USC Trojans: Pat Haden
Chris in Lake Stevens, Wash. writes: (Ka'Deem) Carey over (Bishop) Sankey? Are you an idiot or an Arizona grad? Sankey had more yards, more TDs and a better YPC. You've lost all credibility as far as I'm concerned.
Kevin Gemmell: Really? All credibility? Idiot? For picking a first-team All-American, a Doak Walker finalist, a guy who finished ahead of Sankey in the Heisman voting and the offensive player of the year as selected by the coaches?
Guess the coaches are idiots as well.
I’m happy to re-open the debate (and I will below). But your note smacks of uneducated fanaticism.
Chris L in Memphis writes: In making his case on East Coast bias, Ted wrote this: "Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey is the nation's best running back." Please make the case as to how Carey is even the best back in his conference.
Kevin Gemmell: I’d be happy to, Chris. And thanks for your letter. I know this particular Chris to be an extremely educated Washington fan -- the kind that makes Washington fans look good.
First off, as I stated in last week’s mailbag, I thought Ted’s East Coast bias column was one of the strongest pieces I’ve ever read from him.
Obviously, the Sankey vs. Carey debate will rage for years. And it should. It’s fun to debate the merits, of which there are many, of two fantastic players. Washington fans will always back Sankey -- which is right. And Arizona fans will always back Carey -- which is also right. There's just a right way and a wrong way to do it (cough, cough, Chris in Lake Stevens). Because both are outstanding running backs with the physical build and skill sets to be successful running backs at the next level.
Sankey had more total yards and more touchdowns. Carey had more yards per game and 10 fewer zero or negative rushing plays (Sankey had 45, Carey 35). We won’t get into the debate of playing time because I know Sankey sat the second half of some games and Carey missed a game, etc. etc. Carey had more carries because his team didn’t have the passing attack that Washington did. The Huskies averaged 271.3 yards through the air per game with 24 touchdowns. Arizona had just 186.8 passing yards per game with 14 touchdowns. Washington leaned heavily on Sankey, but I think we can all agree that Arizona leaned more heavily on Carey.
The little separation that exists in my mind is because of Carey’s consistency. I broke this down in a column earlier this month and essentially Carey did his best work -- more than 20 yards above his average -- against the top competition.
Sankey and Carey had six games this year that involved common opponents: Oregon, ASU, California, Colorado, UCLA and Washington State. In those games Sankey averaged 144 yards with eight total touchdowns. Against the same competition, Carey rushed for 152.5 yards with 11 touchdowns.
Sankey was outstanding. But his overall season takes a hit from the ASU game (13 carries, 22 yards) and, yes, the fact that Carey’s team beat Oregon and he was a huge reason why has to weigh in.
Again, this is a Fujis vs. Honey Crisp discussion. But when you look at overall consistency -- essentially zero bad statistical games for Carey -- the fact that he did better against head-to-head competition and that he was at his best against tougher defenses, I think that justifies making a case for him as the best back in the league.
Weston in Costa Mesa, Calif. writes: Hello Kevin, I was curious to know what your view is on the state of USC football going into the next few seasons. Where does the program go if Sark doesn’t work out and is he in the hot seat right away if he doesn’t deliver in the first year (by deliver I mean anything less than an 8 win season).ThanksWestonps. I’m a Stanford fan living in a USC ruled area and everybody is talking about this.
Kevin Gemmell: This is sort of a two-parter. The first part, the state of USC football over the next few seasons, is essentially asking what do I think Steve Sarkisian can do for the program. The second part is if he doesn’t succeed, how quick will he get the hook.
I can’t imagine that if he only wins seven games in his first year that Pat Haden would put him on the hot seat. Haden showed an amazing amount of patience with Lane Kiffin and gave him the opportunity to right the ship in 2013. When it was clear the ship wasn’t being righted, he made his move.
This was a high-profile hire for USC and for Haden. A lot of eyes will be on this decision for the next few years. And my best bet is that Haden is going to do everything possible to convince people he got his guy.
As for how they’ll do? Well, there are some really, really talented players on both sides of the ball. And it was pretty clear that the Trojans underachieved with Kiffin as their head coach because they clearly had the talent to rip off five in a row and beat the No. 4 team in the country in Stanford.
