Steve Sarkisian prepares for possibility that USC assistants will exit

Steve Sarkisian prepares for possibility that USC assistants will exit
USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is reportedly a potential candidate for the Oregon State head coaching job created this week when Mike Riley departed for Nebraska. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Mike Riley's departure this week from Oregon State to Nebraska offered a reminder that the bowl season — and firing season for athletic directors — annually starts a ripple effect among assistant coaches.

Four USC assistants — linebackers coach Peter Sirmon, defensive line coach Chris Wilson, secondary coach Keith Heyward and linebackers coach Marques Tuiasosopo — were absent Friday when the Trojans returned to practice.

Coach Steve Sarkisian said the assistants were recruiting. But he acknowledged that head coaches must be braced for possible permanent departures.

"You have to be aware of it and you have to have a plan in place," he said. "You can't get caught totally off guard."


Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox reportedly interviewed to become head coach at Boise State after the 2013 season. Wilcox, who went to high school in Oregon and played defensive back at Oregon, has been mentioned in media reports as a possible candidate to replace Riley at Oregon State.

Sarkisian said he speaks frankly with staff members about possible movement.

"Some coaches get into bullying their coaches for leaving or not," Sarkisian said. "They have to do what's best for them and their family. But this is a hard place to leave."

Wilcox will not be made available to the media until Sunday.

Former USC interim coach Ed Orgeron is regarded as a candidate to join Riley's Nebraska staff. During his introductory news conference on Friday, Riley told the Lincoln Journal Star his relationship with Orgeron was "good, no doubt about that."

Plans to stay

In an interview published on USC's athletic website, Athletic Director Pat Haden said rumors of his imminent retirement were inaccurate.

"I hear from friends that there are rumors about me stepping away from this job, but that is not in my plans at this time," said Haden, who turns 62 in January. "I am fully engaged in this job and love working with our great staff, coaches and student-athletes here. We have a lot of work to do in the future. Yes, I am getting older, but my health is fine. I am looking forward to a great 2015 in USC athletics."

Draft meetings

Sarkisian said he met with NFL draft-eligible juniors this week to discuss their situations.

Quarterback Cody Kessler, running back Javorius Allen, receiver Nelson Agholor and defensive lineman Leonard Williams are the most high-profile juniors.

Players were not made available to the media Friday.

Sarkisian said he wanted players to use him as "a resource" but added, "competitively, as the head coach at SC, sure I want them to be here because I think we have a chance to do something uniquely special next fall."

Jackson practices

Cornerback Adoree' Jackson, who was taken out of the Notre Dame game because of concussive symptoms, wore a yellow "no contact" jersey Friday but participated in all drills and intercepted a pass.

Twitter: @latimesklein