC Trojans: Steve Sarkisian
Things got started last Monday with Trojans fans still feeling the emotions of the loss to UCLA and wondering how long it would take Pat Haden to settle on a full-time coach. Well, it didn’t take him long as the news broke late in the morning that former USC assistant coach Steve Sarkisian, who had been the head coach at Washington for the last five years, would be the choice.
USC players and fans wondered why Orgeron wasn’t being given a shot at the job and, even if he wasn’t, what could have happened to bring such a strong reaction that caused him to leave right away. Orgeron had preached a “one team, one heartbeat” motto that resonated with the players and now he wasn’t sticking around for the bowl game. The answers likely lie in the conversations between Orgeron and Haden, about what was promised and how the process went, because things certainly didn’t go well at the end.
There were also those who felt Haden had generated expectations for a “home-run” hire when he talked about casting a search where “there is no coach we can’t call” and the need to set the program up for the next “8-10, 15 years” with the hire.
Into this situation walked Sarkisian, who despite his successful tenure as a USC assistant and status as a one-time baseball player at the school, wasn’t exactly being welcomed with open arms. There were questions about his record at Washington, which stood just above .500 at 34-29, and a lack of signature moments that would warrant getting the USC job.
To his credit, Sarkisian met right away with the USC players and admitted that he wouldn’t win them over in one day. At his introductory press conference, Sarkisian said that he knew he wasn’t entering a rebuilding stage at USC, that the standard is to compete for championships. Haden also outlined the reasons for his choice. Haden said Sarkisian offered “energy and passion” for the job and was “uniquely qualified” to manage the transition of the USC program moving forward.
As the Sarkisian hire began to settle in on the Los Angeles college football landscape, there came news from Westwood that Bruins coach Jim Mora would be staying at UCLA, after listening to overtures from his alma mater Washington. Mora had another one up his sleeve for USC fans with the bombshell that he would be hiring former Trojans running back coach Kennedy Polamalu. This wasn’t just any coach that Mora was luring across town, Polamalu was a one-time USC fullback who was among the most passionate coaches and recruiters during his time on the Trojans staff. Polamalu was available, however, after being fired by Lane Kiffin last February.
It was a strange reality for Trojans fans, to see Polamalu heading to Westwood and Orgeron driving home to Louisiana with his family. Two of the most powerful voices within the USC program in recent years, and arguably the two best recruiters, were now gone and it wasn’t clear who was going to replace them.
There was a lot of talk when Sarkisian was hired that he might look to bring his entire Washington defensive coaching staff with him. There were certainly some up-and-coming names with DC Justin Wilcox, LB coach Peter Sirmon, DB coach Keith Heyward and DL coach Tosh Lupoi. It was also known that assistant head coach Johnny Nansen --who had coached RB, DL and special teams in his UW tenure -- would also be looking to head south with Sarkisian.
Before he added any new coaches, Sarkisian made the announcement that wide receiver coach Tee Martin would be staying from the current USC staff. That was welcome news to USC fans as Martin has developed a reputation in his short time with the Trojans as being a popular coach with the players and a solid recruiter.
With the news that Mora turned down Washington, there caused a shift which made things unclear for Wilcox and Lupoi. Wilcox was briefly a candidate for the Huskies head job and was then thought to be a possibility to join new Washington coach Chris Petersen -- who he had coached under before at Boise State. Lupoi was also reported to be weighing an offer to stay with the Huskies. He has become known as one of the most successful recruiters on the West Coast in recent years and is a key piece of the coaching puzzle at both USC and Washington.
USC announced the hirings at the end of the week of Sirmon, Heyward and Nansen, which led to speculation that Wilcox and Lupoi would eventually join them. As of the writing of this article on Sunday night that has not happened, but it does bring an end to a crazy week as far as the USC football program is concerned.
Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.
To the notes.
Elk from Los Angeles writes: Who's the bigger winner in the coaching carousel, Washington or USC?
Ted Miller: We have to declare a winner before Chris Petersen even holds his first news conference after replacing new USC coach Steve Sarkisian at Washington?
The only winner we can declare at this moment is the public relations and perception winner, and that is clearly Washington.
Petersen has long been a highly coveted candidate among AQ programs. Many sportswriters reacted with shock today when the news broke that after turning down some many suitors, Petersen was headed to Washington.
