The Trojans are 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12 and will travel to South Bend this weekend to face No. 14 Notre Dame. Daily Trojan columnists Luke Holthouse, Nick Barbarino and Jake Davidson join Daily Trojan sports editor Darian Nourian to discuss their reactions to Sarkisian’s firing and what to expect going forward.
What are your thoughts on Haden waiting a day to fire Sarkisian?
Davidson: Hindsight is 20/20, and while it may seem right now to have fired him after the pep rally, I don’t think that was a serious consideration. He should have been suspended then though and given time off. Overall, I think Pat Haden has a lot to answer for with this hire. If the Los Angeles Times was able to dig up Sark’s obscene spending on alcohol during recruiting trips, why didn’t Haden know about it? And if he did, why would he hire Sark? Counting Enfield as a miss, Haden is now 0 for 2 on revenue sport hires. He has made a lot of mistakes, but not firing Sark in August isn’t one of them.
Barbarino: If Pat Haden was going to fire Sarkisian he should have done so from the start. Actually, Haden should have fired him after his drunken debacle at the Salute to Troy event.
Holthouse: I think immediately placing Sarkisian on indefinite leave was definitely the right move. For the sake of his health, he was not in the right state to coach the team. I’m torn about firing him this quickly though. I think a decision this serious did deserve at least a day for Haden and the Athletics Department to think over. Firing him on the spot would almost be as rash as Haden’s firing of Lane Kiffin at the airport. But I don’t think firing him right now instead of waiting until the end of the season to see if there’s any sort of progress in his rehabilitation makes much sense.
Nourian: I’m glad that Haden finally got it over with. Yesterday’s decision to place Sarkisian on a leave of absence simply put him and the program in a state of limbo. This way, Sarkisian can move on and get the help he desperately needs and USC can move forward with its second coaching search in three years. This gives Haden and the Athletics Department some time to find the best fit possible for the Trojans because they are on thin ice after the way Sarkisian panned out. I do, however, wish that Haden just fired Sarkisian all at once instead of putting things off with the “leave of absence” pull. The end result was inevitable, but there’s no doubt that the situation as a whole could have been handled better.
How do you think interim coach Clay Helton will do at the helm?
LH: I still think the Trojans have a legitimate chance to rally and win the conference, and the infusion of some adversity might actually help. With that being said, I don’t think Helton will be the rallying force that Oregeron was. Maybe that’s a good thing, because that team Oregeron took over still lost to Notre Dame and UCLA, and it will take more than hype to beat those teams. But Helton’s personality seems to fit much better with his 2013 task of leading the team through one more game rather than his current task of turning a season around.
DN: Saying it’s going to be tough for Helton is an understatement. Think of the SAT times 10 — that’s how difficult it’s going to be as the Trojans enter, perhaps, their toughest three-week stretch of the season. USC has the talent to win all three of these games against Notre Dame, Utah and Cal, respectively, but Helton’s lack of experience as a game manager troubles me. The one game he served as an interim head coach of in 2013 was against Fresno State and, though USC came out victorious in the end, the game was a blowout from the start so Helton wasn’t truly tested. Each of these games on the horizon have a potential to be close games and two of them are on the road. It’s not going to be easy for Helton to simultanously call the shots on offense and make critical decisions late in the game when necessary. That’s why Sarkisian handed the play calling duties to him in the first place.
NB: Helton has quite the test in front of him as the Trojans will face No. 14 Notre Dame, No. 4 Utah and No. 23 Cal in consecutive weeks. It’s very possible the Trojans go 0-3 in that stretch, but I believe in this teams ability to overcome adversity. I think they finish a respectable 8-4 this season.
JD: I’m not quite sure to be honest. He doesn’t have the raw fire and charisma Eddy O did, but he is a good playcaller and the team responded well in the bowl game under him. I think just like when he ran the offense under Orgeron, it will be a lot more explosive. If Wilcox can dial up some good defensive schemes, USC should be in every game.
Who will USC’s next head coach be and when will Haden hire him?
NB: The Trojans need to make a hire, and they need to make it quick. The Trojans already lost one top recruit because of the Sarkisian debacle. In order to restore stability, the Trojans need to go after a big name. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Nick Saban.
JD: No idea on who, and I would guess at the end of the season. I would love to see Orgeron come back or, if not, a clean sweep. Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury come to mind, but they are both young and USC might want someone with more experience who doesn’t look like he parties. Jon Gruden is a name that gets tossed around a lot, but that doesn’t seem plausible. Whoever it is, he will have to have the talent to win right away.
DN: Without a doubt, this is the biggest mystery now surrounding the program and a head coaching vacancy couldn’t come at a worse time, especially in terms of recruiting. Regardless of who USC hires in the end, it needs to call upon a proven winner in college football, rather than coaches who simply have former ties to the USC program or the Southern California recruiting pipelines. For those of you who want Coach O, I’m certain he won’t be back. He’s a great assistant coach and recruiter, but is 16-27 as a head coach. Honestly, there are not many good head coaching candidates on the market right now, so if USC’s going to get a tier one head football coach, it’s going to have to take them away from their current programs. I don’t even know how desirable the USC coaching job is right now with the way the surrounding media has destroyed its past two head coaches. While I don’t think USC is going to be able to nab a big name like Chip Kelly or Kevin Sumlin, I think it’s likely it hires a coach with a successful track record, regardless of where he’s been.
LH: The hire won’t come until the end of the regular season, so we’ll have plenty of time to speculate. And it will be someone defensive minded, but not Orgeron. I’ll go with Kevin Sumlin now, but I doubt he’ll really leave Texas A&M if they make a serious run at the SEC title this year.