Only one day after being put on indefinite leave by USC, and after a 3-2 start to his second season in charge of the Trojans, Steve Sarkisian has been fired. The coach found himself in trouble before the season started when he was apparently intoxicated at a booster event. It appears that Sarkisian was removed after a second incident of alleged intoxication. Athletic Director, Pat Haden, made the announcement that Offensive Coordinator Clay Helton will take over for Sarkisian in an interim capacity for the remainder of the season.
USC came into this season with extremely high expectations, and were ranked eighth in the preseason AP poll. Now their season has been sent into a tailspin after a loss to Washington and the firing of Sarkisian. He was hired after his former co-offensive coordinator at USC, Lane Kiffin, was fired midseason in 2013 and the school decided not to give the job to then-interim coach Ed Oregeron. The newly-fired coach took over after the sanctions from the NCAA were lifted following the Reggie Bush saga, which limited the amount of scholarships the Trojans could offer.
In his first season at the helm of USC, Sarkisian went 9-4 and beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Their strong performances toward the end of the season in 2014, and the amount of talent the Trojans had coming back, led many to think they could challenge for a spot in the college football playoffs. Now, however, with two losses and Sarkisian’s ouster so early in the season, any hope of making the playoffs is all but over.
An incident at which Sarkisian is said to have been intoxicated during a booster event before the start of this season made national headlines, and many believed he should have been more severely punished for the episode. Afterwards, he admitted that the reason for his behavior was the fact that he had mixed alcohol and an unspecified medication. Now it appears that the coach may have had a much more serious issue with alcohol, given that the reason for his firing was that he allegedly showed up to team meetings intoxicated.
For the second time in three years the Trojans are forced to finish the season with an interim head coach, and conduct another coaching search this coming off-season, unless Helton is given the job permanently. This is a horrible spot to be in for one of the most prestigious programs in college football, and it could set them back in terms of returning to the truly elite level they have been able to attain since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.
Sarkisian was under-qualified for the job in the first place, having failed to impress in his first head coaching job at Washington. He had great success as an offensive coordinator at USC under Carroll, and that was the reason behind his hiring, although, it was apparent to some that he did not possess the characteristics of an elite coach.
The USC job is one of the most coveted in college football, and with the impending coaching search, they need to do a better job picking the type of candidate that can return them to elite status. So many of their hires since Carroll have been trying to recreate his time at the helm instead of bringing back a winning culture. Both Kiffin and Sarkisian were bad fits because they had not proven themselves to be elite head coaches. They just tried to replicate their time under Carroll rather than trying to bring their own culture into the locker room. The same thing happened to Pac-12 rival Oregon after Chip Kelly left.
One day was all it took for USC to change their mind as they removed Sarkisian from indefinite leave in order to fire him.
He has serious personal issues to work out, and his firing has left a very talented USC team high and dry in terms of their chances for success this season. The firing was the right move for the school considering the circumstances, but they now face another coaching search that could set them back a few more years in terms of returning to the elite level at which they are accustomed to performing.
Commentary by Max Petkevicius
ESPN: Steve Sarkisian Fired at USC
Newsweek: The Rise and Fall of Steve Sarkisian
USA Today: Steve Sarkisian’s Issues With Alcohol Started Well Before USC
Photo Courtesy of Bobak Ha’Eri Wikimedia – Creative Commons License