Sarkisian left USC with no choice

Last year in his first season as head football coach at USC, Steve Sarkisian, according to an article published by ESPN, said that “honesty and integrity must be at the heart of our program” as the school dealt with the indefinite suspension of then senior Josh Shaw in regards to an incident involving the former Trojans star. It is great to have those standards.

But when you lay down those type of moral measuring sticks for other people to comply with, someone else is bound to hold to you to that same type of accountability. Unfortunately for Sarkisian his bosses at USC called checkmate on the coach and terminated him.

Showing up to work drunk is never a good look. Bringing his alcohol problem to the workplace,which Sarkisian reportedly did, where he was responsible for overseeing the well-being of college students, or other people’s children, is not going to sit well with too many folks. Apparently, it didn’t it well with the powerful USC community, either.

“After careful consideration of what is in the best interest of the university and our student-athletes, I have made the decision to terminate Steve Sarkisian, effective immediately,” USC Athletic Director Pat Haden said in a released statement. “I want to thank Clay Helton for stepping into the interim head coach role, and I want to add how proud I am of our coaching staff and players and the way they are responding to this difficult situation. Through all of this we remain concerned for Steve and hope that it will give him the opportunity to focus on his personal well being.”

The firing of Sarkisian is not a  cause to celebrate.  After USC lost its recent home game to the University of Washington, some folks may think it is. Some people thought USC should have gotten rid of Sarkisian after his public embarrassment during the Salute to Troy event in August where he reportedly showed up wasted.

Happier times: USC quarterback Cody Kessler with former coach Steve Sarkisian at the 2014 Pac-12 Football Media Day. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/
Happier times: USC quarterback Cody Kessler with former coach Steve Sarkisian at the 2014 Pac-12 Football Media Day. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

This is not the time to revel in a man’s darkest hour. It is a time to ask how did it all go wrong between Sarkisian and USC? Just last season, Sarkisian and the Trojans went for a 9-4 overall record and a win over Nebraska in the National University Holiday Bowl. The expectations for Sarkisian’s Trojans in his second full season as head coach of the storied football program, went national. The future looked bright.

That has now all gone up in smoke.

What happened?

High expectations, little reward mixed in with a reported addiction to alcoholism is what happened.

USC entered into the 2015 season ranked No. 8 in the country. Quarterback Cody Kessler was a legit Heisman Trophy hopeful. The Trojans feature a bevy of future NFL prospects. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and cornerback Adoree Jackson are the All-American playmakers. USC was the preseason pick by the media to win the Pac-12 Conference South Division.

The school paid Sarkisian millions to return the Men of Troy back to football glory. Instead, USC decided to permanently revoke Sarkisian’s coaching pass two years into their relationship. This was not supposed to happen. Sarkisian looked every bit the heir to Pete Carroll, the man who led the Trojans to their last two national championships.

Sarkisian is smart, good-looking, charismatic and knows how to work a room. He was successful as a head coach previously, leading the University of Washington to some productive years as a football program. Sarkisian seemed like the perfect coach to lead the Trojans for years to come. It turns out that Sarkisian is not that guy.

Where did it all go wrong?

The train went off the track somewhere. That is what happened. The first public sign of things gone wrong took place at the Salute to Troy fiasco, which became a public relations nightmare for the school. Now two losses to Pac-12 Conference opponents on the field (Washington and Stanford) have already knocked off the Trojans’s aspirations of playing in college football’s playoffs, and may have effectively altered USC’s chances of winning the Pac-12 Conference South Division crown.

The derailment of this choo-choo train appear to be obvious. Sarkisian doesn’t need a football team to try to lead right now. He needs help to get his life back on track. The uphill battle he’s facing is a lot more challenging than coaching against Notre Dame, Utah or UCLA.  As for the Trojans, the USC football program need a leader who’s going to stick around a lot longer than the tenure of a full scholarship offer.

The marriage that brought Sarkisian and USC together two years ago, has now imploded into a messy, public divorce. The people impacted the most from this ugly separation are the kids. These kids are generally other folks’ children, young men who are at most formidable stages of their lives where all kinds of vices have the power to influence them on and off the field.

This is a reality. But the last thing they need to see is their leader self-implode from one of those vices. Let’s hope Sarkisian and the Trojans somehow move on from this dark time and find their way back to normalcy.

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