Q&A Sarkisian follows Carroll’s example


After a successful five-year run as the head coach at Washington, former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian has made a triumphant return to Troy this spring. As his team readies itself for summer workouts and fall camp, Daily Trojan staff writer Cassandra Collins sat down with Sarkisian to get to know the man behind the headset.

Man for the job · Steve Sarkisian spent seven seasons as an assistant at USC under Pete Carroll before leaving to coach at Washington in 2008. Many speculated that Sarkisian was Carroll’s personal choice as a successor. - Austin Vogel | Daily Trojan

Man for the job · Steve Sarkisian spent seven seasons as an assistant at USC under Pete Carroll before leaving to coach at Washington in 2008. Many speculated that Sarkisian was Carroll’s personal choice as a successor. – Austin Vogel | Daily Trojan

 

DT: I saw the dance competition video from spring practice, the players were having a blast — can you tell me about that?

Sarkisian: [Chuckling] As a coach, you try different motivational techniques when you feel the timing is right and you can ascertain that the players need the change. So you switch things up and incorporate different techniques. They are always in the grind of it all; you’re going through it day-in and day-out. We have been doing some really difficult and competitive periods at practice. It could be a tackling drill, it could be the linebackers versus the running backs, and as a coaching staff we just felt like this would be a fun and constructive competition for our players. Ultimately here at ’SC we want to recruit great competitors, and no matter what the competition is, they should go for it. We take notice of the players who give it their best effort and have the ability to adapt to change.

 

DT: Talent aside, when you look to recruit a player, what attributes do you seek?

Sarkisian: I believe, hands down, in the following three: competitiveness, effort and energy. None of those three characteristics take talent. It takes a lion heart, it takes a want-to and willingness to extend themselves. I’m willing to invest in that player with those qualities.

In my opinion, there are innately competitive people and those who aren’t. Those are the unique people that I want on my team and that’s who we are in search of. A good coach will appreciate and work with a player’s desire to help make his team successful. You can witness it in someone on the field or sideline. That’s the key to a team’s success.

 

DT: You did not recruit any of the players you are coaching right now to come to USC. What steps have you taken to get to know the players? Do you feel it’s actually important to know them outside of football?

Sarkisian: Yes I do — very much so. I believe in, and have always had, an open-door policy, and now an always phone-on policy. The way our kids are being raised, this generation’s verbal communication skills are less effective. So I have to do my very best and try and make it a mission to acknowledge and verbally engage each and every one of my players as often as I can. I truly mean whenever, wherever I see them. So no matter where they are or whom they may be with at said encounter, I try to talk with them and ask several questions. I know at times I may have bordered on embarrassing them. However, my goal is next time I see them to reiterate and employ one of the answers they have given me to further understand who they are. Just to get to know them better. My intention is that they believe that I am truly listening to all of them and I am not just saying it just for the sake of saying it.

 

DT: Are there any moments you can recall that kept you personally motivated and helped you realize you were on the correct career path?

Sarkisian: Yes, there are several key moments and mentors. While you might not have them in your daily life any longer, you still recall their words and actions that have lifted you forward. If you are fortunate you still have the ability to speak with them as well.

As you know, I worked with Pete Carroll for seven instrumental years here at USC. He was unbelievable to me and every single day was a teaching moment which I tried to absorb. We had a tough loss at Oregon State one year and we had been number one in the country for essentially three years. Instead of taking it out on any of the coaching staff or brooding, he pulls me aside in the locker room and begins explaining to me what he is going say to the team, and how he is going to say it. He was coaching me at one of the most difficult times. That’s a leader.

 

DT: Since Pete Carroll was your mentor, do you try to incorporate some of his coaching strategies?

Sarkisian: When you are with someone so successful and for a long period of time, it is inevitable that you try and use their winning practices and plays. I have practice plans and things that are very similar, but we have our differences as well. First and foremost you have to work with what you have. You need to adapt to your players. So naturally different techniques become implemented. One of the last pieces of advice Pete gave me when I took the job at Washington was, “Go be you.” Because inevitably the real you  will come out when adversity strikes. So be you all the time under any given circumstance. You shouldn’t switch your personalities on your team or divide them.

 

DT: What unique coaching strategies do you bring to USC?

Sarkisian: I think schematically the way we play is very unique. We are a no-huddle offense now. The natural thought when people hear “no huddle,” they think that means spread. Spread are schools like Arizona, Oregon, Arizona State. Then they think pro-style, which is Stanford and very traditional like USC has been for a very long time. Now we are a no-huddle pro-style team. Essentially, we have blended the two and that style makes us extremely unique.

