13 October 2015

Who can return USC to the pinnacle of college football?

(AP)
The Steve Sarkisian era at Troy has come to an abrupt end as of yesterday as only one day after announcing that Sarkisian would be taking a leave of absence in the wake of coming to a Sunday team meeting inebriated, USC AD Pat Haden fired him. Sarkisian is now the second straight Trojans head coach to be fired five games into a season after the immortal Lane Kiffin in 2013. USC has started a season in which they were expected to be a Playoff contender 3-2, with both losses coming at home.

So now as USC continues to fall behind in the Pac-12, most notable behind crosstown rival UCLA, who can bring the once-revered program back to the top.

I agree with Bill Plaschke's column on this that this should have happened already. Signs that Sarkisian had a problem with alcohol first arose as he allegedly drunk and swore at the program's Salute to Troy banquet back in August. Sarkisian reportedly acted in an embarrassing manner and yet Haden, who hired Sarkisian back in 2013, did nothing. Now it has come out that Sarkisian had an issue with alcohol during his stint as head coach at Washington.

At the very least, Haden and the USC administration should have put Sarkisian on a leave of absence in the wake of his embarrassing appearance at the Salute to Troy event. Haden put up a feeble defense of that inaction earlier today and frankly should be ashamed of himself of waiting until now to do something for somebody who needed help to get help instead of coaching a football team. Haden should get fired for that, as well as doing a pretty mediocre job during his time as AD, but apparently his boss, university president Max Nikias, "worships" him and announcing his "unwavering support" earlier today.

So now as Sarkisian gets the help that he sorely needs, the coaching search begins yet again in University Park. What we do know is that after twice opting for former Pete Carroll assistants, something different will be in stock.

It seems like all conversations are going to start with Philadelphia Eagles and former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who would be the top choice for any major college program at the moment and it is easy to see why. Kelly took a pretty solid program at Oregon and built it into a national power that competed for national championships (and look at where Oregon is now). Kelly is being speculated as the Eagles have been a disappointment this season but until it appears that Eagles ownership is either souring on him or moves to take back Kelly's control over personnel, I don't see him coming back to the college ranks.

One name that has to be at the top of the list for the Trojans is that of Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. Whittingham has won a ton of games in Salt Lake City after taking over for Urban Meyer and, after some early stumbles in their transition to the Pac-12, now has the Utes in serious College Football Playoff contention. There has been some past reporting about a rift between him and his AD and thus could be willing to make a move.

Chris Peterson, who replaced Sarkisian at Washington, reportedly didn't interview all that well for the job two years ago, allowing him to fall into the hands of U-Dub. While he has not had the kind of success in Seattle that he had in Boise, he is only into his second season with the Huskies, the team that just upset USC.

Kevin Sumlin would also apply as a big hire. Sumlin has no reason to be unhappy at Texas A&M as the Aggies look like a strong contender once again in the SEC after starting 5-0, the facilities are very good and his program is now the class of the Lone Star State. But A&M still doesn't have the aura of Texas and has never been the kind of contender on the national stage that USC is when they have been at their best. I don't see him leaving College Station, but USC has to at least give him a call.

Some have thrown Brian Kelly's name around and while I would be surprised to see him leaving the Fighting Irish, perhaps he thinks he has plateaued at Notre Dame and would be better suited to winning a national championship at USC? Again, it doesn't seem likely but why not give him a phone call?

Talented young coaches like Cal's Sonny Dykes, Boise State's Bryan Harsin and Houston's Tom Herman should also be under consideration and while NFL guys like Jeff Fisher of the Rams or Jack Del Rio of the Raiders wouldn't be as "sexy" of a hire as others, perhaps they would be able to turn the trick that Pete Carroll was.

Speaking of Carroll, it is always important to note that while a program like USC really has no excuse not to be at the pinnacle of college football, that also is easier said than done as Carroll proved. Under Carroll, the Trojans spent seven straight years in the top five of the final polls from 2002-2008. The previous time that USC finished in the top five? 1979 under hall of famer John Robinson.

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