We’ve said this before USC is a brand. It is always going to attract high-profile recruits simply because it’s USC. You combine that with a bulldog of a recruiter in Sarkisian and you have to expect the Trojans will be just fine.
The question is what happens once he does get those elite athletes into the program. How does he develop the talent? How does he handle the X’s and O’s? He did an amazing job of bringing Washington back to respectability. But he never got them into the elite class. Perhaps with a few more years in Seattle he would have? We’ll never know. But that certainly plants a lingering question about what he can do at USC.
I think given the way the South sets up for the next few years, USC could certainly win it. Or ASU could repeat. Or UCLA could win its third division in four years. Or Arizona could make a run when their potential All-Universe scout team starts playing in games.
The South is so wide open right now that there really isn’t one clear-cut team that is a favorite. And I think USC has to be considered in that mix. The Trojans could win the South next year. Or they could finish fourth in the division.
I’m willing to give Sark and Haden the benefit of the doubt that they can get USC moving in the right direction. Sark might not be the biggest name nationally, but he has the pedigree that fits very well with the culture in Southern California.
Peter in Washington writes: Did you intentionally leave off the second common opponent between BYU and UW? Both teams played FCS Idaho State year as well as Boise State.
Kevin Gemmell: The simple answer would have been yes, it was intentional, because Idaho State is an FCS team and it wasn’t worth mentioning. But truth be told, I just missed it. So thanks for keeping me honest. And in the interest of getting all of the information out there, Washington beat Idaho State 56-0 on Sept. 21. BYU beat the Bengals 59-13 on Nov. 16.
Mike in Boston writes: I thought I'd give you a heads up that you came in fifth in the Cardboard's (an independently run Stanford fan community) "Predict the Score" game for predicting Stanford's game outcomes. We entered the predicted scores from your weekly post on Pac-12 games. Note, Miller sits all the way down at No. 15.
Kevin Gemmell: Awesome! Had no idea you guys were doing that. Since I finished 10 spots ahead of Ted, I think it’s fair that the next 10 rounds of non-alcoholic eggnog are on him.
Sun Devil Ric in San Diego writes: I thought I understood the politics of trophies and All-American teams, but I guess I'm still clueless. Why did ASJ win the Mackey award, but isn't named on a single All-American team yet?
Kevin Gemmell: You understand them? Really? Please share. Because I've been at this a long time and I still don't know.
Tight end was a deep position this year. And ASJ did get named third-team AA in the AP All-American team. Like every single postseason award, there is a level of subjectivity that is tough to comprehend because it's different for everyone. I wish I could climb into the minds of the voters and give you a clear-cut explanation for why things are the way they are when it comes to postseason awards. But I can't.
All I can say is I think the Mackey folks got it right.
Ryan in New York writes: Kevin, Great work by you and your partner Miller on the ESPN.com AA team. I think the Pac was well represented, and that's testimony to you and Ted spreading the good word and fighting the good fight. Well done. Happy HolidaysRC
Kevin Gemmell: Back atcha Ryan. There will never be a perfect postseason list. And I would have liked to see Anthony Barr on our list also. But the fact that Barr appears on others, as does Trent Murphy, shows just how deep and talented the Pac-12 was this season.
Looking forward to another year of why UCLA is overrated mailbag drops from you. But for now, enjoy the bowl season and the holiday season.
That goes for the rest of you, too. (Yes, Chris in Lake Stevens, even you).
Of course, what makes this all the more tantalizing is the fact that the Trojans did make contact with Petersen regarding its coaching opening. As history has unfolded, USC athletic director Pat Haden decided that Sarkisian was a better fit for the Trojans, which opens the door for even further scrutiny of Haden’s decision down the line.
Sarkisian might be Haden’s answer for the future, a good coach with great recruiting skills and a dynamic personality. Although Sarkisian’s overall record at UW was just above average at 34-29, he did an admirable job resurrecting a Huskies program that was 0-12 the season before he arrived in 2009.
Stuck in the powerful Pac-12 North Division, which features powerhouses Oregon and Stanford, Sarkisian was up against it. For the past four seasons, the Huskies finished with a 5-4 conference record, which doesn’t get you to a BCS bowl and would give you a pink slip at USC faster than you can say Tommy Trojan.
