Steve Sarkisian

USC clings to its past, passes on big names to hire yet another former assistant


Sam Barry, Jeff Cravath, Jess Hill, Don Clark, John McKay, John Robinson, Ted Tollner, Paul Hackett, Lane Kiffin.

And now, as of Monday: Steve Sarkisian.

What do all these names have in common?

They were all USC assistant coaches at one time before being hired as the school’s head football coach. They comprise 11 of USC’s past 13 coaching hires for football, all coming since legendary head coach Howard Jones’ final season in 1940.

Barry, Cravath, Hill and Clark were hired to bring back the glory of the Jones era at USC, when the Trojans won four national titles between 1925 and 1940.

Robinson, Tollner and Hackett were supposed to continue the success that McKay (and then Robinson) had between 1962 and 1978, when the Trojans again won four national titles. Robinson was rehired in the early 1990s in an attempt to recreate his own earlier success.

Kiffin and now Sarkisian have been tasked with reviving the Pete Carroll era, when USC won two AP national titles and seven-straight Pac-10 championships.

You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. USC is nothing if not consistent when it comes to hiring its coaches. Despite the fact that, outside of McKay, this hiring strategy has been an abject failure, Trojan athletic directors continue to Fight On by clinging to the past.

Again and again.

This time around, it was supposed to be different. USC’s athletic director, Pat Haden, has a reputation for being a critical thinker with an open mind.  However, rather than doing a serious national search and then offering the head coaching job to a coach like Chris Petersen (two-time national coach of the year, 92-12 lifetime record), Kevin Sumlin (proven offensive guru with success at two different schools), Art Briles (offensive innovator who has Baylor in the top 10), James Franklin (first coach to lead Vanderbilt to three-straight bowl games) or about a dozen other quality college head coaches around the country, Haden decided to take the lazy route.

He didn’t offer the job to anyone else.

He hired Sarkisian.

“(Sarkisian) embodies many of the qualities for which we looked,” Haden said on Monday. “He is an innovative coach who recruits well and develops players. He is a proven and successful leader. He connects with people. He has energy and passion. He knows how to build a program and create a culture that we value. He is committed to academic success and rules compliance. And he understands the heritage and tradition of USC.”

The final sentence of Haden is bolded because this, in the end, is what is most important to many USC people. Not winning. Not championships. But the ability to ‘fit in’ at USC.

Want proof? USC’s last four coaches (including Sarkisian) had coaching records of 13-20-1, 33-31, 12-21 and 34-29 when hired. That’s as many combined wins as Petersen has in his eight seasons at Boise State (92) and more than eight times the number of losses. None of the four were being sought out by any other major program. Sarkisian is the only current Pac-12 head coach who has never won nine games in a season.

Still, USC came calling.

That’s because the track record doesn’t matter. Sarkisian was a coach at USC for seven years. He knows the fight song. He knows how to make a ‘victory’ sign with his hand. He is chummy with the boosters and former players who know him from his past time at the school.

That’s the important stuff to USC, not qualifications or whether Sarkisian has the discernible ability to bring championships to an elite program. Hiring a coach based on hope and ‘gut’ is the modus operandi.

Will Sarkisian win some games at USC? Sure.  He’ll have some good seasons. Almost any semi-competent coach can do so at this school — see Kiffin’s 10-2 season in 2011.

The issue, though, is that USC is selling itself short by hiring Sarkisian. This is a blue-blood football school with resources, tradition and easy access to elite talent. Put those tools in the hands of an elite coach and you will get elite results. By hiring a coach without the proven ability to get those results, the Trojans have blown yet another opportunity.

Some will say that USC couldn’t get an elite coach, that names like Petersen and Sumlin wouldn’t have come.

But Haden didn’t offer them the job. He wanted Sarkisian all along, because that’s what USC athletic directors do: They hire former USC football assistants to be head coaches, even if they aren’t qualified to coach at USC.

This is one tradition that USC could do without.

Bud Foster says he is too invested in Virginia Tech to leave Hokies

Bud Foster

For years there was a thought that Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster would one day be the successor to longtime head coach Frank Beamer. With Beamer announcing his decision to retire at the end of the season, there was never any word about Foster being handed the keys to the program. Instead, Virginia Tech has found a coach with an offensive identity in the hiring of Justin Fuente from Memphis. Given the way coaching changes can tend to go, nobody would have blamed Foster for being a tad miffed at not getting the job in Blacksburg, but he will remain the defensive coordinator of the Hokies as a key member of Fuente’s new staff. He says he has put in too much work to leave now.

