Steve Sarkisian, Pat Haden Have to Go For USC Football’s Sake


Last year Ohio State laid an egg at home against a bad Virginia Tech team and went on to run the table and win the National Championship. Steve Sarkisian and USC football won’t be doing anything similar any time soon.

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USC lost to a Stanford team at home that no one gave any credit to. Northwestern had beaten Stanford handily in week one. Hindsight is 20/20. Northwestern is 5-0, and arguably the best team in the Big Ten, a conference with a defending National Champion and five National Championship contenders.

The Trojans went into their Thursday night matchup against a down Washington squad in the Coliseum with high hopes coming off a blow out of ASU in Tempe. With a bye week to prepare for a bad Huskies team, it’s easy to think USC would be prepared for anything.

Spoiler Alert: They weren’t.

Not playing their best seems to be the pattern under Sarkisian, which makes one wonder if he just doesn’t get what it is to be the USC head football coach.

Washington came into the Coliseum as 17-point underdogs. They left with a 17-12 victory over USC.

Not to make any excuses for how badly the Trojans were coached on Thursday night, but here are some inconvenient truths.

Sarkisian left the Huskies for USC, and his former players wanted to make a statement against him and his new squad. The Trojans were obviously rusty after a bye week. It’s a Thursday game, which is something USC has no business being apart of. USC is coming off a big win and has a big rival coming up next in Notre Dame, so this game was trap material.

All of these items combine for a perfect storm. A lesser coach would call for a forecast of sunny days and better tomorrows, without addressing the massive hurricane that is hitting the shore.

“There are nights when you just don’t play your best,” Sarkisian said.

This seems to be the pattern under Sarkisian, which makes one wonder if he just doesn’t get what it is to be the USC head football coach.

Troy is in trouble. USC is out of the Top 25 and out of the playoff picture.

The irony of the loss is how eerily similar it was to the Washington State 10-7 loss in 2013. The Trojans offense could do nothing in that game, much like they did next to nothing on Thursday. The difference? Lane Kiffin couldn’t decide on Cody Kessler or Max Wittick at quarterback. Wittick now plays at Hawaii and Kessler is a fifth year senior at USC.

After the WSU loss, the Trojan fan base chanted “Fire Kiffin!” Two games later, the fans got their wish.

There were no chants of “Fire Sark” after the Washington loss. It’s starting to look like the Trojan faithful are getting used to subpar football.

Kessler did not play well, and was kept from the post game press conference. The stat god, now ex-Heisman trophy candidate, looked downright dumbfounded against the Huskies defense which is surprisingly ranked number one in the Pac 12.

Kessler was 16 of 29 for 156 yards and two interceptions. Kessler threw the ball away on several occasions, made forced decisions and also held onto the ball quite a bit, which lead to five sacks. The Huskies defense played extraordinarily well against the pass, to the point where it was like they knew everything Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Clay Helton had up their sleeve.

Kessler’s go to move is rolling to his right to find an open receiver. There were none to be found. In the pocket and under duress, Kessler has wilted throughout his career. The two UCLA losses come to mind. If he struggles against reading Washington’s defense, the chances of him making it at the next level are slim to none.

Oct 8, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian reacts in the second quarter against the Washington Huskies at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The one thing the Trojans did very well on offense was run the football. Tre Madden carried the load with 17 carries for 123 yards. Ronald Jones II provided a much needed spark in the fourth quarter which led to the only USC touchdown of the game.

Then, for some reason, the Trojans threw the ball on three consecutive plays on one drive and settled for a missed field goal on the final one. The Huskies would run out the clock with a first down and a touch of the knee, defeated by a true freshman quarterback who overthrew wide-open targets all evening.

“This game starts with me,” Sarkisian said. “The head coach has the responsibility to own up to it.”

It seems like Sarkisian has said that an awful lot in the year and a half he’s been the head coach. This seems more like political lip service than genuine appeal.

When asked about if he thought he was coaching for his job, Sark replied, “No, not at all.”

There in lies the rub. He is athletic director Pat Haden’s guy. As I mentioned in an article before the season, Haden has hitched his wagon to Sarkisian for better or worse.

Haden is a guy that has been successful his whole life. Haden was a Rhodes Scholar student athlete at USC who also happen to lead the team to a National Championship at the quarterback position. He’s also a successful businessman who had found a nifty side job calling play by play for the Notre Dame broadcasts at NBC.

How does a guy who has never failed deal with failure? More importantly, how does a guy who has never failed deal with being told he’s a failure?

USC isn’t built on sand volleyball or water polo National Championships. USC is built on success in the football program. Donor money is vital for a private institution, especially one as lucrative as USC.

President Max Nikias needs to step in now and do what is best for the university at large. Fire Pat Haden and Steve Sarkisian, as both have proved not to be equipped for the job at hand. Much like when Lane Kiffin was fired, the season is all but over and recruiting needs to take center stage.

This USC football program has lacked toughness since Carroll left. USC needs to find someone that can bring the Fight to back to Fight On! The next head coach needs to be defensive minded and more importantly a proven winner at a program of comparative pressure. Kiffin couldn’t deal with it and it’s apparent that his best friend Sarkisian can’t either.

Game over. It’s time for change.

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