The dispute between USC and Steve Sarkisian over the football coach’s abrupt firing in 2015 ended last week when the school prevailed in an arbitration hearing.
“I am disappointed in the decision, but we will respect it and move on,” Sarkisian, the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, said Monday in a statement. “Much gratitude to everyone who has shown their support and stood by me. The last two years have been trying, but I am in now a great place, healthy, happy and loving my job with the Falcons and have the support of my family and friends and that’s where my focus is and will remain.”
Then-USC athletic director Pat Haden fired Sarkisian in October 2015 after the coach slurred his words and shouted a profanity during the “Salute to Troy” preseason booster event, didn’t appear to be himself during a game and acted strangely before a team meeting.
Sarkisian sued USC two months later, claiming Haden dismissed him rather than allow him to seek treatment for alcoholism. The coach sought the $12.6 million remaining on his contract plus unspecified damages.
The lawsuit said Sarkisian was “upset, teary and nearly hyperventilating” before calling Haden and asking for time off. According to the complaint, Haden responded: “Unbelievable! Can’t you even go back to the office to finish the day?” Sarkisian said: “No, I need to get help. I'm not right.”
USC called the lawsuit’s claims “patently untrue” and alleged that Sarkisian “repeatedly denied” to university officials that he had a problem with alcohol.
Sarkisian’s behavior didn’t appear to be normal, the lawsuit said, because of anxiety and depression in addition to increased alcohol consumption related to the stress of his job and a divorce.
The lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court claiming discrimination on the basis of disability and breach of contract dropped out of public view three months later after Sarkisian agreed to binding arbitration. That meant none of the proceedings, testimony and other documents are a matter of public record.
Sarkisian agreed to submit claims related to his contract to arbitration, though he said in a sworn declaration he didn’t recall signing the provision.
The coach, entering his second season with the Falcons, worked as an analyst, then offensive coordinator for Alabama after leaving USC.