When the news broke that the USC had found their new head football coach in Steve Sarkisian, the reaction across campus and from the Trojan faithful was underwhelming to say the least.
“They fired Kiffin only to replace him with Kiffin 2.0?” asked puzzled football fans. Safe to say, the hiring of “Seven win Steve” was not an immediate hit with the Trojan faithful. On the surface, it looked like the school’s storied football program had tried to reach back into the Pete Carroll era time capsule and settled for a familiar face instead of going in a bold new direction with a splashy hire.
Yes, it’s true that Sarkisian only had a 34-29 record at Washington in five years. However, it’s important to consider the state of the UW program at the time of his arrival. Washington, in 2009, had run the table in reverse, losing every single game (a pretty difficult task in itself) prior to Sark’s arrival.
The school had lousy facilities and no recruiting inroads into California, the only consistently fertile recruiting state on the West Coast. Fast forward five years and the Huskies were one controversial call against Stanford from winning 10 games and opened up a newly renovated stadium.
More importantly, due to Sarkisian’s efforts, Washington now has significant recruiting inroads across the West Coast. One example is Shaq Thompson, a 5-star linebacker recruit, who had offers from nearly every powerhouse school in the country including USC.
Sarkisian was able to convince him to leave sunny California to go play up in the rain at Washington. Sarkisian’s recruiting prowess was further showcased this most recent spring when he locked up three 5-star recruits in Adoree’ Jackson, Damien Mama and Juju Smith on national signing day and when he flipped highly touted quarterback Ricky Town’s commitment from Alabama to USC.
For those who link Sarkisian to his predecessor, Lane Kiffin, there are a couple reasons why the comparison is unfair and invalid.
First, Sarkisian has a completely different personality. Kiffin was often seen as a cold, standoffish personality who eventually closed the media from practice. Sarkisian is a much more personable figure who is more at home with the scrutinizing Los Angeles media.
Schematically, Kiffin and Sarkisian are also different. Kiffin remained committed to the traditional, under center pro-style offense, while Sarkisian ran a hurry up pro-style offense that primarily operates out of the shotgun. The two schemes can be compared by looking at last season’s offensive rankings in which Sarkisian’s Washington team averaged 38 points a game with less talented players than did Kiffin’s USC team.
The team’s embarrassing performance against Boston College caused many Trojan football fans to question Sarkisian’s play-calling ability. Sarkisian remained too committed to running the ball even with favorable man-to-man match-ups on the outside with our talented receivers.
Post game, Sarkisian acknowledged that sometimes he can be stubborn about running the ball, and that he may have to use the pass to set up the run instead of the other way around.
Following the bye week, Sarkisian’s ability to learn from earlier mistakes was showcased as USC dominated Oregon State with a solid mix of the run and pass.
Given Sarkisian’s track record at Washington, where he consistently won seven to eight games a year at a limited college football program, don’t you think Sark can win a few more games a year at USC? With Sarkisian’s ability to relate to and recruit young players, as well as his willingness to learn from previous mistakes, he can bring USC back to its status as national championship Contenders within the next few years.