Fair to say the general consensus is that Petersen is a home run hire. Further, his track record suggests strongly he is not a climber. If he wins the Rose Bowl in 2017, he doesn't seem like the sort that would, say, jump to Texas.
As for Sarkisian to USC, the general reaction among sportswriters and USC fans was to be underwhelmed. Part of that was the belief that Trojans AD Pat Haden was going to make a home run hire that resonated nationwide -- as in Jon Gruden or Kevin Sumlin.
Sarkisian looked like a strong and legitimate USC candidate on Sept. 29, when Lane Kiffin was fired, but his Huskies immediately dropped three games in a row, and Huskies fans started to grumble.
Sark rebuilt Washington, but he never broke through in the Pac-12 North Division or the national rankings. Sarkisian is a good coach, but he's yet to distinguish himself with a landmark season. Petersen has with two BCS bowl victories and a sparkling 92-12 record.
So at this point, Washington is the clear winner.
Yet keep in mind that being the public relations and perception winner before either has coached a game or even recruited a player will be the least important victory either posts during their respective tenures.
It's all about what comes next, starting with their 2014 recruiting classes.
Flannel Beaver from Tacoma, Wash., writes: I know this has been discussed, but seriously... when will the Pac-12 go to an eight-game conference schedule? I am all for holding the our moral superiority over all other conferences. Do you think the new Playoff Selection Committee will take that into account? Do bowls consider that when looking at options? Do pollsters REALLY consider it? Then why do we continue to do it? How can I as a fan change Larry Scott's stance on this?
Ted Miller: Scott is a Machiavellian, "It's All About the Benjamins" sort. He'd go with eight games if the Pac-12 athletic directors were for it.
A nine-game conference schedule is favored by Pac-12 ADs for two reasons: 1. It means you only have to schedule three nonconference games, therefore less work; 2. An extra Pac-12 game tends to guarantee more ticket sales than a nonconference patsy, something that SEC schools don't worry about.
Once the conference expanded to 12 teams from 10, the nine-game schedule lost the symmetry that provided a true conference champion. But it was retained for the above reasons, even though it damages the conference's place in the national rankings.
The good news is most folk recognize the seriousness of this issue going forward into the four-team College Football Playoff. There will be pressure to level the playing field and have all the major conferences play nine-game schedules, as the Big 12 and Pac-12 currently do.
But if that doesn't happen, then it becomes the CFP selection committee's move. The first time a one-loss SEC team misses out to a one-loss Pac-12/Big 12 team, and the selection committee explains itself by saying, "The SEC choose to play a softer schedule than the Pac-12/Big 12, so that was the final measure that eliminated their team," then you'll see some changing.
In fact, it's too bad we don't have the playoff this year because it would be an interesting process. To me, the four-team playoff would be best served (based on today's records) by having Florida State, Ohio State, the SEC champ and the Pac-12 champ.
Yes, that would mean leaving out Alabama, which I still believe is the best team.
But if that happened because Stanford's/Arizona State's schedules were dramatically more difficult, you can bet that the SEC would man-up out of self interest.
Craig from Omaha writes: Lifelong Huskers fan here but enjoy watching Pac-12 football. … My question to you is why is it that the Pac-12 does not play its conference championship game at a neutral site like every other major conference? Is it due to loyal fan bases that are willing to travel? Do they feel there are not adequate facilities to hold such an event? I would have to think of all the venues in Pac-12 country, there would be some place that would fit the bill?
Ted Miller: The biggest problem with a neutral venue for the Pac-12 title game is the Pac-12 is much more spread out than the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. With just a week to make travel plans, it would be extremely expensive for fans to book flights. In the SEC, just about every fan base is within driving distance to Atlanta, and that's also mostly true in the Big Ten for Indianapolis and the ACC for Charlotte, N.C, though expansion has changed things a bit in that regard. For Texas A&M, it would be a 12-hour haul to drive to Atlanta.
That said, future change isn't off the table. Since the conference expanded, more than a few folks have tossed around the idea of playing the game in Las Vegas, which the Pac-12 blog would be all for, though there's not yet an appropriate stadium to play host. Another option would be rotating the game between major cities.
Truth is, the Pac-12 championship game has done fairly well at home sites -- the game Saturday at Arizona State is pretty close to a sellout. Last year's lackluster fan showing at Stanford was mostly because of torrential rain and a kickoff during Friday rush hour.
And there's something to be said for rewarding the No. 1 team with an advantage.
Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: I think you are making the same mistake as other media members about the Stanford roster. Although the depth chart lists several players as seniors, they are in eligibility only redshirt juniors because they list by academic class instead of eligibility. Guys like Tarpley, Henry Anderson, Parry, Reynolds, Fleming, Yankey are listed on the depth chart as seniors but all have a year left. Although Yankey likely will leave early, the others will most likely be back or have the option to come back. In reality, only four offensive starters are seniors and only three defensive starters are seniors. Jon Wilner has posted twice about this issue and I just wanted to spread the word.
Ted Miller: I understand your point, but I use a depth chart that has both years.
The players Stanford loses on offense: OG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, OG Kevin Danser, RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson and FB Ryan Hewitt.
Players Stanford loses on defense: OLB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner and DE Josh Mauro.
The Cardinal will again be in the thick of the Pac-12 North Division race in 2014, without question. But those are some big hits to the starting lineup.
Brian from Bend, Ore., writes: Any reflection on why Marcus Mariota has been completely overlooked for QB awards and the Heisman? It seems that no one west of the Mississippi is allowed to lose games. He still has really good stats, was No. 1 in Total QBR until the Arizona game and is morally superior to any other NCAA player. Is this not the embodiment of the Heisman?
Ted Miller: The bottom line is Oregon lost two of its final four games and Mariota didn't play well at Stanford, the Ducks' marquee national game of the season.
Further, when you remove Jameis Winston's off-field issues, as was done this week, the Florida State QB is a clear No. 1 at the position, while Johnny Manziel has been a force of nature for two seasons, and AJ McCarron has led one of the most successful runs in college football history.
I'm not saying I agree with all of that as a reason to demote Mariota. But that's what happened from a national perspective.
Garry Paskwietz: First and foremost, I think Sark is a good fit at USC. Even when he was an assistant, especially in his final two years with the Trojans (2007-08), you got the sense he was a guy who was going to be a real good head coach. He has a respected football mind, has always had an easy, natural rapport with players, and the fact he attended the school as a freshman baseball player told me he understood the draw of USC for a student-athlete. I completely understand the reservations of some USC fans, particularly with his basically .500 record at Washington and the emotional circumstances surrounding Ed Orgeron, but I think Sark will move past those thoughts relatively quickly as he starts to ingratiate himself into the program.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Trojans add ace recruiter
Sarkisian will have to assemble an all-star staff if he wants to win the recruiting wars in the West. So far that’s exactly what he’s doing. After Tee Martin announced Wednesday night he was sticking around as an assistant for the Trojans, the school announced Thursday that Washington linebackers coach Peter Sirmon would join the staff. Sirmon is considered one of the best position coaches in the Pac 12, but he’s also well respected as a recruiter. I visited with him a few weeks back for a story about Husky recruiting efforts, and I instantly can tell he why recruits gravitate toward him. He’s very charismatic and should be an excellent fit for the Trojans. It will be interesting to see if USC also can land Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi. Both reportedly have large buyouts from Washington, but Sirmon, Wilcox and Lupoi are close friends and often go on the road with each other to recruit.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
- Arizona's bowl destination is up in the air.
- ASU will have to make some defensive changes against Stanford this time around.
- Memorial Stadium remains the same, but the field has a new name.
- Colorado's regents have approved upgrades.
- How do this year's Ducks compare to last year's?
- Bruce Feldman weighs in on Mike Riley and the state of OSU football in a Q&A with the Oregonian.
- The keys for Stanford to beat Arizona State.
- UCLA brings in a running backs coach with LA ties.
- The full quote sheet from Steve Sarkisian's introductory news conference at USC -- and player reactions.
- What are the expectations for Utah in 2014?
- Are there frontrunners in the Washington job search?
- Cougars are looking for their spot on the bowl landscape.
- Athlon Sports offers up some quirky title game statistics and some predictions.
Hand it to the USC marketing department, it doesn’t miss a trick, as thousands of Trojans football fans heard from USC’s 23rd head coach in a mass voicemail blitz shortly after Sarkisian was hired. The words were inspiring, enthusiastic, and the message was clear: The Men of Troy are about to embark on a new era.
