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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

USC's hiring of Coach Steve Sarkisian isn't sexy, but it feels right

What was true two months ago is true now: Steve Sarkisian is a sensible hire for USC, and the alternative choices really are no better.

December 02, 2013|Chris Dufresne

This USC coaching hire is reminiscent of the Bowl Championship Series standings in November — what a difference a play, and a day, makes.

Like Auburn beating Georgia two weeks ago on a last-second Hail Mary, the sport's volatility never ceases to amaze.

USC probably would have stripped Ed Orgeron's interim tag and introduced him as head coach had the Trojans defeated UCLA on Saturday.

But UCLA won.

USC probably would not have hired Steve Sarkisian as head coach had Washington lost another Apple Cup to Washington State on Friday. That would have locked up just another so-so, seven-win Sarkisian season.

PHOTOS: Steve Sarkisian through the years

But Washington won.

You shouldn't call Pat Haden's hiring of Sarkisian a Hail Mary, though. It was more like a Stanford handoff up the middle.

The hire wasn't dramatic or sexy, and nationally it was met with a tepid response.

However, unless I missed the next Bear Bryant on the list of candidates, USC's choice was understandable

The headline above an Oct. 3 column I wrote on the subject was: "USC's coaching search should end at Steve Sarkisian's doorstep."

The column suggested: "The easy answer to all this is Steve Sarkisian. If he is willing to leave Washington, I'd call off the search. Sarkisian checks off all my boxes. He is foundationally rooted in USC's culture but nimble enough to adapt. He would respect USC's power tradition even as he upped the tempo, as he's doing now at Washington."

The premise became shaky after Washington lost three straight games, but the Huskies pulled out of their fade just in time to make Sarkisian viable.

And so, after USC players failed to play well enough against UCLA to keep Coach O, it came around again to Coach S.

Some USC fans are disgruntled, but they don't offer better alternatives.

Jack Del Rio? The last time he was on a college campus was probably when he played for USC.

Chris Petersen? He wasn't leaving Boise State and, by the way, was waxed by Sarkisian's Washington team in the season opener. Petersen is a great coach but is severely untested as a big-city guy. He thinks four reporters at a news conference is a throng.

Kevin Sumlin? He is 8-4 at Texas A&M this season, the same record Sarkisian posted, except Sumlin had Johnny Manziel at quarterback.

James Franklin? He has done an outstanding job at Vanderbilt after taking over a program that finished 2-10. Franklin is young and energetic and led the Commodores to 9-4 and 8-4 records the last two seasons despite playing in a rugged conference. He sounds a lot like Sarkisian, except Sarkisian inherited an 0-12 team at Washington, was raised in Los Angeles, is a former USC assistant and knows how to recruit Southern California.

Ed Orgeron? He did a great job as interim coach and supporters said he learned how to become a head coach after going 10-25 at Mississippi.

Sarkisian is a decade younger than Orgeron and put up a winning record in his first head coaching foray.

Can't Sarkisian learn from his experiences?

Once USC fans step back from the suddenness of his hiring, they will realize Sarkisian really does "check off all the boxes."

He is rooted enough in USC's tradition to respect the use of a tight end and a tailback and "Student Body Right." His best players at Washington this season were tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and tailback Bishop Sankey.

Sarkisian, 39, is young enough to adjust to the game's ever-changing strategies and rhythms. This season, he implemented an up-tempo offense that almost beat Stanford at Palo Alto and stayed with Oregon for 31/2 quarters.

Washington's losses came against four Pac-12 Conference teams that have a combined record of 39-9. Three of those losses were on the road.

Could USC have done better?

Well, sure.

They could have begged Jon Gruden to leave the broadcast booth or made a run at Alabama's Nick Saban. They could have asked Mack Brown to drop 30 pounds and 15 years.

The other USC option was to hire a young up-and-comer who has energy and shows promise.

Pat Haden, instead of taking a chance on someone just like Sarkisian, decided to hire Sarkisian.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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