Steve Sarkisian

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

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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.

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson wins the 2016 Heisman Trophy

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 22:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals signals a touchdown during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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It was his in September and it was his in December.

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson completed a storybook season on Saturday night in New York City to become the winner of the 82nd Heisman Trophy as college football’s most outstanding player.

Jackson’s numbers were simply overwhelming in 2016 and put him in a class of his own even if the Cardinals faltered a bit down the stretch in losing their final two games. The quarterback accounted for an ACC-record 51 touchdowns on the year and joined fellow Heisman winners Cam Newton and Tim Tebow as only the third player to throw for over 30 scores and run for another 20. In total, he found the end zone more than all but 38 FBS teams this season.

In addition to becoming the first Louisville player ever to win the award (and first finalist, period), Jackson is just the fourth sophomore to capture the honor and the 10th ACC player overall to win the Heisman. The signal-caller also becomes the youngest Heisman Trophy winner ever at 19 years and 337 days old, beating Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston by five days at the time of his win.

All told, he led the Cardinals to a 9-3 record and finished the season with 3,390 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions to go along with 1,538 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground.

Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, making the trip to the ceremony for the second straight season, finished as the runner-up. He was joined by fellow finalists Jabrill Peppers of Michigan and Oklahoma teammates Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook.

While all four had incredible seasons, none could come close to the eventual winner in Jackson, who threw, hurdled and stiff-armed his way to the trophy.

Former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham announces transfer to Auburn

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 21:  Jarrett Stidham #3 of the Baylor Bears scrambles with the ball against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the second quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham has traded ‘Sic ‘Em’ for ‘War Eagle.’

The highly prized quarterback recruit announced on Twitter Saturday evening that Auburn would be his next college destination. Stidham did start three games as a freshman for the Bears last year (12 touchdowns, 1,265 yards) but broke his ankle and missed the remainder of the season. He ended up leaving the program as a transfer over the summer following the firing of Art Briles in Waco and sat out all of 2016.

Stidham will have three years of eligibility remaining and provides a big boost to Gus Malzhan’s offense. The Tigers struggled at the quarterback position when starter Sean White was hurt and were mostly focused on running the ball when he was under center anyway.

Now with Stidham in the fold, Auburn could sport one of the more dangerous backfields in the SEC with the signal-caller providing a threat through the air to go along with tailbacks Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson.

Texas A&M and Florida were other schools reportedly in the mix to land Stidham but, in the end, he is headed to the Plains.

Army ends 14 game losing streak with turnover-filled victory over No. 25 Navy

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 10: Andrew McLean #58 of the Army Black Knights tackles Zach Abey #9 of the Navy Midshipmen in the first half at M&T Bank Stadium on December 10, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The streak is over.

After 14 consecutive losses, countless heartbreaks and some of the most amazing moments in college football on either side, Army finally chased away their demons and beat rival Navy 21-17 on Saturday night in Baltimore.

Turnovers were the hallmark in the game for both sides: a whopping seven combined, along with a handful of other close calls that nearly added to that total. Three of the first four drives in the game ended with a giveaway and a pair of fumbles in the third quarter by Army allowed their rivals to quickly get back into a game they had nearly given away early on.

It was still a rough first half for Navy starting quarterback Zach Abey, who was in the stands at this game last year and was the team’s third-stringer most of the season under center. However the signal-caller pressed into starting duty because of injuries picked things up after halftime and helped the Midshipmen storm back to take the lead in the fourth quarter with a 41 yard touchdown to cap a run of 17 straight points.

But Army would not be denied a victory, which included an appearance by President-elect Donald Trump in the stands and in the CBS broadcast booth. The team put together an 80 yard drive over 12 plays that featured a key 4th down conversion before Ahmad Bradshaw (51 yards rushing, one touchdown) plowed through the defense to find the end zone from nine yards out. That helped the Black Knights re-take the lead with just six minutes remaining.

Navy would go three-and-out on the next drive thanks to a big defensive stand and Army milked away the rest of the clock to secure a win that was their first in the series since 2001.

That set off a raucous celebration that included a field storming by hundreds of cadets and, no doubt, plenty of cheers from the armed forces around the world looking on.

Is this the year? Army jumps out to two-score halftime lead over No. 25 Navy

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 10: Army cadets take the field before the start of the Army Black Knights and Navy Midshipman game at M&T Bank Stadium on December 10, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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There are few traditions in college football quite like the annual Army-Navy game and the pageantry was in full force once again on Saturday afternoon from Baltimore.

Army kicked off the scoring for the third season in a row in this rivalry game after recovering a Navy fumble and marching right down the field with a 14 play, 66 yard drive that culminated in a touchdown.

While the early score was notable, turnovers dominated first quarter play with three of the first four drives from the teams ending in a giveaway. The quarterbacks combined to complete just a single pass to their own team all half but completed three to the opposing defenses in the form of three ugly interceptions. Army’s Xavier Moss forced the first fumble of the season from Navy fullback Shawn White for the first quarter’s other turnover as well.

Army’s triple option looked to be the superior attack for most of the half, with the Black Knights picking up six of their seven third downs and converting the other on fourth down. Andy Davidson punched it into the end zone both times and finished with 15 carries for 50 yards.

There’s still a lot of football left to be played but the best Army team in nearly a decade certainly is looking primed to end Navy’s long winning streak in convincing fashion based on how the first half went.