Steve Sarkisian has officially been terminated as USC football’s head coach, Athletic Director Pat Haden announced Monday.
The decision to fire Sarkisian comes just a day after Haden asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence, following his absence at the team’s practice on Sunday.
“After careful consideration of what is in the best interest of the University and our student-athletes, I have made the decision to terminate Steve Sarkisian, effective immediately,” Haden said in a statement.
Haden named offensive coordinator Clay Helton the interim head coach of the Trojans on Sunday after determining that Sarkisian was clearly “not healthy.”
“I want to thank Clay Helton for stepping into the interim head coach role, and I want to add how proud I am of our coaching staff and players and the way they are responding to this difficult situation,” Haden said in the statement. “Through all of this, we remain concerned for Steve and hope that it will give him the opportunity to focus on his personal well-being.
In August, the 41-year-old Sarkisian admitted to mixing an unspecified medication with alcohol and said that he would seek treatment after exhibiting unsuitable behavior at the annual Salute to Troy event. He later apologized, but a number of boosters had already begun to call for his job after he shouted expletives and threw jabs at the team’s opponents, while slurring his words in front of many big donors to the University.
When asked if he had a drinking problem at the time, Sarkisian said, “I don’t believe so.”
Based on a report released on Monday by the Los Angeles Times, it appears that Sarkisian may have been wrong about his difficulties with alcohol — issues with drinking have followed him from his days as a head coach at Washington.
Sarkisian, who was hired in December 2013, went 12-6 during his short 18-game tenure as head coach of USC — the same record that former coach Lane Kiffin attained through his first 18 games.
In his only full season with the Trojans, Sarkisian led the team to a 9-4 record and a victory over Nebraska in the National University Holiday Bowl.
During his tenure, Sarkisian was also able to put together a pair of nationally renowned recruiting classes.
Expectations for Sarkisian and the Trojans were high entering this season; the team was picked to win the Pac-12 Conference in a preseason media poll.
USC (3-2, 1-2 Pac-12), who was ranked as high as No. 6 in the AP Top 25 poll, fell from the rankings after suffering an embarrassing loss at the hands of an unranked Washington, Sarkisian’s former program, at home last Thursday.
“This one is on me,” Sarkisian said after the game.
Before coming to USC, Sarkisian rebuilt the Huskies’ program over five years as head coach, though, he only eclipsed the seven-win mark once during his tenure.
With pressure at an all-time high, Haden and the Athletics Department begin their second coaching search in three years. Speculation has risen that USC is in the early stages of putting together a target list of head coaches to pursue.
The Trojans, now unranked, will be forced to move on without Sarkisian and faces a tough task ahead, traveling to South Bend, Indiana, to take on No. 14-ranked Notre Dame this Saturday.
With Helton now at the helm, the Trojans will return to practice on Howard Jones Field on Tuesday.
“They still have a lot of things out there that we can obtain,” Helton said. “We have a big game versus Notre Dame this week, the opportunity to still compete for the South championship in the Pac-12, and again, I’m very fortunate to have a group around me as a staff that is as first class as they get.”
As Haden pointed out in his abrupt press conference on Sunday, Helton is undefeated in the head coaching role at USC. He previously coached the Trojans to victory over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2013.