Dec 3, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Steve Sarkisian at press conference to announce his hiring as Southern California Trojans football coach at John McKay Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC Football: Does Sarkisian’s Record Reflect His Ceiling or Washington’s?

Dec 3, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Steve Sarkisian at a press conference to announce his hiring as Southern California Trojans football coach at John McKay Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When Pat Haden hired Steve Sarkisian on Monday, the former-Washington man’s record as a head coach became one of the most cited objections by angry USC fans.

The big question is this: Does Sarkisian’s record reflect his ceiling or Washington’s?

Here’s what we know. Sarkisian’s record of 34-29 in five years at Washington gives him a 54% win rate as a head coach.

Compare that to the 88.5% of Boise State’s Chris Petersen or the 70% of Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Sarkisian’s record looks rather pale.

Luckily for Sarkisian, looking deeper at his record exonerates him in some ways.

Of the Huskies’ 29 losses during his tenure, 24 came against opponents with a winning record. Taking it a step further, 17 of those 24 were also ranked when they took the field.

To put it simply, when Sarkisian loses games, he tends to lose to worthy opposition. While he averages a single loss to a sub-.500 team each season, his teams don’t generally lose to teams they shouldn’t lose to.

On the flip side of that, he does not have a great record of beating the top teams he faces. Over five years as a head coach, he can claim just four wins over ranked teams.

Part of that is related to the division Washington finds itself in. Since conference realignment in 2011, the Huskies have competed with Oregon and Stanford in the north. Sarkisian was 1-5 against those teams in that term.

Washington's record over the past ten seasons. Sarkisian took over in 2009.

Washington’s record over the past ten seasons. Sarkisian took over in 2009.

Of course there’s the small issue of what Washington was when he took over even before that realigment.

Winless in the season directly preceding his arrival in 2009, the Huskies won 12 total games in the five seasons prior. The best record posted in that time, 5-7 in 2006, is the same record Sarkisian achieved in his first season. That also happens to be his worst record as the Husky head coach.

Since then, Washington has undergone a steady transformation from Pac-12 basement dweller to reliably middle-of-the-road.

With the task of reforming an underperforming roster, Sarkisian posted identical 7-6 records in 2010 and 2011.

The highlight of 2010 was knocking off the #20 Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Holiday Bowl. However, 2011 featured losses to every ranked team they faced and a less than stellar finish — the Huskies lost four of their last five games.

Sarkisian’s 2012 team upset #7 Stanford but still finished 7-6, a tiring record for Washington fans.

This season improvement has come, but again in small ways. With a record of 8-4, the Huskies are having their best season since 2001. That is due, in part, to Sarkisian’s decision to change the offensive scheme, a change he will also be bringing to USC.

Like his overall record, the eight wins and four losses of Sarkisian’s 2013 team can be interpreted both positively and negatively.

In the positive corner, Washington’s only losses have come against ranked opposition. In those games, the Huskies challenged Stanford but fell by three points, were blown out by Oregon and Arizona State, then lost to UCLA by ten.

In the negative corner, Washington only boasts two wins against teams with winning records and they cannot claim a single victory over a ranked team this year.

The fact is, without being able to quantify the exact difference between Los Angeles and Seattle, in terms of talent, schedule, and sheer luck, there’s no way to figure out if Sarkisian’s Washington record will translate in either positive or negative ways.

We’ll have to wait and find out.

Tags: Football Steve Sarkisian USC Trojans

  • Michael Castillo

    “You’re such a Sark apologist!”

    But seriously, I think you make some good points. What it comes down to is that Sark has done his job without the consistency of big wins. Beat SC twice and Stanford, but other than that, there wasn’t consistency. Now, I like think that UW was on a sharper upward trajectory. They looked like a totally different team this year and appeared to be turning a corner under Sark. If Sark stays in UW, I think they might win 10 games next season, even with the losses on offense of Sankey(probably gone), Price and ASJ.

