I understand why football coach Steve Sarkisian left the University of Washington for USC on Monday.
What I don’t understand is why anyone would be surprised by the move. Or why the NCAA can’t shut down the annual December college football coaching carousel.
Those who believed Sarkisian’s previous pronouncements that the UW coaching position represented his dream job must have been living in a dream world of their own. A native of Southern California, Sarkisian was a past assistant under current Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at USC. Nor did Sark’s past job history, which included a stint with the Oakland Raiders, suggest that he was a model of stability.
He had been linked to the Trojan job since Lane Kiffin was fired in mid-season. Even without benefit of hindsight, observers could view his statements at the time of Kiffin’s dismissal as masterpieces of evasion. While asserting that his focus was directed toward the next Husky game, he never once denied he would be interested in the USC position if it opened again at the end of the regular season.
Sarkisian thus joins a long line of recent coaches who will not be on the sidelines for their erstwhile team’s bowl games. Wisconsin even brought Hall of Famer Barry Alvarez out of retirement to coach the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl when head coach Bret Bielema defected to Arkansas.
Many college football coaching hirings and firings occur between the regular-season finalés and bowl games. To wait longer to bring in a new coach, the argument goes, would put the school at a severe disadvantage in recruiting. Interestingly, the Huskies were last in the Pac-12 Conference in securing verbal commitments, begging the question of whether Sarkisian had been plotting the move south long before Monday’s announcement.
On one level, the prevailing argument makes sense. On another level, it’s nuts.
Washington, to cite one example, is now in the position of either immediately offering the head-coaching position to a current staff member, raiding another bowl-bound team or trolling the ranks of the unemployed without conducting a thorough job search.
A major corporation would never consider replacing a CEO in such a hasty, slapdash manner. But it is standard operating procedure in big-time college football.
There is also a big-time double standard at play.
Had the Huskies, for example, been invited to the Rose Bowl, there would have been widespread outrage among UW coaches if star running back Bishop Sankey announced that he was immediately turning professional and would skip the trip to Pasadena. That type of outrage evidently only works one way.
The NCAA could slow (if not entirely stop) this pre-Christmas job shopping by moving the national letter of intent signing date back two or three weeks and imposing a moratorium on recruiting in December. Any proposed legislation to that effect, though, would be unlikely to gain much traction.
Sarkisian’s move climaxed a memorable few days in college football — a period marked by fantastic finishes (Auburn-Alabama, Oregon-Oregon State, etc.) and outrageous quotes and non-quotes.
One of the latter belonged to Washington State football coach Mike Leach in the wake of Friday’s Apple Cup defeat to the Huskies.
Asked if, in retrospect, he wished he would have attempted a long field goal at the end of the first half that would have given the Cougars a 13-3 lead (WSU quarterback Connor Halliday was sacked on the final play of the half), Leach snapped, “I don’t have any retrospects.”
Leach is an outstanding coach who has already made strides and figures to make more at WSU. He is, however, a difficult guy to admire.
If you are going to publicly throw your players under the bus, as Leach did repeatedly with ex-coach Paul Wulff’s recruits last year, you better save some space beneath the chassis for yourself.
Leach’s decision arguably changed the course of the game and possibly even Sarkisian’s future employment. There were legitimate reasons for gambling on another scrimmage play in such a situation, but Leach flunked Accountability 101 by not even discussing them.
Husky quarterback Keith Price, however, might have considered entering Leach’s cone of silence (and fans of television’s “Get Smart” remember that the cone of silence never worked) when asked his reaction to Sarkisian’s departure.
“He’s got to feed his family,” Price said playfully.
For the record, Sarkisian made $2.9 million at Washington last year. Even with a family of five, that salary should keep him out of soup kitchens for a while.
The quotes of the week, however, belonged to Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs, who contended that it would be a “disservice to the nation” and even “un-American” if a one-loss Southeastern Conference team was excluded from the national championship game. Coincidentally, Auburn is one of the one-loss SEC clubs.
“It would be, quite frankly, un-American for us not to get a chance to go to Pasadena if we’re able to beat Missouri (in the SEC title game) and I believe the same about Missouri,” Jacobs said in a radio interview.
The SEC has produced college football’s elite teams in recent years, as evidenced by its seven consecutive national championships. But the notion that it is head and shoulders above other conferences in terms of depth is extremely debatable.
One reason that the Pac-12, for instance, has been unable to make the BCS title game much of late is that its top teams keep getting knocked off by conference also-rans (Utah over Stanford; Arizona over Oregon this season).
At the risk of being deported, I’ll also toss out a couple of scores from Pac-12/SEC matchups this fall.
Oregon 59, Tennessee 14 (and the game wasn’t that close).
Auburn 31, Washington State 24 (and the game, at Auburn, was every bit as close as the score indicated).
The argument that Auburn has vastly improved since its season opener is irrelevant. An opening game is every bit as important to a team’s resumé as a season finale.
This, of course, is the last season of the BCS. But the four-team playoff that will replace it in 2014-15 represents little, if any, progress.
Had the four-team system been in place this season, the Final Four would likely include two SEC teams (the Auburn-Missouri winner, plus Alabama) and no representatives from the Pac-12 or Big 12 conferences.
The only equitable format would be an eight-team playoff, with winners of the five major conferences and three at-large clubs filling the field. That wouldn’t end all disputes, but it would likely include all legitimate title contenders.
Perhaps more importantly, it wouldn’t be un-American.
Rick Anderson is The Daily World sports editor. He can be reached at (360) 537-3924 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.