USC has reportedly hired Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian as their next head coach. He is now the third straight USC head coach to have been a former Pete Carroll assistant, as the Trojans continue to try to recapture that magic. While Sarkisian was not my first choice to take the job, it could work out.
Sarkisian is considered a bright offensive mind, and Pete Carroll reportedly wanted him as his successor four years ago. Supposedly, then-athletic director Mike Garrett offered him the job, but Sarkisian felt that leaving Washington after just one year wouldn't be right.
While Sarkisian was a terrific assistant coach under Carroll, his results as head coach of Washington have been mixed. He took over a program that had fallen on hard times after Rick Neuheisel's problems gave way to underwhelming years from Keith Gilbertson and Tyrone Willingham. The Huskies went 0-12 the year before Sarkisian came to Seattle and they proceeded to go 5-7, then 7-6 for three straight years, and they're 8-4 this year. Sarkisian's teams have gone 5-4 in the Pac-12 for four straight seasons. That's really nothing to get excited about.
The irony of this decision is that Washington fans are probably happy about it. Most Huskies fans felt like Sarkisian's teams had stagnated and he wasn't the man to bring the program back to its glory days seen under Don James. Another interesting twist to this move is that Washington could wind up snagging away UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Jr. In a fairly embarrassing radio interview back in 2006, Mora said that University of Washington coaching position was his dream job, and he'd leave as Atlanta Falcons head coach, even if his team was on a playoff run. If Mora were to leave UCLA, then expect offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to emerge as the leading candidate to replace him.
Still, there is reason to believe that this hire could work out for USC. Coaches aren't necessarily rankable, wherein one is clearly better than another. Often times a coach succeeds if his style and personality fit a particular program. Sarkisian knows USC football well and he understands the culture. He has recruiting ties in the area and he runs the pro style system that suits USC's personnel. He also brings much more energy and enthusiasm to the work place than Lane Kiffin, whom he's often compared to.
I think Sarkisian is a better coach than Kiffin, and with five years of head coaching experience under his belt, one would figure he's learned from his mistakes. USC is a much better job than Washington, often taking their first pick of California recruits. And the facilities at USC are phenomenal, rivaled only by Oregon in the Pac-12. With just one more year of sanctions, it's certainly plausible to believe that Sarkisian could have USC back among the nation's elite within a few years. If he doesn't, then he'll be fired like Lane Kiffin.
The Sarkisian hiring also makes it more likely that Ed Orgeron will stay on the USC staff as an assistant. The two of them worked together under Carroll, and Sarkisian will presumably run the program in a similar fashion to Orgeron. It would have been tough for Orgeron to stay on under a coach like Kevin Sumlin who would have tried to put his own stamp on the USC program. It would have undermined the leadership of the new coach when so many Trojan players have been supportive of Orgeron in recent weeks, and it would have been unfair to Orgeron to watch him take orders from someone when deep down he felt like he could do better. That tension could still exist with Sarkisian in charge, so it will be interesting to see how it evolves. Orgeron could wind up receiving head coaching offers from other schools too.
(UPDATE: Ed Orgeron has reportedly resigned at USC. I hope he gets a head coaching job somewhere.)
Personally, I felt like Orgeron deserved an offer before Sarkisian. He did a phenomenal job to re-energize the program after Kiffin, and it's important to note that they were winning games making just one or two substitutions on defense. While USC disappointed against UCLA, it's awfully hard to stop Brett Hundley when you don't have the depth to rotate defensive players.
Still, one could argue that while Orgeron was the right coach for this season, it's difficult to expect the same emotion and momentum to carry over long term. The UCLA performance was enough to give USC fans pause about whether or not Orgeron was the best choice going forward, and rightly so.
None of the other candidates were really all that exciting though. Kevin Sumlin's teams at Houston and Texas A&M have always performed poorly on defense, and his offensive system would have been a culture shock for USC. I've been told by people in coaching circles that Boise State's Chris Petersen has the right personality for Boise, but not for Los Angeles. His star has faded somewhat, as the Broncos have struggled this year in a tougher Mountain West Conference, and previous Boise head coaches have struggled elsewhere (see: Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins). Jack Del Rio has no college coaching experience at any level, and he probably wouldn't leave the Denver Broncos until after the NFL season, especially with John Fox recovering from heart surgery. That could be after the Super Bowl, and February is too late to start with a new college football coach and rescue a recruiting class. Del Rio might get an NFL job anyways.
I was hoping that Vanderbilt's James Franklin would get the job. He's a dynamic young head coach who has the same positive energy as Pete Carroll. His success at Vanderbilt has been unprecedented and he's an obvious future coaching star. It's easy to envision him running the program for 20 years.
But Sarkisian is only 39 years old himself. He's an LA native and he has the pedigree and resources to be the next great coach at USC. However, you can't help but be concerned by his uninspiring results at Washington.