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“Our football team is very excited to have the chance to participate in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. We’d like to thank the Las Vegas Bowl committee and the city of Las Vegas for having us. This is a great reward for our players and staff. They have accomplished so much this season under some very adverse conditions. We look forward to getting back on the practice field very soon, and preparing for what we feel is one of the better teams in the country in Fresno State.”
On whether Helton has any concerns heading into the contest in regard to the distractions that the city of Las Vegas presents to the players:
“We have guys that understand that we have a job to do, that we are going there to try to win a football game and enjoy the excitement of the bowl game. We’ve been very disciplined as a football team, and I would anticipate that will continue.”
“You look at the things that have gone on this year, how proud we are to be going to the Las Vegas Bowl. But to have the opportunity to get your 10th win, to get double-digit wins, that puts you in a realm as far as accomplishment with a football team, that you can walk away from a season extremely proud of. So, we have a lot out there. This is something we started at the beginning of the season, had some adverse conditions hit us, continued, as our motto says, to fight on, and every time that this team’s faced a little bit of trouble, they’ve found a way to fight back every time, and I can’t wait to see them at the bowl game.”
Will this be the first time that Helton has served as a college head coach?
“Yeah, I’ve had the opportunity to help out at as an interim coach at the University of Memphis, [but] never under a game situation. Coach [Tommy] West, who was at Memphis, had heart surgery during the offseason, and there was a period of time that I needed to run the team and help the University of Memphis out, and here’s this opportunity again.”
With the recent departure of Ed Orgeron as well as Pete Jenkins, who will coach the defensive linemen in the days leading up to the bowl game?
“We’re going to have Coach Ross Cumming do that. He’s been in that room the entire time. He’s one of our graduate assistants, he knows Clancy [Pendergast’s] system [and] he knows how to teach that position.”
On whether newly hired USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has given Helton any advice leading up to the bowl game:
“I’ll tell you, he’s been absolutely great; so has Mr. [Pat] Haden. I just thank them so much for letting our staff have the honor of preparing us for our bowl game. He’s kind of told us, ‘Hey, I want to sit back and give you the right and the honor to lead your team.’ I know he’s going to be watching, to be able to see personnel and things like that, but he’s given us a great opportunity to finish the season out.”
What kind of effect has the departure of Orgeron, as well as the recent hiring of Sarkisian, had emotionally on the remaining coaching staff at USC?
“Any time that you lose a figure like Coach O, as a player or on that coaching staff, you’re going to be sad. That’s a natural reaction I think for both players and coaches alike. In typical USC style and fashion they have brought in a terrific football coach in Coach Sarkisian. We know he’s going to do great things. We have welcomed him, as a staff and as a football team, and we’re here to support him in any way we can. So, obviously, you have some sadness, but you’re also excited about the future.”
What’s it going to take to lift the spirits of the team?
“The greatest thing is you get to play ball. You get to practice, you get to go compete and you get to play in a football game. That heals a lot of wounds. We’re excited to get back out on the practice field tomorrow, and to have the practices that lead up to the bowl game.”
On whether Helton plans to continue doing some of the things that Orgeron did in terms of rewarding the players and maintaining an upbeat atmosphere:
“We’re going to keep the same philosophy that we’ve had the last eight weeks. It’s been successful for us. We’ve had a lot of fun together as a staff and as a football team, and those things are going to continue.”
Will Sarkisian travel with the team to Las Vegas?
“I believe that he is going to be at the bowl game.”
On what he’s seen from the Fresno State offense:
“Coach [Dave] Schramm and his staff have done a tremendous job. They have a terrific quarterback in Derek Carr, and usually when you have a great team, you have a great quarterback. He’s a guy that’s completing 70 percent of his balls, his touchdown-to-interception ratio is ridiculous; so he does some terrific things, and he’s led that team very, very well. They do a terrific job of putting pressure with several wideouts, and then what was really surprising, you think they’re a passing offense, but they’re pretty well-balanced too.”
Has anyone else on the current USC staff been told whether they’re going to be retained by Sarkisian?
“Coach Sarkisian over the next couple of weeks I know is going to put together a terrific staff. He’s been extremely cordial to us in telling us, ‘I’m working on trying to put the best staff in the country together.’ He is going to talk to every one of us on this staff, as well as others around the country, and he’ll find the right fit for USC.”
