After being forced to accept an indefinite leave of absence 24 hours earlier after reportedly coming to practice drunk, USC football coach Steve Sarkisian was fired Monday afternoon by Pat Haden, the athletics director who poached him from Washington in November 2013.
The university released a statement from Haden saying, “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.
“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 University of Washington, a 17-point underdog, beat USC at the Coliseum Thursday 17-12, the first time Sarkisian met the team where he coached from 2009 to 2013. Sarkisian’s successor, Chris Petersen, was asked about his predecessor’s plight at his weekly presser Monday.
“I don’t know everything that’s gone on down there. I’ve heard a few things,” Petersen said. “And I think half the time everybody piles on and doesn’t really know the full story. I think this is a tough job and you just feel bad for the whole situation, for everybody.
“It’s a hard enough job when you’re doing well. And then when something doesn’t go right in your situation and then everybody piles on, I think it’s very tough. Everybody’s got their opinion now and I don’t think everybody knows exactly everything that goes on to have an opinion like that.”
On his weekly radio show on 710 ESPN, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who had Sarkisian on his staff at USC as offensive coordinator, said the situation “breaks my heart.”
At his regular Monday press conference, Carroll said, “This is an opportunity for Sark to get right, get well. I’m pulling for him. He’s got some big challenges. He’s gotta take care of it. Coaching doesn’t matter; he’s got things to take care of in his personal life. He’s taking the right steps to do that.
“I’ll be there to support him. He has a lot to offer the world. He’s let down a lot of people around him. He knows that.”
UW athletic sdirector Scott Woodward, who hired Sarkisian in 2009 despite no previous experience as a head coach at any level, released a statement to The Seattle Times: “It is evident that Steve is dealing with a serious personal matter and we wish him the best in facing whatever challenges lay ahead.”
Sarkisian was in trouble since late August when, two weeks before USC’s season opener, he slurred his words and used profanity at booster event. Wtinesses said he appeared intoxicated.
A day later, Sarkisian apologized in a statement on USC’s athletic website. At a press conference the next day he said he didn’t think he had a drinking problem, but agreed to engage in a program that was not publicly specified.
He said the incident was the result of his mixing alcohol — “not much” — with medication he did not specify.