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.

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

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.