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

Steve Sarkisian AP

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.

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32 Responses to “USC clings to its past, passes on big names to hire yet another former assistant”
  1. MyTeamsAllStink says: Dec 2, 2013 8:08 PM

    enjoy those Las Vegas Bowls Trojan fans

  2. farvite says: Dec 2, 2013 8:12 PM

    “(Haden) didn’t offer the job to anyone else”

    Right. Whatever it takes to keep your ego in tact.

  3. floridacock says: Dec 2, 2013 8:15 PM

    How do we really know they had secretly sent out feelers to the other coaches you mention to judge their interest and this was the best they could do?

  4. soundsofsuccess7 says: Dec 2, 2013 8:16 PM

    Sumlin reportedly wanted the job. Really surprised they went Sark over Sumlin.

  5. halbert53 says: Dec 2, 2013 8:17 PM

    We have met the enemy and he is us!


  6. raysfan1 says: Dec 2, 2013 8:25 PM

    SC also does not seem to have seriously considered a highly successful HC either from non-BCS schools like Fresno State or Northern Illinois or FCS schools like North Dakota State.

    Soundsofsuccess–Unless Sumlin was told SC wasn’t interested prior to his signing his new extension, I don’t see how anyone could say he wanted to go coach SC.

  7. lbijake says: Dec 2, 2013 8:31 PM

    “He will lead his people to the promised Land!”
    Ezekial 27:12

  8. sfsugator says: Dec 2, 2013 8:36 PM

    As a die hard fan he was there 4th or 5th choice, and is still in the bottom tier of coaches in the conference. Fact

  9. sportsguy3434 says: Dec 2, 2013 8:56 PM

    The didn’t offer talk is AD speak to make it look like you got your first choice and make the coach look better. What coach would want the AD to say, well our 12th guy took the job? See the Tennessee hire of Dooley. He would ask “would you take the job if offered” when he wants the candidate and before he officially offers. I mean this morning Sark had not even interviewed nudge nudge wink wink. Peterson, Sumlin, Briles, Franklin, and for that matter Saban, Gundy, Stoops, and Santa Clause could have been above him and he would still say “first guy offered.”

  10. sportsguy3434 says: Dec 2, 2013 8:58 PM

    I don’t doubt it, but who were the others in orderish of ppreference?

  11. dmacirish says: Dec 2, 2013 9:01 PM

    hey, i know this made my day. uh… yeah. go u$c.

  12. sfsugator says: Dec 2, 2013 9:07 PM


    Well I won’t give you an order but just guys off the top of my head,

    Coach O
    Kirby smart
    Kliff kingsbury
    Baylor head coach

  13. Anoesis says: Dec 2, 2013 9:40 PM

    Another assistant from a bygone era? What a disappointment. USC not only passed on a chance to reinvigorate the program, they made sure a top-tier recruiter left in a huff.

    I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see Sarkisian as the impact hire the Trojans needed. I had expected Haden to be innovative and unconventional. Sark isn’t a $6 million man.

  14. blackhawks2010 says: Dec 2, 2013 11:30 PM

    Lane Kiffin, The Sequel

  15. gogatorsjohn says: Dec 2, 2013 11:56 PM

    I actually thought they should have hired him over Lane back in the day. I think it’s a solid hire.

  16. blackhawks2010 says: Dec 3, 2013 12:40 AM

    If Sark would of lost the game against WSU, he could of been fired…. This move was too fast. Bottom line, 34-29 record at UW speaks for itself. Looks like another Lane Kiffin sequel.

  17. normtide says: Dec 3, 2013 12:43 AM

    The real issue is, it’s really hard to lure great coaches. Not just for USC, but all the top tier programs. It’s not like it was 15-20 years ago. All AQ league teams have money, and with CCG’s, a path to success. Before, the big programs had their pick of coaches. Now it’s extremely difficult to hire a top shelf proven coach away from another school. Boise State has kept Peterson all these years. Patterson at TCU.

    USC sent feelers out. Sark called back. Let’s face it, Oregon wasn’t getting the job. 7 games doesn’t prove a coach, and another bad hire sets you back even more.

  18. drs76109 says: Dec 3, 2013 1:14 AM

    Was Sarkisian a part of the Carroll coaching staff when NCAA sanctions were levied against USC? If so, it’s seems a very odd hire.

  19. txnative61 says: Dec 3, 2013 1:17 AM

    In Sark’s defense, he brought the Washington program back to respectability, and recruiting players is extremely difficult once a program was that bad. Now, his challenge is to motivate 5 star recruits to play to their potential rather than 3 stars to play above their heads. I personally don’t think anybody else but Ogeron wanted to deal with all the prima donna’s stacked up on that roster.

  20. slystone111 says: Dec 3, 2013 3:34 AM

    USC = National joke

  21. mogogo1 says: Dec 3, 2013 8:13 AM

    “He didn’t offer the job to anyone else.”

