Disciple: a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another; a follower.
For Pete Carroll, passing on the keys to his winning ways wasn’t going very well in fall 2008.
Carroll’s most prominent pupil, Lane Kiffin, had just been fired by late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis following a 5-15 head coaching stint that spanned less than 21 months. Davis went as far as to call Kiffin a “flat-out liar” who “brought disgrace to the organization.”
Ed Orgeron, Carroll’s assistant coach during USC’s run to the 2004 national championship, was fired from his first head coaching job by Ole Miss in November 2007. Orgeron failed to win more than four games in a season in his three years in Oxford and coached the Rebels to a 3-21 record in SEC play.
Nick Holt, who coached USC’s linebackers during Carroll’s first three seasons in Los Angeles, returned to the Trojans after a 5-18 spell as head coach of the Idaho Vandals.
Sure, the silver fox was having success on the field at USC, living up to his favorite catchphrases of “Always Compete” and “Win Forever.” His Trojans were in the midst of an 11-1, Pac-10 championship season that culminated in a 38-24 Rose Bowl defeat of Penn State. Back then, BCS bowls were the norm and the word “sanctions” didn’t figure into every discussion.
Still, head coaches are judged in part by their ability to pass lessons on to their assistants. Look at any successful coach, whether he works in the professional or college ranks, and you will likely see a group of his former assistants that went on to have noteworthy head coaching tenures of their own.
Case in point: Five current NFL head coaches (the Patriots’ Bill Belichick, the Saints’ Sean Payton, the Giants’ Tom Coughlin, the Chiefs’ Todd Haley and the Dolphins’ Tony Sparano) were one-time assistants to two-time Super Bowl winner Bill Parcells.
As evidenced by the coaching matchup in this Saturday’s USC vs. Washington tilt, times have improved for Carroll’s band of disciples.
Following one season at Tennessee, Kiffin took over for Carroll at USC and has done an admirable job of guiding the sanction-strapped Trojans to a 14-7 record in his first year and a half at the helm.
Orgeron reunited with Kiffin at Tennessee and has regained his position of assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator for the Trojans.
On the other sideline, Huskies head man Steve Sarkisian spent seven seasons on Carroll’s USC staff, including two years as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator.
When Sarkisian left for Seattle, he took Holt with him, putting him in charge of the Huskies’ defense.
The two turned around a Washington program reeling from an 0-12 season in 2008 into a 6-3 team this year that hasn’t lost to an opponent outside the nation’s top 11 teams.
Last year Sarkisian and Holt led the Huskies to a Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska, the team’s first bowl game appearance since 2002.
Trojan fans haven’t been celebrating with their former allies though: Washington has upset USC on last-second field goals in each of the last two seasons.
Holt added some spice to the burgeoning rivalry this week, when he told reporters following the Huskies’ 34-17 loss to Oregon that his defense would “be OK against [USC]. I’d rather play against USC than Oregon quite honestly.”
Posters with Holt’s statement appeared in Heritage Hall on Monday, although Kiffin and Sarkisian both downplayed the significance of Holt’s comments.
Whatever becomes of their rivalry, Sarkisian and Kiffin now lead two of the top five teams in the Pac-12 conference and both seem set for long-term success at their respective schools.
Meanwhile, a stone’s throw from Sarkisian’s office at Washington, Carroll is experiencing a sophomore slump in his second season as Seattle Seahawks head coach. His team is 2-6 and five games out of the division lead and it’s only the beginning of November.
Former USC assistants Pat Ruel, Rocky Seto, Ken Norton Jr., Carl Smith and Kris Richard have joined forces with their old leader in the NFL but Carroll hasn’t yet had the type of success that made him a Trojan legend.
There’s no doubt that what Carroll did during his nine years at USC was extraordinary. He orchestrated one of the greatest runs in college football history: seven straight Pac-10 titles, two national championships and a .814 winning percentage from 2001 to 2009.
But maybe he could gain insight from the way Sarkisian and Holt turned around the Washington program. Perhaps he could take a page out of Kiffin and Orgeron’s cool demeanors in the face of intense scrutiny.
Surely, one of the benefits of raising up successful followers is to learn from their triumphs too.
“Sellin’ the Sizzle” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org.