Nov 29, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian greets Washington Huskies running back Bishop Sankey (25) following a touchdown against the Washington State Cougars during the fourth quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Sarkisian Was A Better Hire For USC Than Chris Petersen

Aug 31, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian (left) and Boise State Broncos head coach Chris Peterson (right) shake hands after the game between the Washington Huskies and the Boise State Broncos at Husky Stadium. Washington defeated Boise State 38-6. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Stop. Take a breath and listen for just a minute.

There will be time for furious ranting about how Pat Haden screwed up and Washington won the day later.

Just listen.

Steve Sarkisian may not have Chris Petersen’s record. He definitely doesn’t have Petersen’s BCS wins.

But he is the better fit for the USC Trojans.

That statement may seem far-fetched on the surface, but you don’t make a coaching hire based on surface data. You look deeper and you find the criteria you value most.

Petersen is a great coach. There is no arguing that fact. However, his .885 win percentage isn’t reason enough to disregard all the factors that go into determining compatibility with a school.

Start with on the field consideration.

Playing in the WAC and Mountain West, Petersen has never had to deal with the preparation necessary to compete with top-level talent nearly every week. He has proven that he can beat big teams when the time comes. However, there is still real doubt that those singular wins could translate to the rigorous Pac-12 slate.

For reference, the average strength of schedule Petersen had to contend with at Boise State was -3.43. By comparison, Sarkisian’s Washington faced an average of 5.46, just slightly below the Trojans average of 5.58 under Lane Kiffin.

Sarkisian can also point to a familiarity with the Trojan’s opposition week to week and an understanding of the conference’s particular challenges.

The offensive style had to come into play during Haden’s decision-making process as well.

USC runs a pro-style offense. That’s the way it is. USC’s roster was recruiting to run the pro-style and the school itself is ties to that tradition.

Petersen’s offense is, for lack of a better description, a spread variant of the west coast offense. It is a dynamic offense, but a clear and drastic departure from the Trojans’ style.

Sarkisian has assured USC that he will run a pro-style, albeit one that introduces some spread wrinkles, most notably a no-huddle pace.

That means the Trojans can get the best of both worlds, a base offense that suits their roster and tradition, while not being restricted in terms of mixing things up.

The transition from the offense Lane Kiffin to the one Sarkisian proposes won’t come overnight, but in the meantime Sarkisian has enough experience running a more traditional pro-set that he can fall back on that if need be. On the other hand, Petersen’s offense would require significantly more growing pains to install.

More importantly, Sarkisian’s offense is run-first, a fact that plays right into USC’s current and historic strengths, especially with running backs like Tre Madden, Buck Allen and Justin Davis returning next season. Sarkisian need only point to the success of Bishop Sankey, who is second in the nation in rushing yards.

Then there’s recruiting.

Sarkisian already has a wealth of connections to high school football in Southern California. He also has a great deal of experience with the level of recruits that the Trojans routinely pull in from around the country.

Petersen cannot say the same.

In eight years as a head coach, Petersen has secured the commitment of just one four-star recruit. In 2013 alone, Sarkisian and his staff compiled seven recruits of that level.

Finally, there is personality, perhaps a superficial trait, but an important one in the Los Angeles media market.

Just ask Lane Kiffin what getting on the bad side of the LA media can do for you.

Sarkisian is a people person. He thrives when dealing with media and boosters alike. He says the right things and generally knows how to play ball.

Petersen falls on the Kiffin side of the spectrum. It’s not that he’s unlikable, it’s that he has no interest in the game off the field.

Petersen has no time for boosters and detests media hoopla. His quiet nature is more suited to the Pacific Northwest than the bright lights of Hollywood and all its demands.

What’s more, if you believe certain reports, Petersen agreed that USC and Los Angeles were not the right place for him.

None of this means that Petersen couldn’t have found success at USC or that Sarkisian is a sure-fire winner.

There is no way to tell. And that’s the problem.

Every hire is a gamble. There is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to selecting a coach. You just have to pile up the cards in your favor.

That’s what Haden did by picking Sarkisian. He weighed the criteria and went with his gut.

Tags: Chris Petersen Football Pat Haden Steve Sarkisian USC Trojans

  • mlpjunior


    • TrojanChuck

      oh big counterpoint there. come on, do better and stop being passive aggressive. the argument can surely be made that pete was better. do it. it’s not that hard.

      • mlpjunior


  • GoJoeBruinUCLA


    • TrojanChuck

      hey I don’t think sark was a better hire than petersen but she made an argument and I respect her for that. she put some thought into it and made an argument.she went out on a limb and put her name next to it. that effort is worth something but like your ridiculous lmao. either have a say or dont. dont be a dick, bRuin.

      • GoJoeBruinUCLA


  • Ben Factor

    Alicia, I’m not sure if this story was assigned, or your chose it. If you chose it, I can’t imagine why. If it was assigned, I retract my comment that follows.

    Peterson would likely not like the media fishbowl. How he would act, and what he would do was uncertain. This is undeniable.

    The fact that Peterson’s offense would require greater changes from current players is pretty irrelevant.

    The assertion that Peterson wouldn’t recruit top players well seems unsupported. I suppose that he didn’t do it at BSU, so it’s more of an unknown. But it seems like top recruits didn’t want to play in a minor conference, or in Boise itself. At USC, those issues would not exist.

    So Peterson was entering a world of major media and major players in which he had not proven himself.

    On the other hand, consider the world in which Sark had not proven HIMSELF: the world of excellence in coaching achievement.

    Which of those worlds do you think presents the greater challenge?

    • goneshootin

      I agree completely.

