Pat Haden hired Steve Sarkisian to be the coach that took USC to the next level. Haden must have been impressed that Sarkisian was able to turn an 0-12 Washington squad into a winning one in just two seasons.
Haden was willing to gamble on hiring him despite the fact that Sarkisian had taken Washington from bad to good, he had never taken the Huskies from good to great. And it hasn’t panned out.
A Steve Sarkisian-coached team will generally be good more often than not, just because of the amount of talent he’s able to recruit and commit to him. His shortcomings as a coach in-game, however, are why his teams will never be great.
Yes, USC has already lost three times as a double digit point-favorite in the 16 games Sarkisian has coached. The Trojans also lost three times as double digit point favorites in 43 games under Lane Kiffin. But I’d prefer to use an in-game example of how poor of a coach Sarkisian is.
USC had the ball back down 41-31 with 2:27 left in the game and two timeouts. Despite multiple passes inbounds that were stopped before the first down marker, Sarkisian elected to not use either of his timeouts.
Seriously. Sarkisian ended the game with both timeouts in his pocket.
After a Darreus Rogers 21-yard catch put USC at Stanford’s 23-yard line, USC had the opportunity to go the field goal. Since it was a twopossession game, USC knew it needed to both recover an onside kick and successfully kick a field goal eventually.
Maybe Sarkisian didn’t trust his kicker, but as USC ran more plays and precious seconds ticked off the clock, it became painfully obvious that the Trojans needed to go for a field goal sooner rather than later.
Instead, Sarkisian waited to go for it on 4th and 13 with 14 seconds left in the game, giving USC zero chance to win.
Mar 3, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian at spring practice at Cromwell Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Make no mistake, USC was outcoached for most of the game. In its past three second halves against Pac-12 opponents, a clear test to see how coaches have adjusted, USC has been outscored 52-23.
Don’t even get me started on Justin Wilcox. Stanford scoring only seven fewer points on Saturday night compared to its previous three games against USC is mortifying.
As USCFootball.com’s Dan Weber mentioned, the only time Andrew Luck met that point total in three contests against the Trojans, he needed three overtimes.
But in the end, a lot of the blame should fall on the head coach. And the amount of ineptitude on that final drive should tell you everything you need to know about Sarkisian as an in-game coach.
The scary part is, the reason why Steve Sarkisian relinquished his play calling duties to offensive coordinator Clay Helton was so that he could focus more on other aspects during the game.
You can argue that one of Sarkisian’s biggest strengths, his recruiting ability, is one of the biggest reasons for his demise. Despite two unbelievable recruiting classes, Sarkisian has been unable to turn that into even a three-game winning streak during his time at USC.
Ever since his first two seasons, Sarkisian’s teams have never reached its full potential for an entire season. What makes you think that one of his teams will ever exceed that potential by winning a national championship?
One Sarkisian quote that has stuck with me came last season after USC beat Notre Dame.
“Inevitably, your football team, in my opinion, takes on the personality of the head coach,” he said.
That is the central problem with USC under Sarkisian. Under Pete Carroll, the Trojans adopted his incredible passion. Currently at UCLA, the Bruins are as tough as nails under Jim Mora.
Before the season, Sarkisian said that he wanted his team to be a bully. USC has been a bully under him, but only against bad teams. Against good ones, the Trojans often play soft and underachieve. And for many college football fans, ‘underachieve’ is the first word they think of when they hear “Steve Sarkisian.”
USC’s season isn’t over yet. It’s just that its margin of error is now incredibly slim. And after last night, more people will not have faith that Sarkisian can escape the end of the regular season at Oregon and vs. UCLA, unscathed.
Also, now next week at Arizona State is a must-win game. A scary thought, considering how USC has struggled in the past playing in the desert.
Pat Haden waited too long to pull the plug on Lane Kiffin. Given that Sarkisian’s hire was the biggest move he has made during his time as USC athletic director, I don’t think he would fire Sarkisian after this season.
But in today’s college football, keeping an inept head coach for too long can set a major program back big time. Just look at Michigan and Florida. Steve Sarkisian is not the right coach to lead USC to the next level, and hopefully at this point, he won’t revert USC even further into the abyss of mediocrity.
USC vs. Stanford Recap Podcast:
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