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T.J. SIMERS

Bruins' best bet may be (gulp!) a former Trojan

The Bruins have already been turned down by Boise State's Chris Petersen, the focus now shifting to Miami's Al Golden. But Washington's Sarkisian would be an inspired choice, despite his USC ties.

December 03, 2011|T.J. SIMERS
  • Steve Sarkisian, a former USC assistant, has helped turn around the program at Washington.
Steve Sarkisian, a former USC assistant, has helped turn around the program… (Christine Cotter / Associated…)

EUGENE, ORE. — I've seen all the names on the list of potential successors to UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel. Boise State's Chris Petersen crossed off, the attention now shifts to Miami's Al Golden.

UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero passed word through a spokesman to our UCLA beat reporter Chris Foster on Friday night that he's not talking to Golden.

I presume he meant he wasn't talking to him at that exact moment. Otherwise, someone might accuse him later of not telling the truth.

Some folks in the know are now saying that if Golden consents to further talks he becomes the front-runner.

UCLA, which is waiting to hear back from Golden, took a long look at him last time around before hiring Neuheisel. It makes sense Guerrero would go that way again.

That's one of Guerrero's limitations. He's not all that creative. His two previous football hires were thrown upon him by UCLA alumni, and Ben Howland lobbied hard for the basketball post.

In addition to Petersen and Golden, former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti's name has been mentioned along with a number of the usual suspects.

But sitting here in this ice box at Podunk U., fans going crazy when they shoot off a few fireworks as if it were the highlight of their lives, I wonder how Oregon became better than UCLA?

Washington State and Arizona State have already made intriguing hires, and with Lane Kiffin and Pat Haden putting USC back on track, UCLA has to do something special.

So how about this for an inspiring hire?

Steve Sarkisian.

I know he's a former Trojan.

Get over it.

If he beats Nebraska to go 2-0 as UCLA football coach next September, Bruins fans will be talking about "how our guy has turned things around."

Take a closer look at what he'd bring to the Bruins. He might be the only coach in the country with the potential to unnerve Kiffin, who was confident before he returned to USC and has become only more so after this season's strong finish.

Sark is every bit the recruiter Kiffin is, and knows how USC goes about recruiting. He's a better communicator than Kiffin, certainly funnier, and more than that he's offensive-minded, just the way the Bruins' fans like their football teams.

He also has a catchy nickname.

When they were together at USC, Kiffin called the plays, including the one against Texas that stopped the Trojans in their tracks, while Sark worked with the quarterbacks.

Kiffin deserves credit for establishing himself as a force now in college football in his two years at USC, so UCLA has to go beyond the traditional hire.

Sark was the chosen one to follow Pete Carroll at USC as head coach. He was Al Davis' choice before Kiffin to become the Raiders' coach. He always seemed to be one step ahead of Kiffin.

He went to Washington and beat Carroll's Trojans, and then he brought his Huskies to the Coliseum last season and shocked Kiffin's Trojans.

USC took Washington apart this season, but how much fun would the UCLA-USC rivalry be if two good friends and competitors like Kiffin and Sarkisian were exchanging blows?

It's brilliant, and far more appealing than bringing in some joker from across the country who, at the mention of his name, would draw only blank stares.

Sark is 19-18 at Washington with quarterback Jake Locker making a difference the first two years. Anyone who can have Washington winning more games than it loses deserves notice.

I have no idea whether Sark is ready to move on or whether he would consider UCLA a step down. As well as he knows Los Angeles, I don't think anyone has to worry about him being uncomfortable in the spotlight after a pit stop in Seattle.

But I worry Guerrero is too small-time in his thinking to even consider hiring someone with a USC background.

Maybe Trojans fans go wild on the message boards for 24 hours or so, and Bruins fans fret about how far they have fallen, having to rely on a Trojan to save them.

But no one thought Carroll was the right choice when he was hired at USC, and later it didn't really matter.

What's important here is that Guerrero's football hire is going to become the front man for the school. Howland has never quite pulled it off and Guerrero's future rests on how well his new football coach does.

As it is, Guerrero is certainly no Haden, who came to the USC job with decades of L.A. respect already built in.

UCLA needs a powerful personality to sell tickets with a twinkle in his eye, to maybe get invited to appear with Leno. The school has Rose Bowl problems, the building sitting half-empty.

If Guerrero hires an outsider like Golden, the new coach will not only have to rebuild a lagging football program but, like Sark, will have to establish himself as a true-blue Bruin.

I like the chances of the guy who already knows what Jim Hill looks like and, if he ever comes across someone injured, knows the first call needs to go to Plaschke.

This isn't just about hiring a football coach at UCLA and Guerrero failing to land a winner in two previous tries. It's about making a splash, one so big it looks like they have done something special, and giving the new guy time to prove he was the right choice.

Who could make a bigger splash than Sark -- with both the Bruins and Trojans?

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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