      And here argue is shot down when you consider there are 20 – TWENTY – BSU players on NFL rosters, today. And I don’t know if any of the 20 are the single 4 star recruit Pertersen landed.

      This means he’s put 20 1-3 star players into the league. Good God, how many would he send from USC with that talent pool and his record of player development.

      • Ben Factor

        I didn’t even know those NFL stats. Wow!

        I added a response above to an earlier dialogue with Alicia. I have been a defender of Pat Haden. I was wrong; he’s not terribly competent. My mistaken assessment of Haden was among that one-third of the time that I am wrong. Mea culpa.

        • goneshootin

          I’m actually a UW grad and season ticket holder. The reality is, there was A LOT – I mean, a lot – of heat on Sark this year. It was split as to whether the fan base even wanted him back, with a slight lean to the no side. And with his 0-3 skid in the middle of the season, which he had in each of his 5 seasons, it was possible they might have let him go if he didn’t get to 8 wins.

          Frankly, I can’t believe how well this has turned out for UW. Honestly, and that’s not a shot against Sark. But I’d make this trade 100 times out of 100, without even thinking about.

          Sark is a very strong recruiter at the skill positions. And he’s innovative on offense. Makes good half time adjustments.

          However, his flaws FAR out weight his strengths. His teams were CONSTANTLY undisciplined. Led all of FBS with 10+ penalties per game. His teams often came out flat (look at the number of blowouts in each of the 5 seasons). He’d get lost during games trying to balance head coaching duties with offensive play calling. He’d get stuck in one mode of play calling and not change. Most importantly, he didn’t really lead. He was more like a buddy to the players. They call him “Sark”. Not even “Coach Sark”. What the heck is that, especially in college?

          Fact is, he’s FAR BETTER suited to be a coordinator and a lead recruiter than a head coach. The details, and developing other coaches and his players, escape him

          But I wish him well. He always seemed genuine, passionate and honest… until the very end. And USC is his dream job.

          Just can’t believe USC paid him that much. He would have went for what he was making at UW.

          • Ben Factor

            I googled and couldn’t find his salary at USC.

            This business of the HC calling plays is not for many. How many still do it?

            This article seemed flabby, so I wrote about Peterson, but I’m not ready to say he was the ideal choice for USC. The coach has to want to be in L.A., and it’s not for everyone.

            I think that Haden’s job was to find someone who, first and foremost, showed signs of excellence. Orgeron’s success gave Haden a fortuitous fallback position if the stars didn’t align on his search. After the UCLA game, Haden could have presented any buyout term whatsoever to Orgeron, and Orgeron would have accepted it, and come back in 2014.

            Orgeron can recruit, too.

            What was the big hurry to sign a coach who hadn’t shown signs of excellence?

            It seems dumb, plain and simple. Every statement made about the hire makes Haden seem less organized and strategic. He had a list of desired qualities. What wasn’t on the list was:

            I need a guy who is not well-rounded and balanced. He is truly driven. He drives his players with very high standards, teaching the fine points of becoming excellent, working on weaknesses, and doing their job consistently. He surrounds himself with assistant coaches who are at least as smart as he is, solicits their best thinking, and drives them hard. He constantly scours for problems anywhere, and gets immersed in solving them with his coaches. Things seem organized, from strategy to execution. Certain issues outside of football may require my involvement, or that of my successor, but I can live with that, by hiring a few extra people in my office. What I can’t live with is less than stellar football work, because my boosters, university donors, and ticket buyers just won’t put up with it for long. This is L.A., and it’s not easy here.

            But that’s what HAD to be on the list.

  • Ben Factor

    Responding to a your reply to me the other day:

    1. I don’t equate Vanderbilt and UW, so I don’t equate Franklin and Sark. Vanderbilt is a perennial doormat in the SEC. UW was down, but not a perennial doormat. I don’t know much about Franklin. Haden never interviewed him. I don’t understand that.

    2. Sumlin showed excellence before A&M, when he coached at Houston. It’s not clear to me that he wasn’t just using USC for an extension and a raise, because he declined to interview until after the season ended, and he then signed the extension and canceled. But that’s another matter. He has shown much more ability than Sark has shown.

    3. Plus, he never interviewed a precocious coach from a low level program, or a stunning assistant coach of any kind.

    4. But most importantly, if you think that there were no coaches for hire who were “special”, do you think Haden made the right strategic decision to commit long-term to Sark when he could have hire Coach O with a cheap buyout, and saved his ammo for more propitious moment if Coach O didn’t work out?

    5. What I now think of Haden is that he’s not much of a forward-thinking strategist, he’s overly risk averse at the cost of really pursuing excellence, and he is learning on the job while he earns among the highest salaries of all ADs. He’s a nice guy. He means well. But the Rhodes Scholarship notwithstanding, HE’S not “special” at his job, and that’s too bad for USC.

    If Sark is a home run, please feel free to tell me to publicly state I was all wrong. I think I’m wrong about a third of the time, so I’m accustomed to the taste of crow. :)

  • Jack B

    Good analysis Alicia. I favored Petersen but Sarkisian could turn out better. Or he could not. Each guy has their downside and both have a lot to prove. Hopefully, Sark brings in a superior staff and a stupendous o-line coach. If he does that, recruiting and winning over his team will all come into place.

  • RandomLeprechaun

    I mean, it was absolutely the right hire because Petersen said he wouldn’t coach USC. When the hot girl turns you down, her ugly sister starts looking a lot better!

  • Kevin is Nice

    He will go 8-4 as usual and TROJAN nation will have a cow over it. Sark has tried 5 times at UW to get into a BCS bowl and has failed every time. What makes you think coaching USC will be different. He will be 9-3 next yr at best. Oregon UCLA and STANFORD will be his losses