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.

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.