With his hiring, the Sarkisian popularity campaign is now in full throttle. It was preceded with Tuesday’s coronation and highly orchestrated press conference, which began with more Ed Orgeron damage control in the opulent John McKay Center.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
He approves of the hire of Sarkisian, who recruited him to play at USC in the early 2000s when Sarkisian was on the coaching staff there, though Thomas wishes the school had allowed interim coach Ed Orgeron to finish the season in the role. Orgeron resigned after learning he wasn't getting the full-time job.
"At the same time, I don't really like how they did Coach 'O.' I think he should have been allowed to finish the season. You look at what he did, taking over in the middle of the season and getting the players to play. What happened there last year and early this year was about the coaching. Everybody thought it was the players, but it wasn't the players. It was [Lane] Kiffin. And Coach 'O' got them playing hard. I think they should have let him finish the season."
Thomas' impression was that the school thought it would lose Sarkisian to a potential NFL job if it didn't move to hire him now. He also named Boise State's Chris Petersen as a guy he thought deserved consideration for the job.
Though Thomas wishes Orgeron could have had a better exit, he understands why he wouldn't be considered for the job full-time.
"When you don't beat UCLA or Notre Dame, it's hard," Thomas said.
- Where might Arizona go bowling?
- Arizona State isn't that upset about a 2-2 early-season run.
- Can California coach Sonny Dykes stave off recruiting commitment poachers?
- Colorado loses a reserve QB to transfer.
- Some thoughts on the return of QB Marcus Mariota and C Hroniss Grasu to Oregon.
- Good analysis of Oregon State's meager bowl options, including the accurate observation that our projection for the S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia isn't going to happen (yes, we blew that -- a spasm over regional proximity without double checking the MAC tie-in).
- Location has made Stanford an underdog in the Pac-12 title game.
- Jim Mora is staying at UCLA, which is big news in the conference.
- New USC coach Steve Sarkisian (I'm going to have to get used to typing that) won his press conference, even with big news coming from Westwood.
- A Kyle Whittingham critic gives the Utah coach a vote of confidence for 2014.
- Washington's coaching search moves on, post-Mora.
- Where might Washington State go bowling?
Having fallen in love with the tradition at USC, however, on top of a desire to play close to home, Kessler ultimately opted to become a Trojan.
It’s a decision that Kessler – who has passed for over 2,600 yards this season as USC’s starting signal caller – doesn’t regret one bit.
But now, with the arrival of Sarkisian as the Trojans’ new head coach, the two are together. That fact wasn’t lost on either of them as they came face-to-face after an introductory team meeting held Monday night.
“It was kind of funny,” Kessler said following Sarkisian’s press conference on Tuesday. “The first time that I saw him yesterday after the meeting he just kind of laughed and said, ‘Here we are now.’”
Before compiling a record of 34-29 at Washington, Sarkisian was known as a quarterback guru who blossomed as a Trojans assistant, playing a major part in the development of Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez.
“Coach Sark is a quarterback guy,” Kessler said. “When you have a guy that has that experience, and knows what he’s doing, and has a resume that’s second to none when it comes to getting guys to the NFL, you’re very excited about it.”
Still, like most of his teammates, Kessler’s excitement has been tempered by a heavy heart that has come with the departure of Ed Orgeron. Taking over as USC’s interim coach following the dismissal of Lane Kiffin, the boisterous Louisiana native guided the Trojans to victory in six of the team’s final eight games. More than that, he fostered an atmosphere marked by enthusiasm and energy that helped unify the team.
Not surprisingly, when Kessler and his teammates were informed by Orgeron on Monday that he had resigned to pursue other head coaching opportunities following Sarkisian’s hire, they were overcome with emotion, with many players being brought to tears.
“It was crazy,” Kessler said. “Guys were freaking out and it was just unreal. And that’s something you expect when that happens. When you lose someone that you care about so much.”
But in his first crucial move as head coach of the Trojans, Sarkisian would some calm during his first team meeting.
“For Coach Sark to walk in and face this thing head on and attack it right away like he did, and settle everyone down, was awesome,” Kessler said. “The way he addressed the team, he was just real. He told us, ‘this is home for me. It may seem like I abandoned my team when I left Washington, but this is home. This is where I’ve always wanted to be. This is where I started out, and we’re going to do great things.’”
“One thing he told us is that we’re going to have to condition a lot more, and we’re going to start running a lot more in practice,” Kessler said. “But when you can go all four quarters and not slow down, teams are going to be slower, they’re going to be breathing hard, they’re going to need to substitute and they won’t be able to.”