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
“All of our coaches except myself are on the road recruiting today. The guys have had a very positive response, and I’ve been on the phone with a lot of recruits myself … it’s been very positive. Having had the chance to watch the offense, defense and special teams on film, we didn’t execute the way we wanted to in all three phases. We obviously didn’t play very well, but in looking back over the last eight weeks, and looking back at the whole body of work, if you put it all together we’ve made tremendous improvement as a football team. We played some very good football at a high level most of the time, and we won some very, very big games for the Trojan Family. And for that I’m very, very grateful for our football team and our coaching staff. We’re going to have a team meeting tomorrow.
"We’ll talk about academics and about getting on the right track. Obviously, we have to wait until next Sunday before they let us know what bowl we’ll go to, and we’ll make preparations accordingly.”
“I did not have a meeting with Pat at all today. I’ve been busy recruiting most of the day. I spoke to him briefly after the game last night … just a normal talk about the game. Nothing other than that.”
On whether he gets many questions from recruits about the uncertainty surrounding his status as USC’s interim head coach, and if so, how he approaches those questions:
“Not many questions. … I just talk to them about the game, I talk to them about what we’ve done the last eight weeks, and I talk about our whole body of work, and the type of energy and the style that they watched us play with for most of the time … where they would fit in within the recruiting class … just the normal positive recruiting stuff that we talk about here at USC. Very few do ask, [and] I say, ‘Listen, we don’t know what’s going to happen.’ I just continue to recruit and work on a daily basis as the head coach here until they make a decision.”
Has he been told by Haden when a meeting to discuss his status might happen?
“No, not yet. We just talked about going ahead with recruiting, go ahead and do what I need to do, and he’ll talk to me when he’s ready to.”
On what stands out about USC’s loss to UCLA that Orgeron wishes he could have changed or done differently:
“The field position hurt us a bunch. We gave up too many return yards in the kicking game. We felt like we started behind the eight ball in field position a whole bunch. Obviously we would do something to adjust that. The quarterback runs really hurt us. We did have a plan, [but] obviously we didn’t stop him, so we’d have to do something different against the quarterback runs. I thought [Brett] Hundley had an excellent game. There were some times where there were too many holes, and there were some things we could have done better, obviously. We did not tackle as well as we normally tackle. I thought that our run game would be a lot better … we struggled early in the run game, which really hurt us. And those are the things that we wish we could improve on.”
On the pre-game verbal altercation between the teams:
“That’s something that we didn’t like, and I addressed the team after that. That was something that had nothing to do with the football game, and obviously, if I could have avoided it I would have.”
On the status of offensive linemen Marcus Martin (knee) and Aundrey Walker (ankle):
“I believe Aundrey was operated on today, and everything came out fine. And that’s all I have today. I’ll talk to Russ [Romano] tomorrow and give you an update on the rest of the guys.”
On what’s next for the juniors who are considering leaving early and declaring for the NFL draft:
“We’ve had some preliminary talks with the juniors. We’ll have a meeting with them this week. I’ll have a meeting with the parents … and hopefully [they] go through the whole process. Most of those guys are willing to listen. I don’t know if any of them have totally made up their mind whether they’re going to go or not. I think they’re still in the decision-making process. We’re going to give them all of the information that they need so they can make a sound decision.”
Other than wide receiver Marqise Lee and safety Dion Bailey, what other juniors are in the mix to potentially leave early?
“I think you have to look at all of them. … They haven’t told me if they want to go, if they don’t want to go … we won’t leave any stone unturned. We will talk to all of the guys … George Uko, Josh Shaw, Marcus Martin, Aundrey [Walker]. All of the guys that are eligible to go, we’re going to make sure that we talk to them … Hayes Pullard. We don’t want to lose any of them, obviously.”
On whether Orgeron has ever been in the position he is now, recruiting for a program with no permanent head coach:
“I was here when Coach [Paul] Hackett was let go, and I was here for two weeks before they hired Pete Carroll. I was out on the road recruiting, and we didn’t have a head coach, and we just happened to sign one of the best recruiting classes we’ve ever had. One of them was Shaun Cody, another was Kenechi Udeze and another was Mike Patterson. That’s a pretty good recruiting class. Matt Leinart … those guys helped us win a championship. So, yeah, I’ve been in that position before. We know what to do.”
