Pat Haden: Steve Sarkisian was fired because he failed to meet USC standards
USC Athletic Director Pat Haden said Tuesday that Steve Sarkisian was fired because his conduct did not meet USC’s standards and expectations of a head coach.
Haden spoke and then answered questions at a news conference at the McKay Center shortly after USC President Max Nikias issued a statement in support of Haden, who has been under fire for his handling of Sarkisian in the aftermath of an embarrassing alcohol-related incident at USC’s annual “Salute to Troy” booster event in August.
“We’ve had a lot of good things happen here the last five years,” said Haden, who succeeded Mike Garrett as athletic director in 2010. “There are lots of people in this room and outside the room questioning my leadership at USC, but I’m very proud of the record over the last five years.”
Interim coach Clay Helton also addressed reporters. He expressed confidence in himself, the staff and his team, and said he wanted the job permanently but understood it was a process and that’s not where his focus was.
The Trojans play at Notre Dame on Saturday.
Haden said he had not spoken to Sarkisian since Sunday, when Haden put him on indefinite leave. Sarkisian had presided over a team meeting but did not show up for practice.
“Over the next 24 hours I was able to look further into the situation and gather facts and determined that Steve’s conduct did not meet USC’s standards and expectations of a head coach,” Haden said. “He knew those expectations and failed to meet them, so we made a decision in the best interest of our student athletes and that was to terminate Steve.”
Haden said he had attempted to reach Sarkisian but had sent him a letter of termination.
Haden has come under fire for allowing Sarkisian to continue coaching after the coach slurred words, insulted opponents and used an expletive in “Fight On” at the annual “Salute to Troy” in August.
“I felt at that time it was in the best interest of our players, who have been through an incredible amount of adversity during these [NCAA] sanctions, with the coaching changes they had gone through and with Steve not to suspend or fire him at that time,” he said. “Based on the input of trusted medical professionals and staff it was determined that he could continue coaching while seeking treatment.
“I feel a great deal of compassion for Steve Sarkisian.”
Haden hired Sarkisian, a former USC assistant under Pete Carroll, to succeed Lane Kiffin, who Haden fired at LAX after a 2013 loss at Arizona State.
Sarkisian was hired after Haden interviewed Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin, then-Boise State coach Chris Petersen and former USC All-American and NFL coach Jack Del Rio.
Petersen succeeded Sarkisian at Washington and Del Rio was hired by the Oakland Raiders.
Haden said Sarkisian was vetted by a search firm, the NCAA and USC before he was hired.
“The decision I made didn’t work out,” Haden said, “and I own that.”
Haden said, “I will work very hard to get this right for football.”
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