Looking past that obvious difference, Kessler says that Sarkisian’s offense actually shares some traits with the Trojans’ current system -- something that could speed up the transition.
“I watched a little when we watched other teams’ defenses against Washington, they had a lot of the same concepts, but I was talking to him yesterday after the meeting and he told me that there’s a lot of different verbiage,” Kessler said. “It’s kind of shortened down because there’s no huddle [and] you don’t have time to call long plays, but he says it’s the same concepts. Maybe different formations and stuff like that, but it’s the same schemes that he’s taken from Coach [Pete] Carroll and from this offense, and he’s kind of put his own stuff into it.”
Kessler has little time to dive into his future with Sarkisian as the QB will have to prepare for the Trojans’ yet-to-be-determined bowl game and help the Trojans remain focused after a roller coaster week.
And beyond that, with Sarkisian at the helm, he believes that brighter days most certainly lie ahead.
“Coach Sark is our coach now and I’m so grateful for that,” Kessler said. “I really feel like this team is going in the right direction.”
Tim in Atlanta writes: Is there really any justification for Josh Huff being left off the 2nd team all-Pac team this year? He had 200 more yards than montgomery and 57% more TD than Strong. Standings shouldn't matter in this, and the fact that Huff is the first WR in years to have 1000 yards in Oregon's spread-it-around system should say a lot. Seems like voters punished him for Oregon's offensive firepower instead of rewarding a guy for standing out on a team full of offensive talent... or maybe they didn't the game on friday.
Kevin Gemmell: Well, the voters are the coaches. And having talked to the coaches over the last couple of years, I can tell you this isn’t something they farm out to assistants. The ones I’ve spoken with about the process take it pretty seriously.
The stats are there, no question. And I was sitting in a bar in Pasadena Friday night watching the Civil War feeling very happy for Huff to have that kind of a game. He’s taken a lot of heat over the last month -- some of it was deserved, some of it wasn’t.
But I think that also could have played a factor. Coaches are bias, just like everyone else who votes. They have their favorites. And perhaps Huff’s Rose Bowl comments didn’t sit well with the coaches. I’m just speculating, but I don’t think it’s too far of a reach.
A lot of questions and speculation about the Pac-12’s Rose Bowl partner – including questions from Kelly in Bend, Ore., Josh in Mesa, Ariz., and Greg in San Francisco. So I’ll lump them all together into one answer. It breaks down to this: Could Alabama play in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.
Kevin Gemmell: Short answer: yes, with an if. And no, with a but.
The winner of the Pac-12 championship game heads to the Rose Bowl no matter what, since neither Stanford nor Arizona State are under consideration for the VIZIO BCS National Championship game.
The Big Ten is a different story since Ohio State is now in play for the title game. If Ohio State beats Michigan State, chances are it goes to the BCS championship game and therefore the Big Ten forfeits its entry into the Rose Bowl. That leaves a void.
The obvious solution is Michigan State to Pasadena. The kicker, however, is whether Michigan State is still in the top 14 of the BCS rankings. If Michigan State wins, it will go to the Rose Bowl. If it loses and falls out of the top 14, a replacement team needs to be found.
The optimal solution is for either Michigan State to win or Ohio State to win, but Michigan State puts up a good enough fight that it stays within the top 14. There is nothing the Rose Bowl committee wants more than a Pac-12-Big Ten matchup for the 100th game. Preserving that tradition is important to them.
But it might be out of their control.
Assuming Florida State goes to the championship game, the Discover Orange Bowl would have the first pick at filling its spot. It’s hard to imagine Alabama slipping through. However, if for some reason it does, then I wouldn’t be shocked for the Rose Bowl to snatch up Alabama. But a few things need to happen for that scenario to play out.
John in Los Angeles writes: A case for [Jim] Mora being Coach of the Year. First, let me say I don't know much about the other teams in the conference. Being in LA I of course know the saga of Southern Cal, and I do think Coach Orgeron has done a great job. That having been said, here are my points (in no particular order save point 1).
- The death of a player: You have brought this up a few times and it likely goes without saying how this impacted the team. Some might say kids this age are resilient and there is some truth to that notion. However I still think Mora did a great job in handling the situation.
- Replacing Franklin: I don't really remember seeing this mentioned much other than at the start of the season. Franklin not only became the schools leading rusher he was a team leader. That is a tough combination to replace.
- Replacing the secondary: This job became even harder when Riley had to retire. I don't know how young we were back there but IIRC it was fairly young all season.
