Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh announced Jan. 7 he was leaving to become the next coach of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, signing a lucrative five-year, $25-million contract.
“It’s the perfect, competitive opportunity,” said the former NFL signal caller at his introductory press conference regarding the decision to bolt for the professional ranks.
In the aftermath of Harbaugh’s departure, the Cardinal swiftly promoted offensive coordinator David Shaw to head coach, hoping to continue the success the program had achieved under Harbaugh’s watch, culminating in a 12-1 finish and an Orange Bowl victory earlier this month.
If recent results on the recruiting trail serve as any indication, however, it won’t be a seamless transition after all, and USC stands to benefit as a result.
On Monday, USC coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans received an oral commitment from Anthony Sarao of Absecon, N.J., a four-star linebacker according to Yahoo! Sports’ Rivals.com, who had previously been committed to Stanford.
The announcement came just one day after four-star running back Amir Carlisle from Sunnyvale, Calif. announced that he was also switching his commitment from Stanford to USC.
“Amir is going to USC,” said his father Duane in a text message to Scout.com recruiting analyst Brandon Huffman.
Saroa and Carlisle were among a group of 19 prospects visiting USC on official and unofficial recruiting visits this past weekend. The number of recruits on campus was one of the largest totals in the program’s recent history.
When making his decision, Saroa told USCFootball.com, “It was a perfect visit. I had a great time out there.”
The campus wasn’t the only selling point, however, as the New Jersey native admitted to being rather fond of the coaching staff’s pedigree.
“USC has one of the best coaching staffs in college football,” Sarao also told the Rivals.com USC-centric website. “They definitely know what they’re talking about.”
The Trojans’ staff includes highly regarded defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron, in addition to assistant head coach Monte Kiffin, who has been credited with creating the famed Tampa-2 defense. If Sarao had remained a Stanford commit, he would not only be playing for a new coach, but also a new defensive coordinator, after Vic Fangio announced he was leaving for the 49ers along with Harbaugh.
Many recruiting analysts say Sarao, who is ranked seventh overall at his position by Rivals.com, has great strength, as ball carriers have had a difficult time escaping after first contact. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound linebacker can also go toe-to-toe with fullbacks when he blitzes or tries to shoot through the gaps.
And with starters Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan graduating, Saroa, who is expected to provide help at the linebacker position, addresses an area of severe need for the Trojans.
In terms of depth and position need, Carlisle also represents a needed pickup, becoming USC’s only running back for the 2011 class. Ranked by Rivals.com as the 10th best player at his position, Carlisle measures 5-foot-10 and weighs 181-pounds.
Huffman has compared him to former California standout and 2010 NFL Draft pick Jahvid Best, who was known for his speed and breakaway ability.
Carlisle runs a 4.43 40-yard dash and can catch passes well coming out of the backfield, which will make him a two-dimensional threat for the Trojans.
“Both are great pickups,” Huffman said Monday via Twitter. “Carlisle will end up being the top running back in the West and is extremely versatile.”
“Sarao is a big hitter and really physical. Not real tall, but thick with great agility and range.”
The Trojans currently have 25 commitments for their 2011 class, ranked as fifth-best nationally according to Rivals.com.
Under NCAA sanctions, USC would normally be permitted to offer just 15 scholarships per recruiting class. Because the school is appealing the penalties, however, the limitation will not be enforced until 2012, allowing the program to offer a maximum of 20 scholarships, including the nine early enrollees that count toward the 2010 totals.
It is still possible that USC could self-impose further and offer just 15 scholarships.