Steve Sarkisian lied to protect his players. Old and new.
That was his excuse Tuesday for why he told KJR-AM radio early Monday that he hadn’t interviewed for, only ‘talked’ about, the head coaching job at USC. Hours later, Sarkisian was announced as the successor to USC interim coach Ed Orgeron. By happy hour, Sarkisian was on a jet to Los Angeles.
Tuesday afternoon he called his dishonest answer a mistake.
“The deal wasn’t near finalized at that time,” Sarkisian said in his introductory press conference in Los Angeles. “The first thought that came to mind, when the question was asked to me, was the best interests of the student-athletes here at USC and the student-athletes at the University of Washington. I didn’t want to put either of those kids in the programs in a situation of uncertainty.”
“Hindsight is 20-20. I probably should have said it was an interview.”
Sarkisian’s interview with USC athletic director Pat Haden happened Sunday. The report from ESPN exposing Sarkisian’s prevarication was online by Monday morning.
“Semantics are semantics. I probably shouldn’t have referred to it as ‘talked to,'” Sarkisian said. “If I could do it all over again, I probably would have just said exactly what the conversation was that Pat and I had.
“I’m sorry if my message got misconstrued, but it really was in the best interests of the young men.”
Sarkisian posted a 34-29 record (24-21 Pac-12) in five seasons at Washington, including four bowl invites, but was criticized by some fans for failing to surpass the seven-win mark until UW’s 27-17 win against Washington State in last week’s Apple Cup.
“When you have to go face those kids that you coached and you recruited there — I never want to have that meeting again, I can tell you that,” Sarkisian said. “You never want to get up in front of a team and tell them you’re leaving. That was brutally difficult for me.”
Sarkisian’s career winning percentage (.539) is worse than Lane Kiffin’s (.586), the coach Haden fired outside the team bus after the Trojans lost 62-41 to Arizona State in late September.
NCAA sanctions lingering from Pete Carroll’s tenure mean Sarkisian can offer only 19 of the 25 possible scholarships during the next recruiting cycle.
“What the perception of me (beyond USC) isn’t that concerning,” Sarkisian said. “It’s more about what’s inside this building, and what’s down in that locker room, and what’s in that weight room and what these meetings are going to be about.”
“It’s about building belief. It’s about building trust. It’s about building relationships. Then the victories come.”
A story in the LA Daily News indicated that Sarkisian plans to add to his staff Huskies defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, assuming UW doesn’t hire Wilcox to replace him. Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel are rumored to be on UW AD Scott Woodward’s wish list.
Pinkel worked with late Huskies coach Don James for 13 seasons (1979-83 wide receiver coach, 1984-90 as offensive coordinator) before he took his first head coaching job at Toledo.
Sarkisian wasn’t willing to provide names when asked who he was going to bring to LA.
“I don’t want to speak specifically on individual coaches that might come on board here,” he said. “We’re going to meet with every coach on this current staff (first) . . . we’ll also talk to coaches that aren’t here right now.”
In addition to two stints as an assistant (2001-03 as quarterbacks coach and 2007-08 offensive coordinator), Sarkisian attended USC his freshman year of college to pursue a baseball career. When it didn’t work out, he transferred to BYU, eventually becoming the Cougars’ starting quarterback.
“My roommate was Nick Lachey at the time and he wasn’t even in ’98 or 6 Degrees yet,'” Sarkisian said of his freshman year. “To be at this point 20 years later is very surreal.”