Or does it?
Haden has known and seen Orgeron up close and from a distance since Orgeron first arrived at USC as a defensive line coach under Paul Hackett in 1998. Haden is well aware of the defensive line successes of Orgeron, and his heavy contributions to the success of former USC coach Pete Carroll during his tenure. Haden is also well aware why late defensive line coach Marv Goux, a Trojans icon and once a mentor of Orgeron, was never seriously considered for the USC head coaching position when John McKay left for the NFL.
Although he spent time away from Troy as he pursued a broadcasting career in concert with his law responsibilities, it might also be said of Haden that nobody knows Orgeron like the Trojans' athletic director.
The Stanford victory is Orgeron's signature moment so far, and he's proven all that Haden needs to know about his qualifications.
Besides beating UCLA, what more can Orgeron to show he should be the Trojans' next permanent head coach?
Only Haden and perhaps his close associate J.K. McKay know, and it’s possible Haden will tell the nation the week following the UCLA game.
Recently, Haden gushed what an outstanding and “remarkable” job that Orgeron and his coaching staff have done in resurrecting the 2013 Trojans from its catatonic state. To be fair, Haden has gone out of his way to be overly complimentary, appreciative and respectful.
Because of Haden’s long USC association, the former Trojans star quarterback has a pretty good idea of Orgeron as a coach, leader and person. Obviously, Haden knows that Orgeron is a tremendously popular individual in all facets of USC life from the players, assistant coaches, parents, recruits, student body, general public and even Art Bartner’s band.
If this were an election of the collective people, Orgeron would win going away. But using our nation’s political voting system as an example, winning the popular vote isn’t the end-all. It’s all about the Electoral College.
Haden laid the groundwork for the culmination of this ongoing process by saying that his choice is not based on just an eight-game audition, but directing a storied program for many years to come. This was obviously a reference to the Orgeron situation.
What Haden is asking himself is does “O” have the leadership skills and, how does he really handle the responsibility if he actually gets the job?
Can he work with Orgeron and trust him once he names him the head coach?
Haden is probably pondering whether Orgeron is indeed the magic bullet for USC’s holster, or is he the failed former Ole Miss head coach?
Is he a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
The word used by most that meet and know Orgeron is that he is genuine, the real deal. A workingman’s man. He’s “one of us.”
Recently former Trojans head football coach Lane Kiffin said on local radio that Orgeron was the obvious next man for the Trojans coach, but added that how the “new” Orgeron is handling things as the interim head coach is not the natural Orgeron. Kiffin basically made it seem that Orgeron is simply a Carroll impressionist and that his former coach is doing things differently than who he really is because things weren’t working.
The amazing thing about Kiffin’s comment is that Orgeron has admitted publically that although he was Kiffin’s right-hand man and also took full responsibility for what had transpired during Kiffin’s tenure, he had to change things completely for the good of the team and the program.
And Orgeron’s change of direction and using Carroll blueprint has undeniably worked. Just ask the current Trojans players.
And that’s Haden’s dilemma.
Just who is the real Ed Orgeron?
Perhaps, Pat Haden already knows.
There are nine assistants whose livelihoods and potential family relocations might be at stake, pending the outcomes of the Colorado and UCLA games. It’s a tenuous position, as Trojans athletic director Pat Haden will soon make the difficult decision on the next USC head football coach, which will affect some, if not all, of the current assistants.
Be assured that Haden has empathy for Orgeron, his assistants, and their limbo status, as this coaching staff attempts to finish the regular season in spectacular fashion and state their case for further employment at USC.
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USC isn't part of the national title hunt, there are no Trojans in line for the Heisman Trophy, yet the resurgent play of the team and the ongoing story with Orgeron's push for the full-time coaching spot have made the Trojans -- as Brent Musberger said at the end of the Stanford game broadcast -- relevant again. The remark wasn't meant as a knock on the program. It has been pretty clear lately that the Trojans weren't a part of the national college football discussion, unless it involved jabs at Lane Kiffin.
