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USC should have fired Sarkisian sooner, some fans and faculty say

USC fired head football coach Steve Sarkisian Monday after problems with drinking and erratic behavior.

USC fired head football coach Steve Sarkisian Monday after problems with drinking and erratic behavior.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
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Many Trojan football fans and followers welcomed the decision Monday to fire Steve Sarkisian as USC’s head coach, with some saying the university should have taken the action weeks ago.

Alan Abrahamson, a former Los Angeles Times sportswriter who now teaches journalism at USC, said Sarkisian’s alcohol-fueled speech during an August pep rally should have sent him packing. But with the season about to begin amid talk of a potential national title, Abrahamson said, the pressure was on.

“He should have been told to get help and get his things,” said Abrahamson, who has no connection with the football program. “USC was way more interested in winning football games.”

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USC President C. L. Max Nikias did not respond to an interview request Monday.

Amid criticism of the university’s actions, however, many also wished Sarkisian well.

“Sending good vibes #stevesarkisian‘s way -- hope he gets the help he needs and finds his way back to CFB,” tweeted Katie Pielow Nash, who described herself as a wife, mom and USC Trojan.

Some also questioned whether USC athletic director Pat Haden had adequately investigated Sarkisian’s background before hiring him from the University of Washington, where the coach’s alcohol use was well-known.

“There is something rotten in Denmark,” said Marc Cooper, a retired USC professor who has spoken out about alcohol problems on campus. “Anybody who was going to vet Sarkisian in any serious manner would know there was some issues of alcohol connected to him” in Washington. “USC is more concerned about PR than about health and role models for students.”

Some students criticized the university two months ago for failing to discipline Sarkisian, saying it signaled that USC was not taking alcohol abuse seriously enough.

Jeffrey C. Fellenzer, a USC professor who works with student-athletes on media and classroom issues, said reaction was mixed when quarterback Cody Kessler discussed the situation in his sports, business and media class earlier this year. Some believed the coach should get a second chance, and Kessler told students that the team stood with him, Fellenzer said.

But, the professor said, he was not surprised by the decision to fire Sarkisian.

“Coaching at a school with the visibility and history of USC, in a media fishbowl and at the start of a season with high expectations while dealing with serious health issues seems like a potentially toxic combination,” Fellenzer said.

He added that he has heard no voices on campus objecting to the firing, including some he spoke with who are close to the football program. “The sentiment is that it was needed,” he said of Sarkisian’s removal.

Cary Akiyoshi, a USC alumnus and football season ticket holder for more than 20 years, said he never supported Sarkisian, in part because he abandoned the Washington program and players before completing his contract -- showing, Akiyoshi said, a lack of integrity and commitment.

But after Sarkisian’s appearance at the annual “Salute to Troy” pep rally, where he appeared to be intoxicated, used foul language and insulted opposing teams, Akiyoshi said he and many other alumni felt USC should have removed him.

“Is this really the kind of guy you want to head your program?” Akiyoshi said he thought at the time.

In hiring Sarkisian, who was an assistant to coach Pete Carroll in the 2000s, “USC was clearly trying to recapture the glory,” Abrahamson said.

“One of the lessons of life is that when something is over, it is over,” Abrahamson said. “Finally, emphatically, unequivocally, USC is free to move on from the Carroll years.”

For more education news, follow me @TeresaWatanabe

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