    While possibly technically true, that was still only because the guys they really wanted either publicly pulled out of the running like Petersen did, signed big extensions like Sumlin did, or couldn’t be interviewed until after the NFL season is completed like Del Rio.

    And I’m just guessing, but the prospects of not being able to interview Del Rio until January or February with no backup plan should negotiations go poorly, scared them away from him. That, or maybe they got word he wasn’t interested. After doing a pretty darn good job filling in for John Fox, Del Rio may be getting offers for some pro vacancies this coming offseason.

  22. amosalanzostagg says: Dec 3, 2013 8:37 AM

    Sumlin didn’t want the USC job. He wants the NFL.
    The contract extension he signed keeps him a minimum of two years @ College Station to take the Aggies through the stadium expansion. The Aggies felt more pressure from the Texans rather than USC.


  23. gravedigger93 says: Dec 3, 2013 8:49 AM

    People act like this is a job that was unattractive. This is USC! There are maybe only a couple better jobs in the whole country! You have access to elite talent, you have unreal brand recognition, access to incredible alumni, and you’re right in the middle of freaking LA! You’re an instant celebrity. Easy to recruit, beautiful place for your family, and everything you could ever want/need when it comes to your football program. Haden shot for the middle.

    I don’t blame him for not getting Peterson, no one can. But he seriously couldn’t pry James Franklin from Vandy? That’s a guy who is a PERFECT fit for USC. He does more with less, he has resurrected that Vandy program, and he’s a perfect dot personality wise. Haden didn’t try.

  24. omniusprime says: Dec 3, 2013 8:50 AM

    Sarkisian did a great job reviving Washington’s losing football team, now he’d better take the Trojans to a national championship or Haden will be the next to face replacement.

    I feel bad for Orgeron, he deserved his chance as a permanent coach and by the way he’s also an assistant coach who could have been a great head coach. great that that loser Sumlin didn’t get hired, he is vastly overrated!

    Fight on USC!

  25. kastout11 says: Dec 3, 2013 9:28 AM

    I think Orgeron will be a head coach somewhere this offseason, it just will not be at USC. I like Sarkisian and think he is a good coach. I see a lot of complaining, but Sarkisian will be competitive with Stanford and Oregon, if not next hear, then the year after. He took a terrible Washington team and made them respectable. I think all you anti-Sarkisian fans will be singing a different tune in a year or two.

  26. ancientcougar says: Dec 3, 2013 9:29 AM

    Orgeron to Washington; a real made for TV Drama that can only happen in the Far West.

  27. jdbaker01 says: Dec 3, 2013 11:25 AM

    Why does Kevin Sumlin get a free pass and referred to as an elite coach? Has anyone looked at Texas A&M’s record? Besides that, he’s playing with someone else’s recruits so I am not sure why everyone thinks he’s so great. When I watch his games, the team seems to make a lot of mistakes and they have no defense. If it werent for Manziel I think they’d be 2-10.

  28. mogogo1 says: Dec 3, 2013 12:05 PM

    “Why does Kevin Sumlin get a free pass and referred to as an elite coach?”

    I really like Sumlin but I also agree with this statement. At the moment he’s tied in everybody’s mind to the magic of Johnny Football, with most people remembering last year more than the ups and downs of this season. They’ve lost 4 games this season with a once-every-generation QB throwing to a top NFL receiver prospect. Their defense hasn’t really improved at all with Miss State running up a ton of points on them late in the year. Once Johnny is just a memory, guaranteed 4 losses a year isn’t going to cut it with A&M fans. I expect he’ll get the D sorted out, but not sure how he’ll avoid the O falling off.

  29. twilla24 says: Dec 3, 2013 1:01 PM

    This is why I read bleacher report more now than this garbage. Sark is an AMAZING recruiter. A ton of top recruits jumped ship and are now focusing on USC after this hire. His record at Wash wasn’t great but it’s not an Alabama school? Yeah he lost same games,guess what though! Tht program won more than the past years with him!! I’m an Oregon fan and I’m telling you right now,ex coordinator or not, I wish this hire never happened!

  30. gravedigger93 says: Dec 3, 2013 1:55 PM

    Orgeron is the scumbag of all scumbags in the NCAA. He did all of Lane Kiffin and Pete Carroll’s dirty work at USC, Tennessee, and again at USC. He doesn’t deserve anything. He was also a failure as a head coach at Ole Miss. There’s a reason he wasn’t hired.

  31. rightvoted says: Dec 3, 2013 5:18 PM

    Ahhhhh …

    I see.

    We need to be “progressive” and change … for the sake of change. Got it.

    I have no horse in this race, but this “progressive” crap is the lowest I.Q. stupidity I have ever witnessed.

  32. beastmode5150 says: Dec 4, 2013 12:20 PM

    Thanks for taking 7 win sark off our hands USC! He was one season from being fired.

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