You don't have to look any further than last Saturday, when the Coliseum crowd emptied onto the field, to understand how the fans feel about where things stand. It wasn't so much rushing the field to celebrate a big win -- although that was certainly the case -- it was to celebrate a return to being the Trojans again.
It's impossible to overstate just how important Saturday night was to the USC football program. To understand it, you have to look at the past four years of crippling NCAA sanctions and a coaching tenure under Kiffin that simply wasn't a good fit.
A funny thing happened along the way, however. At first it was the small things like cookies at training table. Then it was more substantial, such as turning over substitution patterns to the assistant coaches. One by one, the decisions Orgeron made were starting to pay off. The play of the team improved, the mood of the players went through the roof, and -- all of the sudden -- Orgeron had put himself in real consideration for the full-time job that seemed out of reach just a few weeks ago.
There still is debate among some USC fans as to whether Orgeron already has done enough to prove himself. At this point, the majority are in the camp that he has and that he should be named the full-time coach. There are still others who are wary, however, and who maintain that he would need to win out the remaining two games on the schedule or, that no matter what, he is not the right guy in the long term.
When the news came out Sunday that Haden recently had conducted an interview with Del Rio, it was the first confirmed report of an interview with any candidate. Although it was a bit of strange timing considering the glowing aftermath of the Stanford game, it was a reminder that Haden still has a choice to make. Granted, the actual interview took place on Nov. 1, before the Stanford game, so who knows where Haden's head is at right now. There is no need for him to rush the decision, but the time is drawing close, as the Trojans will want to have a full-time coach named in time for their first big recruiting weekend, scheduled for Dec. 13.
In the meantime, there is the matter of competing for a berth in the Pac-12 title game. As crazy as it may seem for this season, the Trojans still are alive for that possibility, although they do not control their own destiny. Arizona State is in the drivers seat and would need to lose its final two games against UCLA and Arizona for the Trojans to have a chance. USC also would need to win its final two games, of course, against Colorado and UCLA.
It would be great college football theater to have the USC-UCLA game Nov. 30 to have a spot in the title game on the line. It also would be one more opportunity for the Trojans to prove Brent Musberger right, and perhaps finalize its coaching search in the process.
We could try to quantify how much better USC is under Ed Orgeron the past six games compared to Lane Kiffin during the season's first five, but that really is pretty easy. We don't need numbers. We need only three words:
Everything is better.
USC is less sloppy. It's more disciplined. It's protecting the football. USC is playing better offense. It's even playing better defense, if you consider the schedule. It's better on special teams.
Obviously, USC is playing with far more passion. And you can't undersell this: Its players are having way more fun.
"We absolutely love him," USC quarterback Cody Kessler said after the 20-17 win over Stanford. "We'd run through a brick wall for him. He has that look in his eye that you can tell that when he talks to you he really does care. I gave him a hug after the game, and I don't know if he'd want me saying this, but I saw his eyes water up. It's awesome when you play with someone who has that same passion."
How can you dispute or diminish that? You can't.
But the question then becomes: Is that enough to hire him to be the next USC head coach? That is, reportedly, the $6 million question.
When you look at how USC is playing and the Trojans' 5-1 record since Orgeron took over, it's impossible to not give his candidacy legitimacy. Further, that already strong résumé will become measurably stronger if the Trojans win out, which would include a victory over highly ranked rival UCLA, and they would thereby finish the regular season with a 10-3 record and a high national ranking.
At that point, Orgeron would own the locker room and probably have significant momentum with the Trojans' fan base. That would make it difficult for athletic director Pat Haden not to hire him.
The expectation when Orgeron took over for Kiffin after a humiliating 62-41 loss at Arizona State was the Trojans would play better because the season-long hot-seat talk surrounding Kiffin would be over, thereby allowing players to breathe easier and play looser. That improved play, however, wasn't expected to include a 5-1 record and a win over Stanford, ending a four-game losing streak in the series.
In fact, the Pac-12 blog's expectation was the "Hire Coach O!" talk would end with losses to Stanford and UCLA. The Pac-12 blog was wrong, at least so far. Further, when the Pac-12 blog conceived of writing this column about USC's improvement under Orgeron, it expected to, after giving Coach O a tip of the cap, recommend against hiring him, no matter how the now seemingly charmed season ended.
