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Game over: Rivals USC and UCLA play to a tie to win the day

Steve Sarkisian makes a strong debut as USC's new football coach, saying, 'We are not rebuilding.' At nearly the same time, UCLA's Jim Mora signs deal extension. Both set same goal of national title.

December 03, 2013|Bill Plaschke
  • Steve Sarkisian was introduced as USC's new football coach Tuesday, while at nearly the same time UCLA Coach Jim Mora's contract extension was announced.
Steve Sarkisian was introduced as USC's new football coach Tuesday,… (Luis Sinco / Brian van der…)

Three days after the final weary snap of their 83rd football meeting, the battle raged on.

Shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday, making his first public proclamation as USC's new football coach during his debut news conference, Steve Sarkisian stuck out his chin.

"We're here to win championships," he said. "I wouldn't have taken this job just to come home. I came here to win championships.''

About 2:30, while Sarkisian was still talking, UCLA answered the challenge by giving Coach Jim Mora a contract extension though 2019 to prevent him from taking the Washington job that Sarkisian had just left.

"This staff came here with a commitment to win a national championship; that commitment stands," Mora said in a statement.

Three days after the UCLA coach screamed about owning the city and a day after the USC coach stormed tearfully out the door, the histrionics continued in a rivalry that wonderfully never slows.

In publicly welcoming their emotionally charged former assistant Sarkisian, USC took an important step in becoming the Trojans of old. In reenlisting Mora at nearly the exact moment of Sarkisian's introduction, the Bruins showed they are not backing down from being the new Bruins.

At one moment in the crowded McKay Center conference room, media members were talking about Sarkisian's defiant fire. In the next moment, they were waving around their smartphones and talking about Mora's impressive return.

When the news conference ended, Sarkisian was asked about Mora's city-claiming swagger after Saturday's 35-14 Bruins victory.

"You never like to see the Bruins jog across the field victorious at the Coliseum," said Sarkisian. ''But when you win, and you win two in a row in that game, you get to [claim ownership]. We get 12 months to get prepared for it. Hopefully next year we can chant something similar in their tunnel."

With both Sarkisian and UCLA embracing the challenges of greatness, it was actually a win-win day for both schools.

USC got their man, even though some Trojans fans are upset that Ed Orgeron was not given the job and others think Sarkisian's style falls too close to the Pete Carroll-Lane Kiffin tree. Sarkisian, who has been denounced as a safe choice, played it anything but safe in addressing those critics.

"Let's evaluate this hire a few years down the road,'' he said. "If we're beating UCLA, if we're beating Notre Dame, if we're winning [conference] championships and competing for national championships, it's a good one. If we're not, it's not."

Haden heard those strong words, blinked, then smiled.

"Yeah, you know, I was saying to myself, 'Whoa,' " said Haden. "But it's one of those attitudes you like, confident without being arrogant. He embraces the culture of USC where that is the expectation."

UCLA also got their man, making an important move that should show Bruins fans it is serious about competing for a national title as soon as next season. By keeping Mora not only from his Washington alma mater but also from potential suitors at Texas, UCLA also probably keeps quarterback Brett Hundley for a Heisman run, keeps its accomplished coaching staff, and keeps the buzz alive.

"This is an exciting time for UCLA football, and the continued commitment our administration has provided gives us every chance to reach our goals," Mora said.

As Tuesday showed, the rivalry never ends. While Mora was on the road recruiting during the announcement about him, Sarkisian and Haden were busy recruiting from their soapboxes.

Haden was adamant that, contrary to popular perception, Sarkisian is not showing up as Carroll's clone or Kiffin 2.0.

"Steve is a completely different person than Lane and Pete. He left here and became his own man,'' Haden said of Sarkisian's five years at Washington. ''Football-wise, he's completely different. Personality-wise, he has a little more Pete in him, but I don't consider him in the lineage of Pete Carroll. I think he's created his own niche, his own persona.''

That persona, friends say, is a mixture of Kiffin's football knowledge and Carroll's inspiration. To make a more recent comparison, he seems to be Orgeron's raw passion refined.

"We are not rebuilding at the University of Southern California. Rebuilding is not a word around here," Sarkisian said. ''I would like to reiterate, we are not rebuilding. We are here to win championships.''

For now, USC fans would be thrilled if he could just break UCLA's two-game win streak. As of Tuesday, that is still easier said than done. The newest Trojan hope may be arriving, but the most formidable of Bruins isn't leaving.

Twitter: @billplaschke

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