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Sarkisian tells Raiders that he's staying at USC

The 32-year-old assistant head coach says the timing is not right for a jump to the NFL.

January 20, 2007|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

USC assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian, who had been the leading candidate to become coach of the Oakland Raiders, said Friday that he had withdrawn his name from consideration and would remain at USC.

"I know I'm a very strong candidate for the job and I know it's a wonderful opportunity to be a head coach in the National Football League for the Oakland Raiders," Sarkisian said. "But I'm not going to go for it. I'm not going to take it. I'm going to stay."

Sarkisian, 32, was the Raiders quarterbacks coach in 2004. He had interviewed with Raiders owner Al Davis for three days over the course of more than a week.

"The interviews with Al Davis and the Raiders have been unbelievable," Sarkisian said. "They really challenged me not only about how to run an organization but also about what I want and what I want to achieve and what my goals are. And I've always wanted to be a head college football coach.

"I think USC is the best thing for me right now to achieve that."

USC Coach Pete Carroll said he competed to keep Sarkisian and was elated that he would remain with the Trojans. Carroll declined to comment about salary increases or other incentives that were offered to Sarkisian.

"It's a huge statement about Sark being clear about what he wants to do with his career and work toward his goals," Carroll said. "He's clear that he's set his sights on being a head coach in college football. He's equipped and prepared to do that. It's just a matter of time."

Sarkisian spoke Friday at USC's Heritage Hall, where the Trojans entertained several of their top football recruits. He said he was not offered the Raiders job but did not make his decision based on the standing of other candidates who had interviewed.

Former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel, Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and San Diego Chargers assistant James Lofton also interviewed with Davis, who fired Art Shell after a 2-14 season.

"I'm not waiting," Sarkisian said. "Our timetables are not lined up the same way with what they want to get done and what I want to get done, where I see my career and what I want to do with college football. Going to the NFL right now is not what I need to do.

"I've always wanted is to be a head football coach in college football, so to go in the NFL and the commitment it takes and what you need to do, that's taking me off my path of what I really want. I think SC is the best place for me right now.... I've been to the NFL. I did it once and I knew what I wanted and I came back."

Sarkisian said he would not rule out an eventual career as an NFL coach.

"Two, five, 10 years maybe it will be different," he said. "I don't know. I just know right now the timing wasn't right."

USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was also back at USC after interviewing with the Raiders on Thursday, ostensibly to become offensive coordinator if Sarkisian was hired.

Kiffin also had been a finalist to become head coach at Minnesota and turned down an opportunity to interview with Alabama Coach Nick Saban.

"Throughout this process I've never forgotten the great place I work and the great people I'm around," Kiffin said.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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