USC’s New Coach, Pat Haden, the Process, and the Spirit of Troy

It has been a pretty wild ride in Troy over the last 48 hours, and I would be remiss as a lover of all things Cardinal and Gold if I did not chime in on the new coach at USC. The general atmosphere in the USC chat board world can best be described as apocalyptic, though most folks who delve into the apocalypse carry more maturity and gravitas than the children who occupy real estate on today’s chat boards. If one delves outside that cyber world they will see that where USC is and has gone over the last 48 hours has not thrilled folks, but there is a more reasonable and measured response (some call it “sober”) than there is a the typical chat board. Overall, Heritage Hall has its hands full right now, and as is always the case, the only thing that will pacify some people will be winning football games. So will the hiring of Steve Sarkisian facilitate that objective, or impede it?

The first thing I will say is that the hire surprised me in a big way, and prima facie struck me as a very odd hire. 48 hours in, a bit more color exists … I have to say that the best thing that has happened to neuter my negativity has been everyone else’s negativity. I generally regard the football IQ and overall emotional maturity of the people I have been reading to be something less than that of my three-year old son’s. They have helped to turn me a little bit. Sark is not a slam dunk hire. He will be a risk. Pat Haden surely knows this. But what the haters are just constitutionally incapable of understanding is that there was no coach coming to USC who would not be a risk. Let’s evaluate a few other names who were being thrown around …

(1) Chris Petersen – few selections would have troubled me more than this one. Chris, who shares an 8-4 record with Sarkisian this year, only without the fun of playing Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona State, has done a tremendous job at Boise State. There is no competition in the state, and he frankly has a recruiting pool that consists of “every single good player on the west coast that other schools somehow missed”. They will occasionally enjoy an upset win over a big school (Oklahoma 7 or 8 years ago), and they should do well in that minor league conference for the foreseeable future. But Petersen has never been in a big media market, hates the media, hates the lights, and has a completely insulated and blessed existence at Boise. We have major precedents in what has happened when past successful Boise coaches have departed for greener pastures, and the results have been utterly catastrophic. Trojan fans can bemoan NOT getting CP all they want, but this is a blessing in disguise.

(2) Kevin Sumlin – again, with essentially the same record as Sark, only sporting the greatest quarterback in the United States of America, Sumlin’s defenses gave up something like 35 points per game, and lost every big game they played this year. A big name? Not really. But a big story on ESPN? Sure. He was never coming to USC, and thank God for that.

(3) James Franklin – I wouldn’t have minded this hire, but no one can say he was leaps and bounds ahead of Sark. His record is worse and he has won no big games (admittedly, Sark hasn’t either), but he is young, aggressive, smart, and like Sark, turned around a basement-dwelling program.

Sark’s hire leaves questions. But any objective person has to admit that all hires would have left questions. Now, if Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, or Bill Bellichek were all unemployed and interested, fine. But in the meantime, it is a figment of an immature imagination to suppose that there is some perfect risk-less candidate out there begging to come to USC.

So what all do we need to understand about this process …

(1) Jerry Brown has hurt this coaching search as much as anyone. If a well-paid coach is receiving $1 million less in Texas or Tennessee or Idaho or Florida than USC could offer him, the 13.3% state tax (not to mention the cost of living) take a major bite out of that. In fact, depending on the math, some cases could result in a lower net financial scenario in CA vs. a competitive state, even with a $1mm salary premium. Coaches do not make their decision only on take-home pay, but USC’s willingness to go north of $3 million (and perhaps north of $4 million) has to deal with a 400-500k hit along the way, at best case a dilution to the compensation argument.

(2) The head coach is not a savior, or at least rarely proves to be so. And in those cases where they were, it was never, ever, ever a slam dunk from the word go. It is in hindsight that we saw extraordinary success; not from the hire moment. I understand some 28-year old barely employed smart asses on their parent’s health insurance believe that “they knew Kiffin was going to fail”, or “they knew Briles was going to go 10-1 at Baylor”, but these people are not to be taken seriously. Coaches prove themselves through time. I wish Haden had a magic wand too, but ever since I stopped believing in fairy tales, I have not expected it at my beloved USC.