    That said, he’s going to have to find a way to consistently beat his rivals at USC, given how crucial UCLA and Stanford are to winning the Pac-12, and the value that boosters place on Notre Dame.

    • Ben Factor

      I don’t think Alicia would have hired him. He’s here.

      It COULD be worse. He’s personable; Kiffin wasn’t. He is modernizing the offense; Kiffin didn’t.

      He has every reason to want to succeed, and Haden has every reason to support his efforts.

      The sanctions are ending.

      He’ll get his three years, or whatever. He’ll either become a hot commodity soon to leave for the NFL, a mediocrity, or something in between.

  • goneshootin

    First, until 2 years ago, UW never played lower division teams. So, Sark picked up a ‘free’ win each of the past 2 seasons.

    Second, all of his UW recruiting classes were in the top 25, some closer to the top 10.

    Third, Sark taking over an 0-12 team is a myth in terms of talent. 9 or 10 players off that team are in the NFL today, including starters like Jake Locker, Donald Butler, and others.

    Fact is, Sark definitely underachieved at UW. And the tide of the fan base, booseters and recruits had definitely turned this year. And look at his conference record, which is really what matters most. He simply did not, and could not, compete with the upper-and-top tier teams. And his road record was abysmal.

    All in all, I can’t believe how well this has turned out for UW.

    I definitely appreciate the effort Sark put in at UW, and wish him well at USC. But I’ll take Petersen over Sark from here until eternity.

  • GoJoeBruinUCLA

    That spin…

    Look, Washington lost those games because they were out-coached. I’m sorry, but Sefarian-Jenkins, Price, and Sankey are all elite-level talents. The offensive line was workable and the defense was improving under Wilcox. Yet they lost to those good teams that you mentioned — UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State — by an average of over 15 points.

    Here’s what I didn’t see: Any elaboration on “Washington’s ceiling.” You mentioned it in the title and in the post. By saying that, though, you’ve implied that the talent he had wasn’t worthy of of more than eight wins this year, that the talent at his disposal wasn’t worthy of more than seven wins the year before that. Yet that team has managed to earn top-25 classes in the past four years, comparable to USC’s recruiting classes, which is also comparable to UCLA’s recruiting classes (actually, Bruins skipped an appearance in the top-25 recruiting rankings in 2011 yet here they are, 3-0 against both squads and earning 18 wins compared to USC’s 16 and Washington’s 15 over the span of two years, but that’s not the point). And let’s not forget that he was about a loss to WSU away from getting fired from Washington before the Trojans had a chance to give him a call.

    I’m going to go back to Petersen here, because I think that’s the dichotomy that’s being held as the primary divide. People talk about Sark being the right hire for recruiting purposes but holy hell, this is USC. It’s not hard to recruit there. Since “team rankings” ever became a thing in recruiting, USC hasn’t missed out on the top-25 once. Petersen recruited well for what he had at Boise, and so why do we pretend that you *have* to have good connections in LA in order to recruit well at USC?

    Then people talk about X’s and O’s – that Petersen coached at the MWC level and that the Pac-12 isn’t the same; that Utah came in as a mid-major powerhouse and faltered. Bit of a news flash here: Petersen isn’t porting over his entire squad from Boise and bringing them to Los Angeles. He’s inheriting a top-20 class in 2013, a top-15 class from 2012, and yet another top-15 class from 2011.

    Personality-wise? Who cares? You wanna know what kind of personality meshes well with Los Angeles media? Any personality that’s attached to a higher number in the “W” column. No one complained about Kiffin’s thorny personality when he won 10 games. Instead, everyone lauded his personality as an “IDGAF, bro” type of deal. When he lost, he all of a sudden became an isolated, awkward human.

    Look, coaches aren’t a guaranteed thing, but let’s not pretend like Sark was the better hire. Whether he’s the better coach is a different judgment call and one that we’ll know about as soon as the end of next year. Mora was a bad hire and his success as a coach doesn’t match that. (Although the jury’s still out on him; I’ll get back to you on what I think of him in 2 years.) The questions are different.