Sarkisian was best option available

One can only imagine the range of extreme emotions that coursed through the John McKay Center on Monday as the news of Steve Sarkisian’s hiring and Ed Orgeron’s subsequent resignation developed throughout the day. After Orgeron addressed the team for a final time that afternoon, you didn’t even have to be in there to see some of those emotions as players and coaches left the building.

The way it happened was awful. Monday will surely go down as one of the wildest days in the history of the USC football program — even crazier than the day Lane Kiffin was fired at 4:30 a.m. I would like to say the whole situation could have been handled more tactfully, but with emotions running as high as they were I’m not sure how feasible that really was.

I don’t know if Steve Sarkisian is the right hire — only time will tell. But I do believe that, between Coach Sark and Coach O, Sarkisian was the better choice.

Look, what “Coach O” did with this team was tremendously impressive. Coming from a lot of coaches, the whole “team is family” shtick could be lumped in with all of their other cliches. But you couldn’t even call it a “shtick” with Orgeron. He truly meant it.

In my very first column of the year, I wrote this about Ed Orgeron: “You would be hard-pressed to find a member of the football program, athletic department or even the Trojan Family with more ‘Trojan Spirit’ than the man they call Coach O.”

I still believe that. Athletic Director Pat Haden was right in saying that “Ed [Orgeron] is one of the greatest Trojans ever.” To criticize the man for “walking out” on this team is not only wrong, it is hypocritical. It’s not far-fetched to say there would be no “team” to “walk out” on if it weren’t for Orgeron.

He brought emotion. He brought passion. He brought, as he promised, “fun” back to USC football. For the short term, that was exactly what was needed. There was a contagious energy around the program, and a renewed sense of confidence to go with it. Coach O deserves rightful praise for that. As many people — myself included — said when he was first appointed interim head coach, he was the perfect man for that job.

But just because you’re the perfect man for the next few months doesn’t mean you’re the perfect man for the next few years.

Saturday against UCLA, the Trojans’ energy finally ran out. Orgeron admitted it, and so did players. It’s unheard of for a team to run out of energy during a rivalry game, but that’s exactly what happened. And it’s easy to see why.

You cannot win on energy and emotion alone, and yet that is what USC relied on — with fairly decent success — in its eight games under Coach O. But as the UCLA game proved, that cannot last forever. At a certain point, you have to simply be better than your opponents to win. You have to be better prepared, better coached and have the energy it takes to win. USC was 0-for-3 in those categories on Saturday.

There seems to be a fairly widespread belief that had USC knocked off the Bruins on Saturday, Orgeron would have been introduced as the full-time head coach and not asked to step back down. I find this very, very difficult to believe. If one game — an important game, but one game nonetheless — were to make that much of a difference, Haden’s hiring process would have been seriously flawed. It would reflect the same short-sighted mindset of those who wanted Orgeron hired full-time.

“USC will lose recruits,” they say. “The players wanted Orgeron.”

The former is mere speculation, and with the hiring of Sarkisian, probably false. But the latter is true. It stings right now. The team is hurting. The fans are hurting. Even people, like me, who didn’t believe Orgeron should be retained are hurting. It’s more than understandable. But give it time. Think about it rationally. This was the better choice for USC football as a program.

I think it is safe to say that Orgeron’s eight games as the head coach of USC football won’t be forgotten, nor should they be. From an emotional standpoint, who wouldn’t want him to stay on as head coach? But there would have been few, if any, logical reasons for it. And while I do wish he stayed on as an assistant, there is an undeniable level of irrationality to that. He was the associate head coach at USC while both Sarkisian and Kiffin were mere position coaches. He already coached under one of them, and could hardly be expected to do so again.

Of course the situation is less than ideal. In hindsight, it would have been nice if Sarkisian had accepted former Athletic Director Mike Garrett’s offer to fill the void left by Pete Carroll, as Carroll apparently wanted. Then there would have been no Lane Kiffin, no head coach Orgeron and no hurting in the way this program is hurting right now.

But take a step back from the emotion. Think about the situation USC is in. Think about all of the reasons for Orgeron to stay on that don’t have to do with raw sentiment. If you manage to think of one, please let me know. My contact information is below.


“Any Given Saturday” ran on Thursdays, ironically. To explain to Nick how this makes no sense, or why you think Coach O should have been hired, email him at, yell at him on twitter @NickMBurton or visit


5 replies
  1. Daniel McDonald Class of 1972
    Daniel McDonald Class of 1972 says:

    Please talk to the football team and ask them to be prepared and have the passion and focus of the Stanford game for this bowl game. Do not, please do not let this bowl game against Fresno State be a travesty like last years game against Georgia Tech. Nothing against farmers, but in this case, we need to beat this farmer area team. They have not played anybody great, but I remember a game with R. Bush and company down here and we had our hands full of these guys. Do not embarass yourselves Trojans by taking a dump on this bowl game. Everything that Coach O restored for the last part of the season will be diminished if we lay an egg against the farm school from the Valley. Do not take these people lightly. This is the perfect opportunity for this Fresno team to feel they are equal to a USC by beating us because we we not interested in this game. Coach O and staff and collective effort by this team got us to be able to play in a post season game, don’t screw it up!

  2. USC parent
    USC parent says:

    Coach O. brought winning back to USC football, players playing at their best level and fans uniting behind the team. He brought the human qualities that inspired players to trust themselves, each other and Coach O. He offered a model for all administrators and professors on campus.

  3. trojan parent
    trojan parent says:

    i completely disagree This article grossly trivializes the impact Coach O. had with our Trojan community by identifying “emotion” as the ingredient Coach O. added. Even worse emotion is portrayed as a passing thrill, like a carnival ride.

    What Coach O accomplished was motivating our players to trust themselves each other and him with the result they played at their full potential.

    I suggest Nick interview the players and ask what went wrong at the UCLA game, why did they look relatively flat. I suspect the team realized since Coach O was not named the Head Coach after an extraordinary USC performance and win over Stanford and with ongoing interviews of other coaches that Coach O. was not going to be hired as the Head Coach.That is, if the players are allowed to talk about it as they were not allowed to talk to the media after the final meeting Coach O.

    Nick you just don’t get it.

  4. glass is half empty
    glass is half empty says:

    As a former Marshall student, I thought it was nonsensical when I came across the assertion of something like, “promoting from within is the best policy when a firm is facing dire consequences.” Or, “selecting a CEO from within…” This was in a lot of business strategy class readings. I disagree, however. It’s better to hire someone from the outside instead of dwelling on past success, believing that it can be revived through an insider….Succinctly put, the Pete Carroll era is over. You cannot revive this dead horse via Sarkisian. He didn’t do anything special at UW. He is not the panacea to the ailing football program…But I hope I’m wrong.

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