- Injuries along the offensive line: This one is pretty well documented.
- Freshman punter: I don't think people appreciate how good Jeff Locke was last year in terms of field position. Then to have to replace him with a true freshman to boot (pun intended).
With all of those things UCLA was one poor half away from winning the South. Like I said, I don't know much about the other teams and what they had to go through this year. But I think going 9-3 with 2 of the three losses coming on the road to (then) top 5 teams in back to back weekends and the only other loss to a top 20 team with having to deal with all the stuff above, Mora deserves some serious consideration for Coach of the Year.
Kevin Gemmell: This one came in on Sunday, before the coach of the year was named, but I still think everything John just mentioned is worth addressing, because everything he says is correct. And I don’t know what the totals were in terms of voting for coach of the year. I have to imagine Mora got a few votes.
But it’s tough to ignore the job Todd Graham has done at Arizona State. Before the season, most people didn’t expect the Sun Devils to win the South (outside of the Pac-12 blog) and they started the year unranked. When you look at the schedule they played and the way they won games down the stretch -- home and away, blowouts and come-from-behinds -- I would have voted for Graham also.
Mora did a fantastic coaching job this year. And winning at the Coliseum last week was obviously a huge step forward for the program. But they had a chance to seize control of the division at home and couldn’t get it done.
From where ASU started the season -- unranked -- to where it is now, Graham was the right choice.
The Heisman Committee in New York writes: Kevin, you told us recently that the Pac-12 would send 1 Heisman finalist and it would be Marcus Mariota? Should Carey go? Should he take Mariota's place? Is there any chance we invite both? Do either have a chance of beating Winston and the field given Winston's legal troubles? We're so overwhelmed by this season that we could really use all the help we can get.
Kevin Gemmell: Pretty sure I told you that in October during a chat. Chat answers are obviously gut feelings at the time, and at the time Mariota seemed like a safe choice.
Have the circumstances changed? Absolutely. I think when all is said and done, it should either be Ka'Deem Carey or Bishop Sankey who represents the Pac-12 in the Heisman voting. I made a case earlier today for one of the two Pac-12 backs winning the Doak Walker. And I think if the Heisman doesn’t go to a quarterback, then it should go to one of the two backs. And I’d be a Carey lean simply because of the consistency every week.
Yes, Sankey supporters, I know he sat out a lot of the Idaho State and Colorado games. Carey missed time too. Both are phenomenal backs and regular Pac-12 blog readers know that I’ve been high on Sankey for a very long time.
But his performances in the ASU and UCLA games are the sort of showing that haunt players when it comes to postseason awards. If I were a voter, my main focal point would be consistency and complete body of work. And Carey showed that against the toughest competition he played his best ball.
Emily in LA writes: Well, I guess you can ignore my last question now that it's completely irrelevant after today's news. I'll withhold judgment on Sarkisian (and learn to spell his name) after I see how he does, but I'm still sad about Coach O leaving.
Kevin Gemmell: Emily submitted a question on Sunday showing support for Ed Orgeron and questioning whether the UCLA loss should play a major factor in Pat Haden’s decision. It can still be answered despite the changes, because we now have the benefit of hindsight.
I’m pretty sure it didn’t rest on that one game -- though it probably made it easier. No doubt, Orgeron did a magnificent job. He tapped into something special with his players and rode it for as long as he could.
For kicks, let’s say he were named the head coach. A lot of the inspiration he had this season -- that nothing-to-lose attitude -- would be gone. That’s not to say he couldn’t get the job done. But these past seven weeks have been a pretty exceptional situation.
Haden is thinking about the long-term health of the program. It can’t just be five weeks from now. It has to be five years from now. And it’s tough to separate the emotion of what went on the last few weeks with what the future is going to hold.
Keep in mind though the two games Orgeron did lose -- Notre Dame and UCLA. Those are rivalry games. USC fans expect their team to beat Cal and Utah and yes, even Oregon State in Corvallis. But they also expect wins over rivals. And that’s something Orgeron failed to provide.
Don’t get me wrong. The Pac-12 blog was very impressed with what Orgeron was able to do. And there is obviously a level of disappointment in him leaving.
But he had to go. Sark needs a clean slate to start with, and Orgeron’s presence, while probably wanted by the players, would have been more of a distraction to the new administration.
