Steve Sarkisian made a name for himself as a USC assistant. Is the guy to turn the Trojans around now? Photo: USA Today Sports
Crystal Ball Run continues our look at some of the top candidates to be named the next head coach at USC. We already looked over Kevin Sumlin. Now we look at Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian.
USC Coach Candidate: Steve Sarkisian
Current job: Washington head coach
Strengths: Former USC assistant, likely turning around another Pac 12 program
Weaknesses: Pete Carroll ties
Why USC would hire Steve Sarkisian
It would seem Steve Sarkisian would be a perfect fit for USC. Sarkisian has made steady progress since becoming the head coach at Washington. The year before his arrival Washington had gone 0-12 after winning just four games the year before in the final seasons with Tyrone Willingham at the helm. Sarkisian won five games in his first year on the job — highlighted by one particular upset — and has since taken the Huskies to three straight winning seasons. This year Sarkisian has coached Washington to have the third best total offense in the Pac 12, just behind Oregon and ahead of Arizona State (who beat USC in Lane Kiffin's last game, of course).
Sarkisian built his coaching profile largely within the USC program, so he has a good understanding for what the program is all about, which could be beneficial. Sarkisian was the quarterbacks coach from 2001 through 2003 before going to the NFL for one year to hold the same position with the Oakland Raiders. He returned a year later to the same job for two years before adding offensive coordinator duties in 2007. As a quarterbacks coach at USC Sarkisian worked with Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez, building them as first-round NFL Draft picks (who cares what happened once they got there). After two years as USC's offensive coordinator, ranking third and second in the Pac 10 in total offense, Sarkisian was offered the job of head coach at Washington, where he has continued to grow and gain experience as a head coach. USC would be bringing home a season d coach who has been groomed for the position and gone through the initial growing pains as a head coach.
Why USC wouldn't hire Steve Sarkisian
USC just swung and miss taking a chance on a former Pete Carroll assistant, so there may be some reluctance to take a shot on another. Comparing Sarkisian to Kiffin may be unfair, but given USC's attempts to clean up the program and move on past the Carroll regime that ended up placing sanctions on the program may suggest anyone with ties to the former head coach may count against them, fairly or not.
It is also fair to point out that Sarkisian may have reached his peak as a head coach. The past three seasons have ended with identical 7-6 records, with bowl defeats each of the last two seasons. While the direction of Washington may have changed, USC would be demanding to show progress on a year-to-year basis, and that means more wins. If Sarkisian struggles to get past the seven-win mark this season, how attractive would he be to USC?
As Allen noted in our look at Kevin Sumlin, USC remains one of the top coaching jobs in college football. Sarkisian would be moving from Washington to USC and would fit in right away. Having gained a foothold in the region as an assistant and coaching first round NFL draft picks at quarterback, it would be likely he could continue to have USC thriving in recruiting once they are restored to a full scholarship allotment.
Sarkisian has played it safe already by going on record saying he is committed to Washington, but we all know how this game works. Of course he is not going to declare his interest in USC, if such an interest does exist. If he was interested, and if USC is not afraid to bring back another member of the Carroll coaching tree, then he would make a top candidate for the job.
Sarkisian has a pretty nice job going for him at Washington, but his chances of winning a Pac 12 title may be better at USC once the scholarships are back in order. Either way Sarkisian would have to eventually go through Oregon or Stanford to get there, but he could have a better opportunity to do so with the Trojans. If he is interested.