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.

3 TDs from Skyler Howard give WVU 21-10 halftime lead on TCU

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 24: Quarterback Skyler Howard #3 of the West Virginia Mountaineers throws a pass against the Brigham Young Cougars during the first half at FedExField on September 24, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Looking to prove they are every much worth respecting, West Virginia is off to a good start at home against TCU in Big 12 play this afternoon. The Mountaineers took advantage of a special teams mistake by TCU on the opening kickoff and now hold a 21-10 lead at halftime.

Deante Gray had the ball knocked out of his hands on TCU’s opening kickoff return. West Virginia recovered the loose ball and setup the offense from the TCU 17-yard line. Skyler Howard completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Daikiel Shorts on a third and short for an early 7-0 lead. TCU’s first offensive possession did not last long, with an interception by Rasul Douglas giving West Virginia a second straight offensive opportunity on TCU’s side of the field, but West Virginia missed a field goal on the possession.

Howard completed a second touchdown pass later with a 22-yard play to Shelton Gibson to put West Virginia up 14-0. TCU got on the board on the ensuing possession with a field goal at the end of an 11-play drive. After a three-and-out by the Mountaineers offense, TCU pulled even closer with a 12-play drive capped by a Kenny Hill touchdown pass to Jaelen Austin. West Virginia wasted little time rebuilding the lead with Howard’s third touchdown pass of the half, this time to Gary Jennings.

West Virginia’s Elijah Battle was ejected from the game in the second quarter following the latest in a long string of controversial targeting penalties around college football.

No. 6 Texas A&M scores late to cut into No. 1 Alabama’s lead at halftime

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 17:  Texas A&M Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin reacts during an NCAA college football game against the Auburn Tigers on September 17, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
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Alabama controlled the first half of play in their usual dominating fashion… right up until the final minute of the first half in their latest SEC West showdown.

Texas A&M cut into the Tide’s lead with an eight play, 80 yard touchdown drive just before halftime to head into the locker room down just 13-7 in a game much more lopsided than the score would indicate.

Prior to their final drive of the half, the Aggies couldn’t get much of anything going offensively and were averaging under three yards a play as Alabama’s defense dialed up the pressure and had several bone-rattling hits. Quarterback Trevor Knight made a huge run on 4th down as the clock was running out however to setup an eventual touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds that gave the visitors plenty of hope at the midway mark.

On the flip side, Crimson Tide left tackle Cam Robinson won most of his reps against Aggies star pass rusher Myles Garrett (who appeared banged up) in a marquee matchup for the dozens of NFL scouts on hand. Quarterback Jalen Hurts looked good running the ball and hitting intermediate throws but made a freshman mistake when tossing an interception right to linebacker Claude George during the second quarter to halt a drive.

While a nice development for the A&M defense on the play, they did lose a key player in Donovan Wilson as the result of targeting on the interception return and the Aggies offense promptly threw a pick on their first play after the turnover to give the ball right back.

Alabama had several other chances to extend their lead in this one during the first half but couldn’t quite take advantage thanks to some miscues that Nick Saban will no doubt be looking to correct in the locker room. Maybe the late score was just enough for Texas A&M to think they can make this a game in the second half but it should be a fun finish in Tuscaloosa either way for this top 10 matchup.

LOOK: Lamar Jackson strikes classic in-game Heisman pose

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 22:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals throws a pass 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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When we ultimately exit Week 8, Lamar Jackson will be far and away the favorite to take home the 2016 Heisman Trophy, and for good reason.

Jackson currently has 35 touchdowns in seven games. Entering Week 8, there were only 10 FBS teams with more touchdowns than the Louisville quarterback has all by himself. He’s already broken the school’s single-season touchdown record, and there are still five regular season games plus the postseason remaining.

In the romp over North Carolina State Saturday, Jackson accounted for five of those touchdowns, three passing and two rushing.  He also totaled 483 yards of offense, the fifth time this season he’s gone for 400-plus in a game.

The true sophomore — think about that for a moment, and then shudder if you’re a defensive coordinator on the U of L’s 2017 schedule — is on pace for a historical season, one for the ages that will be the stuff of lore for years to come. And, to that point, he’s now got a picture to go with it that’s worth much more than a thousand words.

Yeah, I’m thinking that photo will get some run, especially come mid-December

UCF still has no use for faux rivalry with UConn, walks off field without ‘Civil Conflict Trophy’

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Normally when one side wins a rivalry game, they can’t wait to get their hands on the traveling trophy and hoist it high as they head off the field.  Of course, in order, for there to be a rivalry, both sides have to agree that, well, there actually is a rivalry.

Last year, to the surprise — and chagrin — of UCF, UConn abruptly revealed that there were “just 130 days until the next Civil Conflict” with @UCF_Football!”  The university even had a trophy created for the rivalry.  All of that was news to the Knights as they stated at the time that they “have no involvement with the trophy or creating a rivalry game with UConn.”

Fast-forward nearly a year and a half, and the, ahem, Civil Conflict was back on as UCF traveled to East Hartford to tangle with UConn for the fourth meeting in a storied series that began in 2013.  Four quarters later, the Knights walked off the field with a 24-16 win… and without the trophy.

Oh, UConn, this is not a good look. This is just sad.  And embarrassing.  If you have any dignity or self-respect left, give it up already.