USC Football: Trojans Reportedly Want Sarkisian, But Should They?

Nov. 23, 2012; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian looks on against the Washington State Cougars during the second half at Martin Stadium. The Cougars would go onto beat the Huskies by a final score of 31-28 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN’s Paul Finebaum revealed on Brock Huard’s ESPN Radio Seattle show today that, according to his sources, Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian is USC’s number one target for the vacant head coaching position.

Ignoring the he-said-that-he-said-that-anonymous-people-said nature of this report and doubts that Sarkisian would leave the program he’s building in the first place, let’s take a look at the potential hire.

Sarkisian was listed as having 8/1 odds when Vegas oddsmaker Bovada weighed in on the subject. Reign Of Troy’s own media straw poll of potential coaching hires saw him rank sixth.

Sark, as he’s been known, has obvious ties to USC. Not only did he play ball for the Trojans (albeit baseball), he coached in the golden age under Pete Carroll, running the offense for two seasons with general success. When he was hired away by Washington in December 2008, it was generally believed that either he or Lane Kiffin might be the heir apparent should Pete Carroll make his widely rumored jump to the NFL.

As we now know, it was Kiffin who eventually took up the mantel when that day came. Meanwhile, Sarkisian remained at Washington, never quite succeeding but always showing enough potential to keep the Huskies interesting.

Which is precisely why Haden should look at Sarkisian and hear instant alarm bells.

In four seasons up in Seattle, Sarkisan has posted the following records: 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6. He has gone to three bowl games and emerged with a victory just once.

To be fair, he has recruited very well, finishing in the top 30 of Yahoo! Sports rankings every year during his tenure. But then, Lane Kiffin was a great recruiter too.

With success in recruiting and W-L records that are just good enough to avoid being called bad, Sarkisian has lived off of the “potential” label for most of his career as a head coach. This season he has his Huskies an impressive 4-1, but four of those wins came against an overrated Boise State, Illinois, FCS Idaho State, and the same Arizona team that USC just dominated. Their one loss to Stanford is far from a bad loss, but it epitomizes what the problem with Sarkisian is — it was a loss that spoke of potential, but not results.

That’s not to say the Sark couldn’t succeed at USC. The question is whether he should be choice number one. If he is, Pat Haden’s idea of a coaching search is surprisingly unimaginitive.

Topics: Pat Haden, Steve Sarkisian, USC Trojans

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  • http://fansided.com/ Michael Castillo

    I know his record hasn’t been stellar at UW, but I don’t think he’s a bad coach or option by any stretch of the imagination, and he’s a good that SC should be looking at.

    He’s both progressive and traditional in his offensive mentality, he recruits, staffs well and knows what he’s in for at SC when it comes to media and the circus that comes with that.

    In all honesty, he should have been the guy to get the job after Carroll, but he had just started at UW and wasn’t really an option because of that. It didn’t stop Kiffin from leaving Tennessee, but Sark’s been a really loyal guy everywhere he’s gone.

    He’s proven that he can recruit SoCal, he’d likely bring Tosh Lupoi and he has had a working relationship with Ed Orgeron before. Justin Wilcox is due for a head coach promotion, so say you promote Lupoi to a DC which he’s been wanting. Then you have Coach O as the recruiting coordinator and DL coach.

    Offensively, Sark, unlike Kiffin, has shown the ability to adapt his offense to his players and hasn’t had been overly infatuated with boosting player stats like Kiffin always has. Look back at when he was an OC at SC. His gameplans for Sanchez were different than they were for Booty and he was an excellent play caller.

    With the great hires that he’s been able to pull in like Lupoi and Wilcox, I think it’d be safe to assume he’d make a solid OC hire, whether he would bring Eric Kiesau or not.

    Going back to his record, a lot of his issues at UW have been out of his control, IMO. Outside of the SEC West, it’s the most competitive division in CFB, so playing Stanford and Oregon every year has given him fits. Put him in the Pac-12 South and UW probably has two division titles right now.

    Plus, look at how difficult the OOC slate has been at UW. Since taking over, he’s 0-2 vs. LSU (can’t blame him for that), 1-2 vs. Nebraska including a bowl win, a loss to Baylor in that crazy shootout with RGIII, and a loss at BYU. He’s lost four games to unranked teams in four years.

