USC Sports

USC Now mailbag: It’s all about Steve Sarkisian

Steve Sarkisian
USC fans are already questioning Coach Steve Sarkisian before the end of his first season.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

It’s the start of the holiday season and USC fans have already spread the cheer to my inbox ... or some variation of it.

Here is what you wrote in with this week.

I’m writing this after turning off the TV, with approximately eight minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Do USC defensive players know how to tackle? What is the defensive coordinator wunderkind, Justin Wilcox, doing?


USC is third from the bottom in pathetic quotient: Only Colorado and Washington State are lower. And WSU seems to be getting better.

-- Jeff Shinn, ’73, Boise, Idaho

Jeff, pat yourself on the back for making it that long because it was ugly.

I’ve witnessed USC players tackle exercise balls, padded dummies, scout team players and other Trojans.


A Trojan tackling a Bruin is a rarity.

I’m not sure where the “pathetic quotient” statistics are found, but USC’s seven victories are more than Stanford, California, Washington State, Oregon State and Colorado.

Washington State is 1-5 in its last six games and Colorado has lost seven straight.

John Robinson (Part II), Paul Hackett, Lane Kiffin and now Steve Sarkisian were all failed attempts by USC to restore former glory by reaching back to its past. Even the appointment of Trojan hero Pat Haden -- who is a fine man---as athletic director has produced questionable results. When will USC get that in order to move forward, you need to forget the past and start fresh (a la hiring Carroll in 2000)?

-- Chris Lorenz

Isn’t it premature to call Sarkisian a failed attempt at restoring USC to the top?

He has coached 11 games!

I am not a Sarkisian apologist, but can fans give him two seasons to see what he is capable of achieving?


This season, he installs his system and the program foundation. Next season, he builds on it.

Then -- if the Trojans do not demonstrate steady progress toward improvement --“fail” is a term that becomes more appropriate.

Carroll was 6-6 his first season before the team went on its dominating run.

And let’s not forget: Carroll was not USC’s first choice as head coach.

Fifty-two years. That’s how long I’ve been a fan of USC football. And for the first time during all those years, I’m considering cashing in my fan status. I didn’t watch yesterday’s loss, and won’t tune in for next week’s. I’m convinced that the current downturn in USC football is not merely a phase. It’s permanent.

Steve Sarkisian is currently the second failed Pete Carroll assistant who has followed in his wake, with predictable results. There is nothing in Sarkisian’s coaching history that suggests he will emulate Carroll’s success.

Which begs the question, how long before USC realizes Pete isn’t coming back? And that his minions aren’t going to resurrect his glory.

Next Saturday figures to be a typical California beautiful day. Warm, sunny and perfect. Why should I work myself into a frenzy over a hopeless cause on so many levels, and a program that languishes in mediocrity, apparently satisfied to stay there.


I think I’ll go to the beach.

--Don Rosen, USC 1974

Don, that was the longest doom and gloom email I’ve read this season – with the exception of the beach.

I hope you soak up the rays and some positivity!

The word “fail” – again?! Sarkisian has not even finished his first season.

After Kiffin’s tenure, I was surprised USC dipped back into the Carroll well. But, Sarkisian turned an 0-12 Washington team into a consistent seven-win program. That’s an impressive turnaround, though he did not reach an elite level of success.

Sarkisian’s history proved that he was able to take a cellar-dwelling program and make it relevant. Perhaps that suggests that he can take a good program and make it great, though this season’s 7-4 record and a few late-game meltdowns so far do not support that theory.

Don, skip the rest of this season. The beach forecast on Saturday: 70 degrees and sunny.

The word was USC had better players than the teams they were to play this year even though they would be short of players.

So what has changed? The players are still better individually so that leaves coaching.

Defensively there was no coaching. Offensively there was little coaching to none - -just look at Washington for the past three years, with fewer better players and yet the same result.

Oh well, congratulations to UCLA.

--Joe Laraneta, USC ’64

That was -- and continues to be -- the word.

USC’s roster, though limited in numbers, is still stocked with talent.

Would you trade these playmakers on defense: Leonard Williams, J.R. Tavai, Su’a Cravens, Hayes Pullard, Adoree’ Jackson or Josh Shaw?

What about on offense: Cody Kessler, Javorius Allen, Nelson Agholor, Randall Telfer, JuJu Smith and Max Tuerk?

Players on USC’s roster were recruited at a national level.

But that was recruiting and this is college football. Those players have to be coached and developed to win.

You need to add a sixth item why USC lost to UCLA… Steve Sarkisian. Watching Sarkisian coach games at the University of Washington, it was obvious he never learned how to be a head coach from Pete Carroll.

Game after game, Sark buried his head in his play sheet trying to be the offensive play caller. He has no clue how to be a field general, how to let his offensive, defensive and special teams coaches manage their respective units and interject only when necessary.

Sarkisian is so incapable of letting go of the offensive game-day play calling that it gets in the way of his performance as a head coach. And thinking no one in the country (or on his team) could be a better play caller is arrogance and stupidity at its worst.

Fred Riler, Issaquah, Wash.

I expect this to be a subject discussed in great depth during the offseason, and it would not surprise me if Sarkisian hands over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Clay Helton.

Kiffin would not give up play calling and it was a factor that eventually led to his demise.

Sarkisian spends minimal time (as did Kiffin) monitoring the defense during practice.

Helton proved a dynamic play-caller after Kiffin was fired. His efforts culminated in an impressive victory over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

When former interim coach Ed Orgeron took over midseason, he allowed coordinators and position coaches to manage their units while he oversaw the program.

The assistants were capable of fulfilling their job descriptions.

Questions or comments about USC? Email me at or tweet @LindseyThiry and I will respond to select messages in a future USC Now mailbag

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