Three days after losing at home to Washington 17-12, USC coach Steve Sarkisian will take a leave of absence after not showing up to to practice Sunday apparently because he had been drinking. A player told an ESPN reporter via text that Sarkisian, who coached the Huskies from 2009 to 2013, “showed up lit to meetings again today.”
Trojans athletic director Pat Haden said that offensive coordinator Clay Helton will take over the top job following consecutive home losses to Stanford and the Huskies.
“I was at a basketball event earlier today when I got a call to say Sarkisian was not at practice,” Haden told reporters after football practice. “I called Steve and he made it clear to me that he was not healthy, and I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence. I think this is the right thing for our team.
“I’ve spoken to our team and our coaches — they obviously had a great deal of concern for the health of Coach Sarkisian. It was also clear to me the support that Clay has from the team, and the staff. We’ve got a big task this week with the Notre Dame game, and Clay will do a great job getting our team ready. I don’t have a lot of answers right now for you guys, as I first heard about this an hour and a half ago.”
Helton served as interim coach for the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl when Ed Orgeron, who was filling in for the fired Lane Kiffin, quit because he was passed over when Haden poached Sarkisian from Washington.
Sarkisian showed up Sunday morning at USC and “he appeared not normal” and then was told to leave, a source told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy. “They wouldn’t let him come to practice,” a source said.
Sarkisian’s wife, Stephanie, filed for divorce April 20, citing irreconcilable differences. They have been married since 1997 and have three children.
Sarkisian admitted to mixing alcohol and medications prior to a booster event in August where he showed up drunk and was ushered off stage. He apologized publicly for embarrassing himself and the school, which chose not to sanction him publicly.
He said he would consider treatment, which usually requires stepping away from daily activities for a time, but Sarkisian kept up the typical 80-hour work week of Pac-12 coaches. He said he didn’t believe he had a drinking problem.
“He was dealing with family issues all (Saturday) night, but he hasn’t been in a good place all season,” a source told an ESPN reporter.
Sarkisian was an assistant to Pete Carroll when the Trojans ran off seven consecutive Pac-10 titles.
Sarkisian went 9-4 in his first season at USC, losing a handful of big games but showing promise in the final year of the school’s NCAA-mandated scholarship restrictions.
The Trojans were ranked No. 8 in the preseason AP Top 25 and picked to win the Pac-12 in the annual conference media poll. The Trojans fell out of the poll after the loss to Washington, and media criticism was heavy partly because the Trojans seemed ill-prepared.