    So yeah, he hasn’t won 10 games, but he’s also never been able to put together a cohesive team until this year. The 2011 team had a dynamic offense with Price and Polk, but that defense was awful. He responded by firing Nick Holt and hiring Wilcox and Lupoi to boost defensive coaching and recruiting. It’s paid dividends big time so far. Last year, their defense was worlds better but Price had confidence issues and his turnovers led directly to losses against SC and Washington State. UW should have won those games.

    Do I think Sark is *the guy*? I don’t know. But he’s worthy of being a top five candidate in my mind, and there really isn’t any reason why Haden shouldn’t pursue him. His record isn’t exactly indicative of his performance as a head coach.

    • http://fansided.com/ Michael Castillo

      Sorry. That was much longer than I anticipated.

      • Alicia de Artola

        Haha, I’m tempted to have you delete it and just post it as it’s own counter point article. That’s a novel there ;)

        • http://fansided.com/ Michael Castillo

          Ha! I thought that after I saw the length. One of these days, I’ll write a Bark for Sark article, with that as the outline.

    • Alicia de Artola

      My more serious answer: All your points are very well taken. My concern is that there are significantly better options out there than Sark. Essentially, I think hiring him would be akin to the hiring of Kiffin. Not in the sense that he’d alienate the media, lose the team and flame out. More in the sense that it’s the same formula: former assistant, strong recruiter, but resume consisting of near-victories and potential. Down the line I think he’d be a fine option to pursue, but as the #1 guy on the list I’m not convinced.

      • http://fansided.com/ Michael Castillo

        I can agree with that. Here’s more qualified guys like Petersen, Patterson, Sumlin. While there’s obvious comparisons to Kiffin, I think Sark is Kiffin 2.0, in a good way. He was always the better OC, the better personality and the better coach in terms of getting his players to buy in. But you’re right in that he’s definitely in the same vein.

        Ironically though, it was because of Sark that Kiffin ousted the media and stopped reporting injuries. But…Sark is good with the media otherwise and that bought him good will. I think that had Kiffin been charismatic with the media or just more personable, he could have kicked out media and shut down injury talk without a fuss. Look at Daryl Sutter with the Kings. He’s hush hush when it comes to injuries just as bad as Kiffin, if not worse. But he’s personable, gives good quotes, makes the media laugh and is likeable, so it’s not its own storyline, even though Terry Murray before him allowed stuff like line combinations and injuries to be reported. With Kiffin, It’s just that he became passive aggressive towards the media and the media saw right through that.

        So a guy like Sark or Petersen who have shut everything down in terms of the media, can stil have a good rapport with the media, I feel, because of their personalities, reputation and history.

      • Ben Factor

        Slightly different take, but same conclusion. The point is to conduct a methodical search. No shortcuts, no allegiance to the past in terms of system or previous USC connection. Now, if you solicit Saban or equivalant, and he wants the job, that’s different. Other than that, use a strong process, and the result is more likely to be strong.

  • jesse rodriguez

    Personally, I think Sark is a great coach. The issue is, we need to get away from that Carroll coaching tree. Which brings me to CEO. I can see a scenario in which he is kept for another year until the sanctions are over. Anything outside of that, he’d have to run the table the rest of this year, and get to a BCS bowl game to stay past nexr year. Jusr my opinion, Fight On.

    • http://fansided.com/ Michael Castillo

      I could see that. At that point, maybe you can see if Sumlin is really tempted by the NFL or not, or the opposite to be true with Chip Kelly, as his show cause ends in Dec. 2014.

      • jesse rodriguez

        I don’t see Sumlin leaving A&M. It’s a great school, with awesome recruiting and it’s the SEC. He already beat Alabama. Chip Kelly is an option, but I think he does enough with the eagles to stay in the NFL.

  • steveg

    Not now, not ever. Sark is at home in Washington. Lets please go in a different direction. Hiring Sark would be more of the same old thing minus Pete Carroll. Haden can do much better, and must do much better or his job will be in jepardy.

