USC Football: Whirlwind Week in Troy Sums Up Past Three Years


USC football’s whirlwind week with a second loss to Stanford, coaching changes and developments on a pair of lawsuits is a reflection of Pat Haden’s leadership.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Heritage Hall, a Sarknado hits campus. I’m getting a little ahead of myself, so lets start from the beginning.

A little over a week ago, USC was celebrating a victory over Jim Mora’s UCLA, and subsequently the school’s first Pac 12 South Division Championship. Two days later, USC removed the interim tag from Clay Helton’s title, and he was announced as the new head coach.

Fans have been split on both the decision to hire Helton and the timing of the hire, fearing the kids wouldn’t stay motivated. For the under-fire Pat Haden, who apparently was being hidden and protected by the Trojan Knights post-Notre Dame, it was yet another questionable decision.

The Trojans were underdogs heading into their first Pac 12 Championship game, having already lost to Stanford earlier in the season. The outcome was far worse, as USC was yet again completely outmatched at the line of scrimmage and outgunned by the display of Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey, who accounted for 461 all-purpose yards. Needless to say, he almost single handedly won the Pac 12 Championship by himself.

Changes to the coaching staff were imminent and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox was at the top of the list. His scheme wasn’t working, to the point where Helton demanded more pressure and one-on-one play. Wilcox leaves being best known for allowing Arizona State a victory in the Coliseum when it was clear that everyone on defense was confused during a Hail Mary play. He was also known for being overly emotional, and that hit its breaking point during the Pac 12 title game when he was so loud in the coaches box the media next door could hear him.

Following Wilcox out the door were the non-pressure creating defensive line coach Chris Wilson, the non-shut down defensive backs coach Keith Heyward and the non-pocket protecting offensive lines coach Bob Connelly. Also, Helton fired himself as play caller and will be looking for a new offensive coordinator. These are the first great decisions of what will hopefully be many more for Coach Helton.

Sep 12, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian on the sideline against the Idaho Vandals at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Embarrassed in defeat and accepting yet another lackluster trip to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, the Trojans received a message from an old friend. An old, very bitter friend in Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian was fired back in October after he was found inebriated during a meeting. Of course, that’s the short end of it. According to Sarkisian he was only hungover, and USC didn’t allow him the opportunity to work out his condition, which should be considered a disability. Sarkisian recognizes that he is an alcoholic after a stint in rehab and he believes that he is owed a certain amount of compensation, as USC has ruined his reputation permanently.

As they say, it takes two to tango. Enter Sarkisian dance partner Pat Haden. Haden hired the man and claimed ignorance when it was found out that Sarkisian had a drinking problem. At the infamous Salute to Troy event, Haden told Sarkisian to shape up. He didn’t. Haden said Sarkisian was to go on leave and repair his issues with drugs and alcohol. The next day, whether he was pressured to do so or not, Haden fired Sarkisian through a relative after leaving a voice mail.

Haden fired Kiffin at LAX four games into the season. Haden didn’t hire Orgeron when everyone was led to believe, in their own mind at least, he was going to. Haden spent $1 million to find the new guy, and wound up hiring an old one with a drinking problem in Sarkisian. Haden hired Helton right after good news and before bad news would effect public perception.

There are two kinds of quarterbacks. There’s the quarterback who steps up in the pocket and delivers the ball downfield when he knows he’s going to get hit. Then there are those that try to avoid getting hit and somehow still get sacked. Cody Kessler and Pat Haden apparently have a lot in common.

USC will fight Sarkisian and in all likelihood settle out of court. It’s fair to say USC doesn’t want any further distractions, something that has become a regular occurrence since the NCAA laid down the hammer.

Speaking of which, Reggie Bush was honored during the Pac 12 title game for making the All-Century team. During pregame he visited with USC players. It was a pleasant sight, and hopefully a sign of things to come thanks to Todd McNair’s victory over the NCAA in court. This will hopefully bring about a return of Bush to campus, the return of his Heisman, the return of the national championship trophy and of course the return of financial losses due to the unreasonable and unfounded sanctions.

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That brings us back to Haden, whose greatest sin while AD was not pressing hard enough against the NCAA. If a jilted assistant coach can bring down the “mighty” NCAA, what could USC have accomplished? If Penn State, a school that might as well be called the Vatican, can make the NCAA back down, surely USC could do the same.

Haden is a member of the board of trustees at USC and seemingly has the mightiest of Trojans and president Max Nikias in his back pocket. He has many in the media coming to his behest because of personal relationships. Haden wasn’t seen publicly for months. If there is a reason to stay at home, perhaps there is a reason to resign.

This week has summed up the past three years for the USC football program, which has been an absolute circus, and Haden is the one selling tickets.