Editorial: Why didn’t USC see the red flags around Steve Sarkisian?
USC football fans went into full recrimination mode this week after Athletic Director Pat Haden fired troubled football coach Steve Sarkisian, apparently in connection with a long-rumored drinking problem. Much of their frustration seemed focused on Haden, who hired Sarkisian in 2013 after four mediocre seasons and three years of tough NCAA sanctions because of rule violations during the tenure of erstwhile coach Pete Carroll. Trojan fans were ready for a return to championship-caliber play. Instead, the team stands at 3-2 and has little chance of competing for the collegiate title.
In hindsight, there were plenty of red flags waving around Sarkisian, a former USC baseball player and an assistant football coach under Carroll. The Times reported Monday that Sarkisian had run up big alcohol tabs while traveling as coach of the University of Washington’s football team, and quoted former players saying he smelled of booze at some team meetings. More recently, Sarkisian had seemed drunk at USC’s main preseason event in August, slurring his way through a very public pep talk. He later said he’d mistakenly mixed alcohol and prescription drugs, and that he would be evaluated to determine whether he had a drinking problem.
With a football program as storied as USC’s, it’s easy to second-guess the hiring of any coach who doesn’t win as many games as the alumni expect. In Sarkisian’s case, however, the more important question is whether the university put the coach in a position to overcome his health issues, or if it let the problems escalate through inattention or willful blindness. Haden did an honorable thing in August by not using Sarkisian’s health problems as an excuse to toss him off the payroll, but it’s worth asking whether the university should have known about the problems earlier in order to help Sarkisian deal with them. Instead, USC seemed to have been caught by surprise when the coach got worse instead of better.
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