On Sunday, Steve Sarkisian came to campus for meetings and practice. He wasn’t alone. He brought his demons with him. Pat Haden is now battling them with him.
Steve Sarkisian the public persona knew what rhetoric to spill and which buttons to push. Steve Sarkisian the person is finding it more difficult to navigate troubled waters.
The USC head coaching job is arguably the most demanding job in all of college football. It’s a private institution that needs donor dollars to thrive and has been built on many years of success. A lot is asked and a lot is expected.
Sarkisian was hired to replace his best friend Lane Kiffin in hopes that he would bring some of the Carroll era stability with him, thanks in large part to similar schemes and his ability to recruit in southern California. Instead, Athletic Director Pat Haden acquired a ticking time bomb.
Sarkisian wasn’t the first choice of many. When you add an incident like this, you add gasoline to an already existing fire. Now, all of Troy is on fire, and for that you can thank Pat Haden.
There have been many red flags in year two of Sark’s USC tenure, including but not limited to his bewilderment as to what went wrong against Washington. The most glaring red flag came at Salute To Troy, a booster banquet and one of the biggest events of the year for the football program. It was later reported that Sarkisian had mixed pills with alcohol before giving his drunken speech on stage, making an embarrassment of himself, the football team and the university at large.
Sarkisian wasn’t the first choice of many alumni and financial backers to the program. When you add an incident like this, you add gasoline to an already existing fire. Now, all of Troy is on fire, and for that you can thank Pat Haden.
Haden was brought in to try to right a sinking ship. The NCAA hammer came down hard, and former athletic director Mike Garrett had to go. Haden was a USC guy, a national championship winning quarterback, a Rhode Scholar and a savvy investor. On paper, could anyone be more qualified? Here we are five years later and USC football has become a mediocre product. Haden would tell you it’s the sanctions, but the NCAA didn’t appoint Sarkisian for USC, Haden did. Once again, on paper, Sark makes sense. In reality, paper burns, and Haden spent a million dollars to a firm to try and find a new head coach, only to decide on someone that was already in mind.
Sarkisian arrived to campus on Sunday intoxicated. In August, he said he wasn’t sure if he had a problem. Now USC officials are sure of it, including Haden. Sark has been asked to go on an indefinite leave so he can get his addiction in check, and Clay Helton will yet again be asked to coach the Trojans on an interim level. Helton is 1-0 with the victory coming over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl back in 2013.
Oct 4, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans athletic director Pat Haden before the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Haden’s track record in regards to the football program is not a good one. Haden fired Lane Kiffin at LAX after a blow out loss on the road, four games into the season. Despite players and fans pleas, Haden didn’t keep Ed Orgeron or hire a significant replacement. Instead, he hired Steve Sarkisian, the mediocre Washington head coach who happened to be best friends with the previous head coach. Haden came to Sark’s aid in dealing with Pac 12 officials during a game, who lets face it, get calls wrong all the time.
Now, in what is another odd bit of timing, Haden has committed his biggest sin. He either tried to cover up Sark’s problems or he didn’t take them seriously. Either way, that’s not an athletic director looking out for what’s best for the student athlete. That’s an athletic director who is trying to put out a PR fire and ultimately save his own reputation.
As mentioned on Friday after the USC loss to Washington, Haden and Sarkisian are both to blame for this season and should both be fired. It’s difficult to fire an alcoholic in need of treatment, but there’s no way Sarkisian will be on the sidelines next season. The new head coach search is underway effective immediately, and given the instability created by Haden, top recruits are now jumping to other programs.
The season has seven games remaining, including matchups against Notre Dame, Utah, Cal and UCLA. It will be very interesting to see how Helton does against legitimate opponents in games that still matter. USC could go on a miracle run like the one in 2013, or the Trojans could legitimately be looking at missing out on any bowl game.
Best of luck to Sark in his rehabilitation and hoping he can land on his feet elsewhere, as he is still beloved within the administration. Unfortunately, being able to spot the right ingredients doesn’t make you the right cook, and the same can be said for Haden.
If a quarterback holds onto the ball too long he gets sacked. One wonders if Haden can hear the footsteps. The clock is ticking and the hot seat is now reserved for him.
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