USC Football: Steve Sarkisian Shows He’s Not Another Lane Kiffin


In the midst of the drama that surrounded Steve Sarkisian last weekend, the Lane Kiffin comparisons became inevitable. Now that is has been revealed that Sarkisian will allow offensive coordinator Clay Helton to handle play calling this season, such comparisons seem a lot less apt.

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One of Kiffin’s greatest sins as the USC head coach was stubbornness.

He stubbornly refused to name Cody Kessler the starting quarterback even though it was clear he had won the job over Max Wittek well before it was officially turned over to him.

He persisted with play calling duties despite a dismal 2012, undeterred by loud calls during the 2013 offseason for him to focus on the team as a whole rather than just the offense. 

Sarkisian got through one season at USC before similar questions arose.

Play calling ability was called into question as USC lost tight games to Arizona State and Utah, then got blown out of the water by UCLA.

Sep 28, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; USC Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin during the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Between a frustratingly inconsistent offense and off-the-field distractions marring his tenure as head coach, Sarkisian has certainly seemed in danger of following in his predecessor’s footsteps.

Now, he can at least point to one major difference in the stubbornness department because it only took him one season to realize that being a head coach is more important than being an offensive coordinator.

With a willingness to change the way he and his staff operate, Sarkisian has already shown greater self-awareness than Kiffin did in the same position.

At Pac-12 media day prior to the 2013 season, Kiffin stood fast in his role: “After doing a lot of evaluating, I think it’s in the best interest of our program for me to continue calling plays.”

He was fired almost exactly two months later. Ultimately, it was Helton who called plays for the majority of that season, helping the Trojans win seven of the nine remaining contests.

By contrast, Sarkisian had something different to say about his offseason evaluations.

“I want to focus on being a really good head coach,” Sarkisian said of the decision making process to give Helton greater responsibilities. “At the end of every year you self-analyze. I look at myself first and I look at our offense. I look at our defense.

“I just felt like we’ll be a better team for it.”

Obviously that is not all that is necessary for Sarkisian to secure his place at USC for years to come, but it is a definite start. More importantly, it is a sign that things could be different this time around with this head coach.

As Sarkisian said: “Only time will tell.”

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