Yet, after further review, there is not enough evidence to overturn the ruling in the stands and the locker room, at least if USC wins out and wins its bowl game.
The only advice the Pac-12 blog has for Haden, though, is this: Don't allow the emotions of the moment to overrule your long-term vision for this coaching hire. A serious evaluation of Orgeron should begin now, if it hasn't already, and there are myriad considerations besides his popularity among the players.
One doesn't have to look far for examples of internal promotions producing great results: Chris Petersen taking over for Dan Hawkins at Boise State, Chip Kelly taking over for Mike Bellotti at Oregon and David Shaw taking over for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. Although those three programs were already successful, you could make the case that USC's circumstances are similar because, well, it's USC.
The next USC coach isn't rebuilding a program. His job is to maximize the potential of a college football superpower, one that no longer will be yoked with NCAA sanctions after the 2014 recruiting class. Orgeron just might be able to do that.
Of course, we also have precedents that suggest that promoting from within or hiring an interim coach because of his initial success and support of the locker room doesn't always yield long-term success.
Larry Coker took over in Miami after Butch Davis bolted and won a national title in his first season. He went 35-3 his first three seasons, in fact, losing the national title game in Year 2 and winning the Orange Bowl in Year 3. But then things went south and, after a 7-6 season in 2006, he was fired. Coker was a strong short-term answer but not one for the long term.
As interim coach after Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan, Bill Stewart led West Virginia to a stunning upset of No. 3 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. But after three consecutive 9-4 seasons and an off-the-field controversy, he was pushed aside in favor of his head-coach-in-waiting, Dana Holgorsen.
We know what great college head coaches look like: Urban Meyer and Nick Saban top the list. I'd throw in Bill Snyder at Kansas State. But after them, there are no sure things. Petersen is not a sure thing because he has never been a head coach in an automatic-qualifying conference. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin has an impressive recent track record, but that track record in an AQ conference is only two years and includes one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football history.
The NFL guys such as Jon Gruden, Jeff Fisher and Jack Del Rio? Not sure things by a long shot.
So the risk of hiring Orgeron isn't that much greater. Sure, he went a dismal 10-25 at Ole Miss, but his thus-far-successful audition running the USC program provides a strong counter to that. He's not only learned from his mistakes; he's also coaching in an environment he knows how to navigate. It's also noteworthy that he's clearly motivated his assistant coaches to care about and focus on their present jobs instead of giving USC 60 percent while the other 40 percent pining about their future employment.
The apparent formula for an Orgeron administration would go like this: He plays the CEO and lets his coaches coach, which means Clay Helton runs the offense, Clancy Pendergast runs the defense and John Baxter runs the special teams. Orgeron leans on his strengths: motivation, chemistry, emotions and recruiting.
The big question would then be whether Orgeron can be consistently and obsessively detail-oriented as all good head coaches are. Can he maintain discipline and run a tight ship? Will he lead a recruiting effort based on insightful evaluation rather than star rating? Can he skillfully handle all the off-the-field responsibilities that head coaches deal with?
My guess is that Haden immediately realized after the Stanford game -- and not before -- that Orgeron deserved at least a raised eyebrow. Haden will be practically forced to make a more thorough evaluation of Orgeron if the Trojans beat UCLA.
"When you have a father figure like Coach O treating us all like sons and putting us under his arm, we want to run through a brick wall for him," linebacker Hayes Pullard said. "One team, one heartbeat, we wanted to carry that over. We wanted to show him that we are with him no matter what."
That's inspiring and meaningful. But there's more to being a head coach than getting your players to run through brick walls.
At this point, however, Orgeron is not only getting his guys to run through those brick walls, he's also getting them to hit the wall in the correct place and use good technique while doing so.
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Ed Orgeron, Andre Heidari and the football gods have conspired to make his decision for him. Barring a complete meltdown in Colorado or an uncharacteristic lopsided loss against UCLA, the USC athletic director has to remove the interim title from Orgeron and name him the Trojans’ new coach.
Heidari’s clutch 48-yard field goal in the pulsating 20-17 upset of fourth-ranked Stanford was the clincher. It released a torrent of USC emotion matched only by the thousands of giddy fans who stormed the floor of the Coliseum on Saturday night, making it look like New Year’s Eve in November.
