Swiftness of Sarkisian hire unfair to Coach O

Monday was certainly a crazy day in Troy. It was a spectacle unlike any other as we witnessed the intersection of business and emotion. Throw in the volatile nature of social media, and this explosive concoction of variables proved to be great theater and fodder for lots of chatter.

To fully understand the somewhat puzzling events that transpired Monday, we have to understand all of the intricate pieces first. There was the hiring process, this year’s closely knit football team, a passionate fan base and 24/7 media coverage of the season.

The catalyst that ignited the emotional outbreak Monday was the businesslike manner in which Steve Sarkisian was hired. Much like the firing of Lane Kiffin, Athletic Director Pat Haden acted quickly and efficiently, leaving little time to spare. If a similar process had unfolded in a private equity firm, I imagine Haden would be applauded for his efforts.

USC football, however, is not corporate America. While logic and reason should trump emotion, it just doesn’t for fans and players in college football. So hiring a coach less than 48 hours after a demoralizing loss to UCLA is certainly going to rub some people the wrong way in any situation.

It seems even more callous when put into context with the emotional makeup of this year’s team. Ed Orgeron was more than just a coach to the Trojans. His upbeat demeanor and gregarious attitude created a bond with players and fans alike. He took over a program devoid of emotion and put the fun back into football.

Losing that type of connection after a magical eight-week run was a tough pill to swallow for some middle-aged fans, whose only interaction with Coach O was through the lens of a camera. It’s hard to even imagine the emotional toll this took on players who grew exceptionally close to Orgeron after spending extensive time with him on a daily basis.

Whether or not Coach O was treated unfairly in this situation, many players and fans’ perceptions is that he got the short end of the stick. This feeling was only exacerbated when Orgeron left his final meeting with his players in tears. For a unit whose mantra was “one team, one heartbeat,” the sting of seeing your leader cry is naturally going to create intense emotions.

When 18 to 22-year-olds —myself included — feel anything, they take to social media to vent their frustrations. Unlike most college-aged kids, USC football players have been put under a microscope by fans and a press corps hungry for any piece of information. This combination of factors created a solemn environment around the football program Monday.

On its own, this situation poses a multitude of issues. Then, the fan base gets involved. Sanctions or no sanctions, USC fans demand excellence, plain and simple. If you are proud of a nine-win season, you can go across town. We wanted a Nick Saban or Urban Meyer-esque hire, and anything less feels unacceptable. Sarkisian isn’t Saban -— not yet, anyway — and the fact that he was hired so quickly only added fuel to the fire. The ties to Lane Kiffin didn’t help, nor did the fact that Orgeron had a better record in the Pac-12 this year than Sarkisian ever has.

Pleasing the entire USC fan base on any occasion is nearly impossible. This hire didn’t even come close. Just like firing a coach in an airport hangar is a public relations disaster, so was this firestorm. By ignoring the emotional aspect, and approaching this decision from a purely analytical and business perspective, the USC Athletic Department did itself a disservice.

That is not a critique of Sarkisian, just the process in which he was reintroduced to the Trojan faithful. I personally am a fan of his hire, and even if I weren’t, now is the time to stop complaining and rally around the new coach. As fans, there is no need to further aggravate the situation by complaining and criticizing.

At the end of the day, there wasn’t a single coach out there who had the caché of Saban or Meyer. Truth be told, USC doesn’t need either of those guys to win a national title. I was a big proponent of Coach O getting the job, because I think all it takes to win at USC is recruiting prowess, the ability to motivate and great assistant coaches. As long as our coach isn’t aloof, stubborn and pedantic, we as fans have nothing to worry about.

Sarkisian brings all of that to the table and more. Tosh Lupoi is a recruiting maven, and Justin Wilcox is one the best defensive coordinators in the country. Soon enough, Sarkisian’s outgoing nature will win over the fan base.

Monday was a hectic day and took a toll on all parties involved. I predict, however, that in three years when Sarkisian and Max Browne are holding up a crystal football, everyone will be fondly reminiscing about this decision, much like we did when Pete Caroll and Matt Leinart won their first national championship. At the end of the day, there is only one thing that will forever extinguish this firestorm. It’s the only thing that cures an ailing program and appeases a hungry fan base: winning. Let’s give Sark and company a chance to do just that — win.


“Davidson’s Direction” runs every other Wednesday. To comment on this story, email Jake at jake.r.davidson@gmail.com or visit dailytrojan.com.

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7 replies
  1. Jackson
    Jackson says:

    Uh, at this moment it doesn’t look like Justin Wilcox or Tosh Lupoi is coming with Sark from Washington.

  2. Bill N
    Bill N says:

    You ignore 2 facts: 1) Haden’s team spent 2 months doing detailed evaluations of over 25 candidates including initial vetting by a search firm, and conducted interviews with the 5 leading candidates, and 2) there is a Dec 15 deadline to sign 4 EEs or we lose those scholarships.

    Haden had to act quickly. He picked the best candidate. The Trojan Family needs to come together at this time and support Coach Sark and AD Haden. This can be the start of something special and it doesn’t need any negative energy. Sark has a lot to do and he will be faced with only 70 scholarship players (assuming 5 juniors go early) in 2014, so he has to get the new coaching staff, win over the current players, and finish strong with recruiting. Let’s help him do that.

  3. Saurabh
    Saurabh says:

    Nice Article! Everyone at SC just loved and respected Coach O and wanted him to stay. Initially even I was terribly disappointed by the Haden’s handling of the situation and very sad to see Coach O go. But perhaps that was the only possible approach Haden could have taken. Coach O obviously had Head Coaching aspirations and it was clear he was not in Haden’s bigger picture. Keeping him until the bowl game would have made it further more difficult and would have affected recruiting adversely once they let him go. At the end of the day this has been a really unique year in SC’s football history made truly special by Coach O and the players and we should be happy that SC football is in good hands with Coach Sark and the crystal ball should be coming soon to the Heritage Hall.

  4. Ken
    Ken says:

    What you failed to mention is that we have to fill the four early enrollee scholarships by Dec. 15, or we lose them. With the sanctions still in place, every single scholarship player is crucial.

    While the timing of replacing was painful (who DIDN’T like Coach O?), in the long-run it might be better for Troy with 4 solid players committed to Coach Sark (perhaps a surprise in the bunch), and to Coach O who has a better opportunity to pursue head coaching opportunities at this stage in the coaching carousel.

    My two bits…

  5. Scott
    Scott says:

    Pat Haden’s decisive leadership should be celebrated and revered. We have only to look at the abysmal record of the previous AD to appreciate what Pat’s real leadership looks like. Coach O deserves praise for a job well done and his disappointment is understandable. But the “interim” in his head coach title said it all. Haden has done a masterful job of managing expectations and making tough decisions. Most importantly, he has made those tough calls quickly, decisively and with compassion for those impacted. Yes, he cut his teeth in Corporate America and on the ‘SC gridiron too. Perhaps, the lessons learned there do apply to USC Football.

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