Sarkisian Leave Has USC Football Program in Turmoil Yet Again


The USC football team will face arch-rival Notre Dame with a fourth different head coach in four years for the first time in program history. This comes after Steve Sarkisian was asked to take a leave of absence by athletic director Pat Haden, in order to seek treatment stemming from August’s Salute to Troy incident.

RELATED: 13 Most Horrifying Moments in USC Football History

For a program with so much going for them with unlimited resources, capital, exposure and talent, the Trojans just can’t seem to get out of their own way.

And while alcoholism is a very real disease and one that Sarkisian may be laboring with, you can’t help but wonder how much of this could have been avoided.

The Salute to Troy incident in which the coach reportedly addressed the crowd while inebriated, sparked various discussions of how it would affect both him as a person and the football team as a result.

From calls for his abrupt firing to those sympathizing with the potential of Sarkisian struggling with alcoholism as a disease, the net was cast wide.

But things returned to normal once Sarkisian addressed the media and the team got a couple of wins under their belt. It all kind of went away.

Haden had made his decision to stick by Sarkisian’s side, while the coach himself said he was unsure if he needed help.

That was all only in appearance however, as a little more than a month later, the hubbub at USC has flared up more than ever before. And now comes the criticisms of whether or not it could have been prevented, given the hindsight.

Had Haden acted with the stern swiftness that Sarkisian detractors called for before the season, he wouldn’t have had to deal with his re-commitment blowing up in his face weeks later.

Although we’ll never know how things would have unfolded differently had that been the case.

Would USC’s football season have taken a hit or a boost? What would happen to the welfare of Sarkisian if he didn’t have a job to report to everyday? It’s an tangled mess of convoluted uncertainty.

Mar 12, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Southern California Trojans athletic director Pat Haden during the first half against the Colorado Buffaloes in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena. The Buffaloes defeated the Trojans 59-56. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The program that made headlines and punchlines over the firing of Lane Kiffin two years ago is now not only dealing with the fact that head coach has gone on a mandated leave of absence, but the on-field product is just as much of a disarray as it was then, with Sarkisian being a part of that.

Despite the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, the Trojans stand with an identical record as they did for Kiffin’s sacking. They have a 3-2 overall record, and are just 1-2 in Pac-12 play.

With three incredibly difficult games coming up at No. 14 Notre Dame, home vs. No. 4 Utah and then at No. 23 Cal, the season was already at a fork in the road.

Without Sarkisian and with heaps of drama, the Trojans now must make that climb bogged down by distraction. A distraction that can ultimately deemed internal.

Only, one could argue that USC is in a position all too familiar and therefore won’t be as rattled they should be.

That they could be unfazed is not only an awkward positive, but an indictment of just how chaotic the landscape has been since Pete Carroll left for the NFL in that time.

They’ve had to deal with NCAA sanctions, the Todd McNair case, Kiffin’s firing, Ed Orgeron’s bailing, Josh Shaw’s false heroism, Bryce Dixon’s on-going student conduct issue and now repeated fits of Sarkisian being Sarkisian.

It’s not ideal experience, but alas, it’s a wealth of turmoil for interim head coach Clay Helton to deal with.

“We’ll take the same approach the last time we did this,” Helton said on Sunday. “It’s all about the kids and it’s all about the Trojan family. That is it.”

It’s a simple motto. And if it can be carried out, maybe the ship can be righted as it was in 2013 when they found a way to win 10 games.

Either way however, USC just needs to find a sense of calm. The constant distractions, upheavals and utter chaos just isn’t doing anyone any favors.

This is the last line of credit available for Pat Haden as USC’s athletic director. Can his legacy, much less the season, be salvaged?

More from Reign of Troy