Steve Sarkisian is headed back home.
Washington quarterback Keith Price and Hau’oli Kikaha aren’t bitter about it. The pair of team captains met briefly with the media Monday afternoon outside Husky Stadium after they and the rest of the players met Sarkisian and UW athletics director Scott Woodward for a 45-minute meeting to formally hear the news.
“It doesn’t matter who’s coaching,” said Price. “You could have a janitor coaching us. We know we need to get to nine wins, and that’s the goal.”
Price and the rest of the team found out hours before the meeting via news media that their coach wouldn’t be joining them for a fourth consecutive bowl game.
“It was surprising,” Price said. “I think I heard it right after I got done lifting this morning. I turned on ESPN and that was like the top story. It was strange. It wasn’t supposed to leak out.”
The Pac-12 named Kikaha to its second-team defense and All-Academic first team Monday. The defensive end said many players were upset, but he avoided denigrating his former coach.
“It hurts a little,” Kikaha said. “It was a difficult decision for him but it was the best one for he and his family. In the end he had to make the best decision for him, and that’s what he did.”
Sarkisian spent the last five years (2009-13) gradually resuscitating Washington to respectability after coach Tyrone Willingham led the Huskies to an 0-12 mark in 2008. Sarkisian’s breakthrough came Friday when the Huskies reached the eight-win mark with a 27-17 triumph against Washington State in the Apple Cup.
It wasn’t enough to keep him from splitting.
He accepted USC’s offer to become its head football coach Monday, returning the Torrance, CA., native to the program he spent seven years at as an assistant (2001-03 and 2005-08). USC interim coach Ed Orgeron, owner of a 6-2 record since Lane Kiffin was fired in September, resigned Monday after USC athletic director Pat Haden told him the news.
Both schools confirmed the move through press releases.
“We are delighted to welcome Steve Sarkisian back to the Trojan family,” said Haden. “We conducted a very exhaustive and thorough search, pinpointing about 20 candidates and interviewing five of them. We kept coming back to Sark. He is the only who was offered the job. I believe in my gut that he’s the right coach for USC at this time.”
Monday morning Sarkisian appeared on KJR-AM radio and denied undergoing an official interview with USC, though he admitted speaking to Haden during the weekend. Sarkisian was a quarterbacks coach on the Trojans team that won the 2003 national championship. He spent 2007-08 as USC’s offensive coordinator before taking the top job at Washington. The buyout clause in Sarkisian’s contract with UW demands he pay the school $1.5 million.
The Huskies finished the 2013 regular season 8-4, pushing Sarkisian’s career mark as a head coach to 34-29.
“First, I’d like to thank the University of Washington and athletic director Scott Woodward for the opportunity they gave me five years ago,” Sarkisian said. “I believe the Husky program is in a better place now than when we arrived, and I am proud and thankful of the players for that.
“That said, I am extremely excited to be coming home to USC and for the opportunity that USC presents to win championships,” Sarkisian said. “I can’t wait to get started.”
UW didn’t immediately announce an interim coach or give indication whether Sarkisian’s assistants will join him at USC.
Woodward said he has already started his search for a successor. Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and UCLA coach Jim Mora are rumored to be on his wish list.
“The search for Steve’s successor has already begun,” Woodward said. “I will work hard in the coming days to find the absolute best fit for the University of Washington, but I will not comment on or speculate about the process. We have tremendous tradition, fan base and a world-class institution, and I am confident we will find the right man.”
University of Washington President Michael K. Young acknowledged the obvious in a release from the school.
“It is a fact of life in modern intercollegiate athletics that the competition for coaching talent is fierce, and this results in perhaps more movement in coaching positions than one might wish,” he said. “This shoe dropping means we are now in the market and that will lead to other shoes dropping. It is the nature of the enterprise. We wish Steve well at USC and every success, except for one day a year.”