USC is Steve Sarkisian’s dream job. It was also Ed Orgeron’s. And Lane Kiffin’s. And Pete Carroll’s. And so on and so forth.
According to Athlon Sports, that’s not just a cheesy saying-all-the-right-things type of remark, as they ranked the USC head football coach job as the No. 4 best in college football. Only Texas, Florida and Alabama ranked higher.
Their basic rationale for the ranking is simple enough: USC wins, has won often and recently, and has a hotbed of recruiting talent right in their backyard.
If you’re a West Coast guy, coaching the Trojans is as good as it gets. It’s the best job in the Pac-12 and you are in the most fertile recruiting area in the country.
It’s hard to argue with the simple logic, as USC is generally considered the best job in the west. Just ask Colin Cowherd. He’ll gladly tell you about it for hours. (OK, maybe skip that part and read War and Peace.)
Athlon‘s pros and cons of the job, however, are baffling. Quite honestly, they should be flip-flopped.
According to Athlon, it’s a pro that USC doesn’t live in the past and a con that UCLA looms as a threat within the city of Los Angeles.
“It doesn’t take much of a dip to lose your status as the No. 1 program in your own town,” says Athlon.
That isn’t really true.
While USC and UCLA have each had spells of being top dog in the city, it notoriously has taken a lot for the tide to turn in either direction.
USC owned much of the early years, and dominated the 60’s and 70’s with national championships to boot, while UCLA picked up steam in the 80’s, before winning eight-straight tilts in the 90’s and contending for a title in 1998. Despite winning the 1996 Rose Bowl, the Trojans were relatively abysmal in the 90’s, before bottoming out in 2000.
Since then, Pete Carroll began a long stretch of sustained USC control while UCLA struggled in the post-Terry Donahue era. It hasn’t been until recently that the Bruins have started to make noise under Jim Mora.
And even still, while UCLA dominated the 90’s on the field, it was USC that was continuing to land elite local talents like Keyshawn Johnson and the late Darrell Russell. Both of whom were taken in the top two overall picks of the NFL draft during the mid-1990s.
USC and UCLA’s rivalry has had little volatility in the last quarter century, when you compare it to in-state rivalries like Alabama-Auburn, and the three-way Sunshine state rivalry between Florida, Florida State and Miami. Both of those rivalries see schools target the same in-state and regional recruits and all five have won a national championship in the last dozen years.
Add in additional regional schools like Georgia, Clemson and LSU, there’s plenty of powerhouses recruiting the same high school players in a region that crosses state lines.
Meanwhile, co-city inhabitants USC and UCLA compete against each other for local recruits, but are far and away the top recruiting dogs in a somewhat geographically isolated but enormous metropolis that is the Southern California region.
When you consider that Southern California has 22 million people and the state of Alabama has a population of just five million, being in the city as opposed to across the state is entirely irrelevant.
For the pair of SoCal schools, that creates a regional advantage within their own conference, compared to the aforementioned cluster of multi-state southern schools who compete over an extended and similarly-populated, yet more football-crazed region.
So to suggest that UCLA’s proximity is the worst part of the USC job is a sure misfire. No one is going to turn down the USC job because UCLA sits 10 miles away. And inversely, no one is turning down UCLA because USC is right next door.
As for Athlon‘s pro that USC doesn’t live in the past? Again, off base.
Yes, USC has recent conquests to its name that Notre Dame and Michigan lack, but that doesn’t mean that the Trojans aren’t equally guilty of nostalgia.
If there’s been one major criticism of the USC athletic department of late, it is that they are undeniably living in the past, as they continuously try to re-create the Pete Carroll era rather than progressing forward on an original flight pattern.
The re-hiring of former assistants only further intensifies the expectations of a coach from boosters and alumni, who long for the re-creating past glory.
That results in an endless number of comparisons between Pete Carroll and Steve Sarkisian, which echo past USC family hires like John McKay’s biggest tree branch, John Robinson.
While the nostalgia strengthens the perception of the USC family and can be a draw for coaches to return, it’s without a doubt the biggest driver of stress and pressure. Just ask Lane Kiffin.
All in all, the bottom line is that USC can be the best job in college football, and should and will always be a top five or ten job. Just not for some of the reasons Athlon stated.