(3) It is not apparent to me that Coach Orgeron WAS given the interview he claims he wanted, and while I adore Ed and wish nothing but the best for him – in fact, I would have been totally fine had he been hired – I can not buy into this notion that Haden screwed him over. Ed was offered a major job at major money, and he certainly has every right to turn it down. But he knew he was not a slam dunk for the job, and while I would have thought that passing over Ed would have meant a higher profile call than Sark, Ed’s abrupt resignation and refusal to coach the bowl game is disappointing. Cooler heads should have prevailed. With that said, Fight on CEO

(4) There are people in cyber-space who have posted somewhere between 5,000 and 35,000 times in the last few years (real numbers), who believe Sark is going to ruin USC. Then, there are people like Matt Leinart, Lendale White, Chris Gallipo, and dozens of others that believe this is a home run hire (like, ummmmm, Pete Carroll). Keyshawn Johnson had a more skeptical outlook on the hire. Bottom line: Time will tell. But something does have to be said about the folks spending all waking moments predicting the end of the world (see final paragraph)

(5) Sark’s turnaround at Washington was extremely impressive. It is true that he got them from 0-12 to 8-4, not 11-1, but it is further true that we want 11-1 and 12-0 at USC – not 8-4. Of course, that would disqualify every other coaching candidate as well. But the reality is that Sark is not going to be recruiting in the Washington pool at USC; he will be recruiting in the USC pool. He happened to be turning Washington around while Oregon and Stanford were enjoying their strongest years in the history of their schools. Can he combine what he has done with what USC represents to go up one more level? I think it is possible. I do not know that he will, but I am surely going to hope that he does. He will recruit well. He will assemble a team of great coaches. And relative to CLK he will bring 5x improvement to the people skills category necessary to coach at USC (with the media, with the fans, with the players, etc.). He is NOT a proven commodity, but he possesses a lot of the skills and characteristics I think we want in our head coach.

The major negatives I see are (a) The fact that he EVER hired Nick Holt as his defensive coordinator. Ouch. But remember, Pete Carroll once hired Jeremy Bates too; and (b) That loss to Washington State last year really disturbs me. Now, is every coach allowed to have a dog of a game? Of course. And is our talent eye sometimes just off the mark? You bet. I have made some really bad hires in my day and most people would not question my overall record as a business owner. However, what will determine Sark’s long term success will be his ability to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them. The great criticism of CLK people rightfully had was that he seemed incorrigible. No one says that about Sark. May they never have to.

And this brings me to my concluding thoughts … There is no room in Troy for people who spend every waking moment bashing Pat Haden, the university, the coaches, and the program. These people are beneath USC in every way imaginable, and unworthy of our attention or mental energies. If you were being honest, you would recognize that they cannot possibly be motivated only by a desire to see USC be better, but rather by an intense dissatisfaction in their own lives of something – something I cannot begin to understand. There is no obligation for every Trojan to be thrilled with this hire. I am not thrilled, but I am skeptically supportive that now that he is on board, he will do what he needs to do to see USC succeed at the highest of levels. Next year we will lose a game or have a running back get tackled for a loss, and you will see these DB’s on the board breathe fire and brimstone at how much they KNEW Sark was going to flop. If he does well, they will NEVER acknowledge their embarrassing mistake. It is a perfect scenario for their undeveloped ego – if we lose, I win; if we win, I win. Pay them no heed. Pat Haden may or may not have handled everything since coming to USC exactly how these people would have wanted, but some of the hatred and venom spewed at Pat in the last 48 hours is despicable, idiotic, and beyond irrational. He wants USC to succeed. From my optics, this didn’t seem like the A+ hire we wanted, but Pat knows as well as anyone else who does a little analysis here: There was no “home run hire” to be had. I regret that CEO is not still here, but we now know that this was despite Pat’s efforts, not because of them.

A Trojan wants to see USC succeed every time they put on a uniform. A Trojan cares about the school and its reputation, and optimistically believes in a better future. I PROMISE you that if Sark does not succeed, it will not be because PH wants USC to lose. I also promise you that if he does succeed, the low-lifes I refer to will not say one word about their venomous tirades of the last 48 hours.

We are fighting on. We will fight on. And our best days are still ahead of us. The world has never understood the grit and determination of Troy. Most of the world, in fact, detests it (and resents it). May the unsilent minority who are not worthy of the title, “Trojan”, not be allowed to represent the DNA of our university.

Welcome Coach Sark. Work hard. Work smart. Recruit well. Be teachable. Prepare for battle. And we wish you all the best in re-establishing USC as the football powerhouse we have been for 100 years.