Coaches at USC, Stanford put the brakes on potential controversy

Coaches at USC, Stanford put the brakes on potential controversy
Stanford Coach David Shaw, left, and Washington Coach Steve Sarkisian shake hands following the Cardinal's victory over the Huskies last season. (Stephen Lam / Getty Images)

Steve Sarkisian and David Shaw played nice Tuesday.

The general message: No problem between us. It's all in the past. Nothing to see here.


Maybe not until Saturday.

When USC travels to Stanford Stadium for a Pac-12 Conference football opener, it will be difficult to forget the aftermath of the last time the two coaches faced off.

That was last season, when Stanford defeated a Washington team coached by Sarkisian, 31-28.

Afterward, Sarkisian fired a super-charged salvo, accusing Stanford defenders of faking injuries to slow the pace of a no-huddle offense that ran 88 plays at Stanford Stadium.

"I guess that's how we play here at Stanford," Sarkisian said after the game. "So we'll have to prepare for that next time."

Shaw denied the allegation and said Stanford won games the right way. He also pointed out that Washington had a coach on its staff who at another university had been reprimanded for ordering a player to feign an injury.

"The only assistant coach I've ever known to order players to fake injuries coaches at Washington," Shaw snapped, "and he's admitted to it."

Sarkisian later said he stood by what he saw and that two people could disagree on something and move on.

Apparently, they have.

The "next time" Sarkisian alluded to is only a few days away.

As part of game-week preparations, both coaches anticipated questions about the issue.

Sarkisian fielded them first after the Trojans' morning practice. He said he and Shaw spent time together with their wives in Hawaii last spring, adding, "We're in a good place."

"It was in the heat of the moment," he said of the exchanges. "David and I addressed it over the next couple of days and we moved on."

Less than 30 minutes later, Shaw said there was "no animosity whatsoever."


"We never talked about it again," Shaw said during the Pac-12 coaches' weekly teleconference. "It was over. It was in the past."

Sarkisian followed Shaw on the call an hour later and said, "I think our relationship is fine."

It might get tested if Stanford players go down again.

In USC's 52-13 victory over Fresno State last week, the Trojans ran a Pac-12 record 105 plays.

This is a huge game for No. 14 USC, which does not play No. 3 Oregon this season. It's also a big one for No. 13 Stanford — a 45-0 winner over UC Davis in its opener — which does play the Ducks.

It's also a game USC and Stanford would probably prefer to play later in the season. "I don't think either of us would choose this," Shaw said, "but it's an early test and it doesn't spell the whole — what's going to happen the entire season."

USC lost its first Pac-12 road game in each of the last three seasons.

Arizona State beat the Trojans, 43-22, at Tempe, Ariz., in 2011 and dismantled them, 62-41, last season, ending the Lane Kiffin era at USC. Two years ago, Stanford came from behind to defeat the second-ranked Trojans, 21-14.

USC avenged that defeat last season by upsetting the fifth-ranked Cardinal, 20-17, at the Coliseum.

"They got us for awhile and then we got them," USC quarterback Cody Kessler.

A USC victory on Saturday would validate a team that looked spectacular at times against Fresno State. The confidence boost might send the Trojans on a run through a schedule that includes a road game at Boston College and home games against Oregon State and Arizona State before another pivotal Pac-12 road game at Arizona on Oct. 11.

But the week did not start smoothly for the Trojans.

Kessler did not practice Tuesday after undergoing a procedure for an unspecified issue with one of his toes. Sarkisian and Kessler declined to say what precipitated the procedure, but a person with knowledge of the situation said the quarterback was treated for an infection. (The source of the information requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the team or Kessler.)

Kessler said he would practice Wednesday and play on Saturday when the Trojans and the Cardinal renew what has become one of college football's best series.

"When both teams have been ranked, when one team has been ranked, it hasn't mattered," Shaw said. "The games are tight and the games are exciting. They're fun to watch."

Neither Sarkisian nor Shaw sounded as if they anticipated a repeat of the post-game drama that unfolded the last time they coached against each other.

But Sarkisian did not completely rule out the possibility of conflict.

"There may be a disagreement or two Saturday as well," he said, "but that's part of the business that we're in."

Times staff writer Chris Dufresne contributed to this report.