Four years ago, USC was going through a transition phase within the football program. Coaching promotions had exhausted the Pete Carroll coaching tree and left the Trojans with Carroll and a rag-tag bunch of misfits. And to make matters worse, it was common knowledge that sanctions were on the way.
It all placed the writing on the wall for Carroll to take notice that he had a slim opportunity to get out before a potential implosion, as if the 55-21 loss to Stanford wasn’t enough.
And of course he did just that, forcing then-athletic director Mike Garrett to make one of the most talked about coaching hires of the 21st century. Although perhaps not for the right reasons.
Garrett, with a brief shortlist and a late start at replacing a legend, made Lane Kiffin the ultimate impulse hire. The promise of a getting-the-boys-back-together staff with Ed Orgeron, Kennedy Polamalu and Norm Chow sold Garrett, and Trojans opted for hiring a coach with baggage. Kiffin wound up falling upwards, into his third head coaching job in three years.
The right guy for the job was Steve Sarkisian.
At the time, he had bingo’d the Trojans’ wishlist of criteria.
Sark was a Carroll disciple. A Chow pupil. He was from Southern California and the guy players, boosters and fans could resonate with and adored.
But most importantly, Sarkisian was who the college football world anointed to be the next elite head coach. He was trending upward and labeled as a ‘can’t miss’. He was essentially what James Franklin is today, only without quite as much experience.
Except one little problem. Sarkisian hadn’t waited out Pete Carroll at USC long enough and was already one year into his head coaching tenure at Washington.
So while his résumé already included a win over a Top 5 Carroll-coached USC team, unlike Kiffin, Sarkisian didn’t have the gall to break off his commitment in Seattle. He played it true and respect was earned that way, while Kiffin’s image was publicly slain for a second time.
In terms of the getting his dream job at USC, Sark was simply in the wrong place at the right time.
Now, four years later and the Trojans seemingly on the mend from sanctions, Sarkisian got his chance to come home and he couldn’t afford to wait longer.
Times have changed and the shine has worn off Sarkisian a bit. He may not be the slam dunk hire that he was once considered to be. And that made it all the more important for Sarkisian to strike while the iron was hot and leave Seattle following his best season.
Ironically, Jim Mora now finds himself in a similar situation at UCLA, eyeing Washington. Is it the right time for him? We’ll find out.