Columnist Chris Dufresne writes that if Coach Steve Sarkisian would be… (Jonathan Daniel / Getty…)
USC needs to answer two fundamental questions as it searches for a new football coach.
Question 1: Should it fall for the sentimental "That old gang of mine" yarn that only a former Trojan like Jack Del Rio or Jeff Fisher can come in and fix this mess?
It's an understandable lean but not historically significant.
Only a few great coaches have come home to save their alma maters. The idea has been romanticized by Bear Bryant's leaving Texas A&M for Alabama because, as he said, "Mama called."
Steve Spurrier was also enormously successful returning home to Florida, where he won the 1966 Heisman Trophy.
Most of the dynastic baby boomer-era runs have been led by outsiders: Bud Wilkinson coached Oklahoma to epic greatness but he attended Minnesota.
The list goes on and on, with the coach's alma mater in parentheses:
Darrell Royal (Oklahoma) at Texas. John McKay/John Robinson (Oregon) at USC. Woody Hayes (Denison) at Ohio State. Tom Osborne (Hastings) at Nebraska. Bobby Bowden (Howard) at Florida State. Joe Paterno (Brown) at Penn State. Barry Switzer (Arkansas) at Oklahoma. Pete Carroll (Pacific) at USC. Nick Saban (Kent State) at Alabama. Bob Stoops (Iowa) at Oklahoma.
Ara Parseghian led Notre Dame to two national titles but attended Miami of Ohio and isn't even Catholic. Charlie Weis, conversely, is Catholic and did attend Notre Dame.
Question 2: Should USC be willing to change its core DNA identity as an iconic power program if it can hire today's best spread-option coach?
By USC power, we mean a program built on the bedrock of tailbacks and Student Body Right.
Should USC junk its tight end?
Blue-blood Michigan tried the spread option with Rich Rodriguez and had a cultural nervous breakdown. The Wolverines have gone back to pro-style under Coach Brady Hoke.
Is USC willing to commit to "squirrel derby" and five receivers and a coach like Kevin Sumlin, who has brought thrills to Texas A&M but also a defense ranked No. 112 out of 123 this week?
Should USC cede power West Coast football authority to Stanford, which is playing now the way USC played in the early 1970s?
Here's another thought: Alabama would never do it.
If USC's answer to the above two questions is "no," as many Trojans say it should be, the school is left with a very shallow selection pool.
The easy answer to all of 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 at Washington.
If Sarkisian is not available, here are some other candidates who have not been mentioned by Las Vegas oddsmakers:
* Al Golden, Miami. It's fitting the NCAA could once again control USC's fate. If Miami gets hit with severe sanctions beyond those already imposed by the school, Golden would have every reason to leave for the urban-private equivalent to Miami in the West.
Golden is young at 44, is defense-minded, comes from traditional stock (Penn State) and would get USC back in the top five faster than you could hum "Conquest."
If the NCAA thinks Miami has suffered enough, Golden should stay and finish in Miami what he's started.
* Randy Edsall, Maryland. He is one win over Florida State from becoming this season's leading coach-of-the-year candidate. Edsall, 55, is a program builder. He took Connecticut from nothing to the Fiesta Bowl and turned Maryland around in two years. His specialty is defense but he has coached both sides of the ball and once tutored under Tom Coughlin in the NFL.
* Mike Bellotti, ESPN, formerly of Oregon. He turned USC down in 2001 and has already said he's not interested. No one mentions his name, either because they think he's finished coaching or is too old.
Actually, Bellotti is 62, the same age Saban will turn in three weeks. Would anyone say Saban is too old to coach USC?
Bellotti would return to coaching in the right situation. His son is a sophomore receiver at Cal Lutheran. Bellotti went 137-80-2 at Oregon and could be the perfect CEO bridge coach. He has a knack for hiring talented coaches -- Al Borges, Chris Petersen, Jeff Tedford, Chip Kelly -- and letting them develop. At Oregon, he hired Kelly knowing Kelly would succeed him.
* Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State. It is unlikely USC would hire a coach from a school that conjures so much historical negativity. (Freedom Bowl debacle, Lane Kiffin's alma mater.)
Yet, DeRuyter is no greenhorn. He's 50, with backbone as a former Air Force outside linebacker. He's from L.A. -- Bellflower St. John Bosco High -- and has gone 14-4 in 18 games at Fresno State.
* Fresno State option II: Tedford. USC should have hired him this year as offensive coordinator. Tedford is a local, from Downey, and still in his prime at 51 after going 82-57 in Berkeley.