“I’m rooted in here. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this place,” Foster said Monday. “It wasn’t hard. I wouldn’t have stayed here for as long as I’ve had if I didn’t feel like we had the opportunity to win at the highest level. I feel that more than ever right now.”

Fuente being able to keep Foster on the staff is a huge advantage. Foster not only ensures Fuente will have a dependable coach managing the defense, which should remain one of the top defensive units in the ACC as long as he stays put. Keeping Foster on the staff also allows for some tremendous stability during the transition, which can always be key when a coach with no previous ties to the university takes over a program. Foster can help Fuente get acclimated to his new surroundings and also keep valuable recruiting ties alive and well during the change.

Foster acknowledged he would love to one day be a head coach, and that dream will continue, but for now he is more interested in contributing at Virginia Tech.

“I always wanted to be a head coach. This would be a dream job. I’m happy with where I am. I’ll never be bitter. I won’t cry myself to sleep wishing “what-ifs” and they type of thing. My goal is to be the best football coach I can possibly be. I want to help this program be the best football program it can possibly be.”

Maryland wasting no time getting in touch with Mark Richt

Mark Richt

On Monday morning Georgia head coach Mark Richt said he was absolutely going to continue coaching even though his days at Georgia are coming to an end. If that is the case, Maryland would like to make that a reality for Richt.

According to a report from Inside MD Sports, Maryland has made first contact with Richt and a meeting could come as soon as tomorrow. Maryland is looking to fill a head coaching vacancy after firing Randy Edsall during the season. Richt will not be the only potential candidate to interview for the Maryland job. The Washington Post reported Monday interim head coach Mike Locksley was also given a chance to interview for the job on a permanent basis. That interview was reportedly set to happen Monday.

It would make sense for Maryland to make a call to Richt. With Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank looking to help build the Maryland program, there are sufficient funds to make a splashy hire for the program, which is showing signs of a well-structured future with plans to improve the football program. The Maryland job has some good potential in the long-term and competes in the same division as some tough opponents. That would include at least two coaches Richt is very familiar with; Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Penn State’s James Franklin. Richt faced Meyer when the Buckeyes head coach was at Florida, and Franklin of course coached at Vanderbilt. All three were in the same SEC East Division down south. Could they be reunited in the Big Ten East in 2016?

Whatever the case may be, if Maryland can land Richt as its next head coach, it would be a tremendous hire for the Terrapins. Heck, he already has the attire for it.

Unlike Missouri, 5-7 Nebraska will jump at opportunity to go bowling

Cethan Carter

Nebraska will be first in line to accept a bowl invitation when it arrives in the mail, despite going 5-7 this season. The Huskers, who are first in line among 5-7 candidates based on APR scores, will reportedly accept a bowl invitation to fill the first vacancy left to fill once all bowl-eligible teams are slotted into the postseason mix.

Missouri released a statement earlier today saying it will not accept a bowl invitation following a 5-7 season. The Tigers would have been the second team among 5-7 teams to receive a bowl invitation based on APR scores. According to a report by Brett McMurphy of, Kansas State would be next in line, followed by Minnesota, San Jose State, Illinois and Rice.

Missouri and Nebraska would appear to have different agendas of course. Nebraska is coming off the first season under new head coach Mike Riley, while Missouri is in the midst of a full coaching search. The decision not to go to a bowl game allows Missouri’s coaching staff in place under the now retired Gary Pinkel to pursue new opportunities without having bowl preparations get in the way.

Maryland sack master Yannick Ngakoue entering NFL Draft

Yannick Ngakoue, Christian Hackenberg

Maryland will have a new head coach in 2016. Whoever that head coach ends up being will have to find a way to replace one of Maryland’s best players. Defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue says he will skip his final year of eligibility with the Terrapins and declare for the 2016 NFL Draft.

Ngakoue was the second in the Big Ten with 13.0 sacks this season, trailing only Penn State defensive lineman Carl Nassib. Ngakoue’s sack total is a Maryland school record and was one of the few reasons for optimism for Maryland’s dreadful football season, which ended with just three wins.