  • GoJoeBruinUCLA

    1) Awful move for USC. You guys *just* got finished hiring someone who’s had 7-6 success and was given a job based on potential as a head coach (potential determined by his head coaching, ironically). If you’re going after a high-potential HC, go after a solid assistant, not a head coach.

    2) Awful move for Sark. Sark can earn as many top-tier recruits as USC and UCLA can. The one thing going for him is that the Pac-12 South is relatively easier to take control of, with only UCLA in the way.

  • jesse rodriguez

    After tonight, you guys still want Sark as HC?

    • http://fansided.com/ Michael Castillo

      I don’t “want” Sark, I just don’t think he’s a bad option like some people. And there wasn’t nothing about UW’s performance that was a knock on Sark today. They played Oregon tougher than anyone but Stanford over Oregon’s last 20 or so games.

      • jesse rodriguez

        Okay, if we are going to hold coaches accountable, then lets hold all of them to the sane standard. I want the same thing everyone in Trojanland wants. A winning coach. A coach that can be a head coach and recruit well. Sarkisian should be no where on the USC coaching search list! No more Pete Carroll coaching tree assistants! Fight On!

        • http://fansided.com/ Michael Castillo

          Oregon has lost once in 23 months and it came in OT after a missed FG. Washington wasn’t expected to win that game at all, heck the Vegas line was two touchdowns. Kiffin on the other hand, was favored to win a lot of the 7 games that he lost in his last 11, and should have won many of those. Sark winning today would have been a major upset, so you can’t hold him to that same standard in this instance. If they lose next week or finish with 7 wins, then by all means. But today didn’t prove that Sark was better or worse than yesterday.

          And I agree about the Carroll tree. USC needs new blood. They need to go into a different direction. USC shouldn’t be too proud to modernize.

          • jesse rodriguez

            Good point sir! Fight On!

  • Matthew Moreno

    I don’t understand why so many people are opposed to Pete Carroll assistants.

    Yes, Lane Kiffin had his shortcomings but Ed Orgeron is a proven commodity. Sarkisian may not be the best candidate, but he certainly isn’t the worst. I think discrediting him based off of being a Carroll assistant is premature.

    For you NBA fans, the feelings towards Carroll’s assistants is similar to that of Phil Jackson’s. They’re viewed as taboo or something.

    • http://fansided.com/ Michael Castillo

      I think new, fresh thinking would be a good thing. I don’t have a vendetta against them, Sark being a perfect example of a good candidate but not a great candidate. That said, Orgeron isn’t a proven commodity. He’s a proven recruiter both as an assistant and a HC, but he was awful at Ole Miss when it came to being a head coach. I think he’ll do better this go around than at Ole Miss, but it’s important that fans don’t rush to judgement on Coach O. Interims always look good in relation to their predecessors, case and point: Bob Cantu. That doesn’t qualify them for the job.

      As a Cubs fan, Mike Quade comes to mind as a perfect example. He took over for Lou Piniella in 2010, and the team rallied in last 40 games or so. The players loved him and fawned over him, which in turn bought in the fans and front office. He got the permanent job going into 2011 was easily the worst manage the Cubs have had in forever. He was terrible, making poor decision after poor decision and he lost the team. So you gotta be sure and not fall in love with the high of being in a regime.

      That said, I think Orgeron *can* prove himself if he rights the ship, wins 3 of the 4 rivalry games and gets to a good bowl. But it’s too early to tell and it’ll be determined on how he does it.

      • Matthew Moreno

        Fair point. I didn’t mean to imply Orgeron is a proven head coach, because he isn’t. But, like you said, he could get there.

        I’m just getting the sense former Carroll assistants are looked at as incompetent (not just as head coaches) and I don’t believe that to be true.

  • usc fan

    Look Sark will be USC next football coach. reason #1. he just bought a house in Torrance. r#2. his wife is now living in Torrance#3 sharks family has a rich tradition with west high school. Sark is a relative of the Peterson family. Plus hadden has already asked him. if Sark turns it down it will be the biggest misstake of his life. plus Sark late best friends family is from Torrance. and he promised him he would look after them. his friend was up in Washington before he passed. that’s why Sark took Washington job. sorrysark. I let the cat out off the bag. we love you. fight on Sark.