 

DT:  Do you use  catchphrases to get the players motivated before a practice or game?

Sarkisian: We actually do. One thing we have been getting going on that I really believe in is, “Who’s got it better than us?” They respond with a rousing “NOBODY!” It’s 90 degrees today and we are going to spring practice. You are walking across this magnificent campus, of academic superiority with a beyond-rich athletic history and football tradition. I mean, who does have it better than us?

 

DT: If you could change one rule in football, what would it be?

Sarkisian: Wow, there is a lot I would change. It’s a hot topic, but for me, the most essential rule change would be kickoffs. I don’t believe they are the best thing for our game. When you compare the number of kickoffs to the percentage of injuries that occur during that play, you will find it’s where the majority of injuries occur. So it’s time to review these statistics, and ask yourself: Is it worth it?

 

  • anno nimus

    Sarkisian: We actually do. One thing we have been getting going on that I really believe in is, “Who’s got it better than us?” They respond with a rousing “NOBODY!” It’s 90 degrees today and we are going to spring practice. You are walking across this magnificent campus, of academic superiority with a beyond-rich athletic history and football tradition. I mean, who does have it better than us?
    Huhhhh Jim Mora and UCLA have it better than you, Stevie.
    UCLA surrounded by: Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Bel Air, Century City, Santa Monica.
    USC surrounded by: the Crips, the Bloods, 18th St. gang.
    UCLA 109 National Titles #1 in the nation
    USC 3rd, behind UCLA and Stanford
    UCLA ranked #11 in the world academically to
    USC #76
    Should I go on?

    • Olde Rose

      Apparently those who suckle at the taxpayers’ teat long enough come to believe that they are somehow EARNING their way. Too, in comparing the quantum of National Titles, it would seem relevant to also compare the number of teams fielded. And if one were to deem football the signature collegiate sport, well, Da Broons come up just a wee bit short there, yes? Has anyone candled Westwood’s Olympics history against that of Troy? Perhaps it is the afterglow of the 15April annual fleecing, of those who actually earn and produce, that inspires parasitic pride in bRuination, to the accompaniment of that incessant giant sucking sound.

    • Ben Factor

      Yes, UCLA is a fine school. Of course, the fact that you are a graduate presents a compelling counter-example.

      Run along, now, and go play on the freeway.

  • Fight On Guy

    @ anno nimus … Will YOU always be a jerk? Probably

    • anno nimus

      yup, probably.

  • anno nimus

    Will he also cheat, like PC?

  • Nabil Al-Murabit

    Good interview. When Lane got the big chair, I was skeptical. I mused out loud that SC might’ve given the job to the wrong Pete Carrollite. As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out for me. I am a big Coach O guy and it upset me how he was treated. I know coaching is a what have you done for me lately and they lost to that school to the northwest and Norte Dame, but I think the university should’ve given Coach O and his team another year to prove themselves. 12-2 is better than 10-4. As a foster child of the Trojan family (I didn’t go there, my uncle graduated from there and my sister taught there) I wish Sark all the best

    • Ben Factor

      Of course the jury is out. He hasn’t coached one game at USC.

      I disagree about Coach O. He knew that the job was his if USC beat UCLA, and probably his if USC played well. Then, he got out-coached, and his team didn’t play well. He did a good job in 2013, but he’s not the man to match wits against the cream of CF coaches. Quite simply, USC needs THAT man. We’ll see if it has one now. As you say, the jury is out.

      Couple of comments:

      1. Sark, no-huddle, pro-style is NOT unique–it’s quite prominent in the NFL. Dude, it’s in the name!

      2. Sark pointed out that today’s young people have not been brought up with effective verbal communications skills. That candor surprised me–good for Sark. I concur with him, and it’s hard to see how that is a constructive sign for our species. I’m glad that Sark is forcing some verbal interaction on his players, but maybe he shouldn’t publicize his strategy in the school paper. Everything, and I mean everything, that hits the media comes to the attention of today’s young people. Privacy is so last generation.

      3. I have never heard that most injuries occur on kickoffs. That was not part of the dialogue during the failed effort to enact rules to slow the pace of games down. Kickoffs cannot be hurry-up, so I guess the injury problems go well beyond plays per minute. Thanks for pointing that out, Coach.