The USC football head-coaching search is over – and once again, the Trojans will be led by a disciple of former head coach Pete Carroll. Former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian, who oversaw the development of two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks under Carroll alongside former USC head coach Lane Kiffin, has accepted the position and will replace interim head coach Ed Orgeron.
Despite widespread fan support for Orgeron that was slightly tempered after a season-ending 35-14 loss to UCLA, athletic director Pat Haden decided to hire Sarkisian, 39, after the former USC offensive coordinator compiled a 34-29 record (24-21 in the Pac-12) in five years at Washington.
Sarkisian interviewed with Haden over the weekend, and Haden confirmed that Sarkisian was offered the job Monday morning and promptly accepted.
“We are delighted to welcome Steve Sarkisian back to the Trojan Family,” said Haden, who will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. on Tuesday in the John McKay Center to formally introduce Sarkisian. “We conducted a very exhaustive and thorough search, pinpointing about 20 candidates and interviewing five of them. We kept coming back to Sark.”
It was reported earlier by multiple media outlets that Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had been interviewed by USC earlier this fall, in addition to Orgeron and Sarkisian. Sources tell the Daily Trojan that former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden was the fifth candidate to be interviewed.
Sarkisian was an assistant coach for the Trojans for seven years, including two years as the offensive coordinator for Carroll. During his time at USC, Sarkisian tutored two Heisman Trophy quarterbacks in Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer, and the Trojans held a 22-3 record when he called the plays.
“I am extremely excited to be coming home to USC and for the opportunity that USC presents to win championships,” Sarkisian said. “I can’t wait to get started.”
Meanwhile, Orgeron, who guided the Trojans to a 6-2 record following the dismissal of Kiffin, said he is leaving USC to pursue head coaching opportunities.
“I am grateful to the University of Southern California for the great time I had here,” Orgeron said. “I am especially proud of this year’s team and coaching staff, who had to start a new season and then bonded, played together as a family and competed like Trojans.”
Haden reportedly offered Orgeron a pay raise and a position on the staff as assistant head coach, but the former defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator was reportedly “outraged” at being passed over for the head coaching gig, according to ESPN’s Brett McMurphy. Orgeron will leave Troy after overseeing a second-half run that featured a massive upset of then-No. 5 Stanford that reinvigorated USC’s fan base.
“[Orgeron] understandably was disappointed when I told him we were going in a different direction,” Haden said. “We talked about the possibility of him remaining at USC, but Ed wants to be a head coach and I am supportive of that.”
After staunchly supporting Orgeron throughout his tenure, USC’s players will have to rebound and play under new leadership. It has yet to be announced if Sarkisian or another current USC coach will lead the Trojans into their pending bowl game.
During his tenure in Seattle, Sarkisian was noted for his excellent recruiting skills across the West Coast, a skill that made him a very attractive option for USC. In 2008, the Huskies finished 0-12, and Sarkisian impressed the nation by leading Washington to a respectable 5-7 in his first year on the job. The Huskies’ eight victories this year were the most at UW since 2000.
Sarkisian’s contract with USC spans five years, according to Los Angeles Daily News’ Scott Wolf. He will be immediately tasked with reconstructing the Trojans’ offense, potentially with freshman quarterback Max Browne, whom he heavily recruited to play for the Huskies.
The Trojans have struggled to regain their status as an offensive juggernaut they held while under the tutelage of Carroll, Sarkisian and Kiffin in the mid-2000s. Washington was ranked No. 8 in the nation offensively this year, averaging over 500 yards a game, while USC was ranked No. 80 with 392.3 yards per game.
Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin and Boise State head coach Chris Peterson were also reportedly top candidates, with both having shown the prowess to guide programs to unprecedented success.
But in choosing Sarkisian, Haden decided to invest in the future of USC football by maintaining a link to the past.
Sarkisian was expected to have his first meeting with USC players at 7 p.m. Monday night, according to Bruce Feldman of CBS Prevent.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to include more information as this story develops.