It was an unabashed Orgeron love-fest. The fans love him. The student body loves him. The players love him. And maybe most importantly, all those star-struck recruits who were standing on the sidelines seemed ready to fall in love with him.
What has happened here is that Orgeron has ignited some kind of visceral reaction from USC supporters, exacerbated perhaps because he has become, in so many ways, the anti Lane Kiffin.
Orgeron doesn’t stand there impassively on the sidelines staring down at a laminated play card that looks more like a restaurant menu. He waves his arms and punches the air and wildly interacts with all the players. The same team that once reflected Kiffin’s introverted personality now has taken on Orgeron’s bounding, extroverted enthusiasm.
And the people who jammed the Coliseum for the first sellout in a couple of seasons love it. If they hadn’t fully embraced this large bear of a man with the Cajun accent before Saturday night, they certainly do now.
It’s impossible to not be won over by a coach who stared down at his own big decision, the biggest decision of his career, in the waning minutes of that game. USC had a fourth-and-two at the Stanford 48-yard line with 1:23 remaining, and Orgeron had to decide if he wanted to gamble.
The stakes couldn’t have been any higher. The game, the Trojans’ season and Orgeron’s future all hung in the balance. Would he try for the first down and play for the win in regulation, or punt and hope for a tie and overtime?
Orgeron went for it. Cody Kessler, who played his best game of the season, threw a dart to a limping, but courageous Marqise Lee for the first down that led to Heidari’s dramatic kick.
John McKay would have been proud. I remember a Rose Bowl game against Purdue when McKay went for a two-point conversion and missed, losing the game by one point. Asked about it afterwards, the Hall of Fame coach snapped: “I didn’t come here for a tie. I came to win.”
Same with Orgeron. How different was his bold gamble for the win compared to Kiffin’s reticent play-calling that led to a still hard-to-believe 10-7 loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 opener?
That’s why so many people have fallen for Coach O. He has brought old-fashioned USC football back. He wants to play the tough, physical style that made this program so unique under McKay, John Robinson and Pete Carroll. He might not have all the components yet, as you may have noticed as Stanford dominated the line of scrimmage most of the night, but he fully intends to get the kind of players to make it happen.
One thing that seems to have been forgotten through the early weeks of the USC coaching search is that Orgeron long has been recognized as one of the top recruiters in the country. And if he could carve out that kind of recruiting reputation as an assistant, there is no telling how good he could be as the head guy.
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On whether he needs to be humbled: “I don’t view myself that way. People that have worked with me, people around me and that know me, I don’t think people say that. I think that comes from people that don’t know me and that’s hard to control sometimes.”
On whether Oregon was exposed: “One of the things having this time off and watching media and watching things daily is it’s amazing to me how fast everybody changes based off of one game. Somebody said ‘Boy, Oregon is in trouble now.’ Wait a second, they lost one game. That’s not going to go away. Oregon’s offense is really special. They are really good. Look at the run they’ve had for years. Everybody is going to lose a game every once in a while.”[+] EnlargeChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesLane Kiffin says he's proud of how hard the Trojans are playing.
On whether the South (the region, not the division) has better players: “It does. There is more of them and you see it. If a team on the West Coast is going to be able to play with an SEC team in the national championship, on a continued basis, you can always have one year of a run, but to continue you have to go get players down there.”
On watching USC games now: “It’s honestly very different. I’m really proud of how hard they are playing. USC is basically two missed field goals away from being 9-1 right now and in the talk of maybe sneaking in the national championship because I think they are going to run the table here the last three games.”
On whether he has animosity toward USC: “No. Not at all. Obviously I didn’t want it to happen the way that it did. Wish I was still there. Loved the place. Love those coaches. Love those players. It’s different when you get fired at the end of the year and then you watch the team the next year because they have a new coaching staff and new recruits and they’ve changed all kinds of stuff. That’s still all the assistant coaches and all the players we hired and signed are doing it right now so you get a great deal of excitement when you see them doing as well as they are.”
On USC’s potential hire: “I don’t know where they are going. I would think Pat [Haden] would start pretty high up and go get a big name that would come in that would be a sexy hire. I would assume that would be the direction that he would start.”
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