It’s like breaking up with your girlfriend, but tagging along with her on dates so you can tell her new man her likes and dislikes. It’s uncomfortable and awkward.
- Some more on Ka'Deem Carey winning the Pac-12 offensive player of the year.
- ASU's third-down defense will be critical against Stanford.
- Some more on Zach Kline's decision to transfer.
- Paul Richardson is headed to the NFL.
- Josh Huff feels disrespected that he didn't make the all-conference team.
- Some potential bowl landing spots for Oregon State.
- David Shaw is disappointed Trent Murphy wasn't named the league's top defender.
- Jim Mora to Washington is a strong possibility.
- It was an emotional day at USC with one coach leaving and another coming in.
- A "miserable" stretch ended on a high note for Utah.
- Washington players take to social media to react to Steve Sarkisian's departure.
- A Q&A with Washington State athletic director Bill Moos.
- Athlon offers up its thoughts on USC's hire and who the candidates are at Washington.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
In 2010, USC athletic director Mike Garrett, attempting to maintain the glory days of the Pete Carroll era, hired Carroll's former co-offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, a head coach of moderate success, to return to Troy.
Four seasons later, replace Garrett with Pat Haden and Kiffin with Steve Sarkisian of Washington, and you have what took place at Deja VuSC on Monday.
There are a few key differences between Sarkisian and his close friend Kiffin. Sarkisian has the people skills that Kiffin lacked, a critical element of Kiffin's downfall. Sarkisian knows how to deal with the Los Angeles media and won't make unnecessary problems for himself the way Kiffin did. Kiffin loved the chess match of X's and O's. Sarkisian, as a better communicator, is known as a good teacher.
By bringing Sarkisian back to USC, Haden is attempting to maintain the connection to the last decade, when the Trojans won consecutive national championships (and played for a third) under Carroll and his band of bright, young assistants.
But Haden also is bringing to mind the desert that Alabama wandered through after the death of Bear Bryant, when the university prized bloodline over performance. It worked well with Gene Stallings, less well with Ray Perkins, and not so well with Mike DuBose and Mike Shula. In selecting Sarkisian, Haden also took the coach who has enjoyed less success than another prominent candidate, Chris Petersen of Boise State.
To continue reading this story, click here.
More from ESPN.com on USC hiring Sarkisian:
Arash Markazi: Sarkisian hire not a "home run"
Mark Saxon: Sarkisian's to-do list
Travis Haney: How soon can Sarkisian succeed at USC?
He settled for a safe, known quantity, instead of a hot, new commodity. He settled for a good coach with potential, instead of a great coach with a proven record. He settled for a double down the line, instead of a home run over the center field wall.
The first reaction, upon hearing that Steve Sarkisian had been hired as USC's new head football coach, is that the Trojans basically were getting Lane Kiffin with a better personality.
The difference, though, is that Sarkisian did something Kiffin never did. He took over a decimated program at Washington and brought it back to respectability. He moved the Huskies several steps in the right direction. It's just that he could never reach those final few steps, the ones leading to a championship level.
Can he do that at USC? Sure, it's possible. He knows the landscape. He builds prolific offenses. He reportedly is bringing Tosh Lupoi, one of the country's best young recruiters, with him. The Trojans definitely could have done a lot worse.
It's just that there's this nagging thought that they also could have done a lot better. Sarkisian went 7-6 three consecutive years in Washington before improving to 8-4 (but only 5-4 in the Pac-12) this season. That is hardly a demonstration of a magical coaching touch.
Maybe what this hiring really speaks to is the fact that USC is no longer viewed as one of the most attractive jobs in the sport. Boise State's Chris Petersen reportedly took his name off Haden's list. Kevin Sumlin apparently preferred an extension at Texas A&M to a new office in the plush John McKay center. Vanderbilt's James Franklin was another sexy name that was thrown around, but he either bailed, or Haden didn't want to gamble on an upcoming, young coach from out of the area.
Did Haden even check with Jon Gruden's agent? How about Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern? His team struggled in the final weeks of this season, but his credentials over the years are impeccable. Was he even considered a possibility? Jack Del Rio was another supposed candidate, but did his lack of availability until sometime in January or February rule him out?
We'll never know now. Just like we'll never really know how close Ed Orgeron came to getting the gig he so desperately wanted. If USC had beaten UCLA the other night, would all the Coach O fans out there be celebrating at the news he'd signed a contract today?
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
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.
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.