Dick Harmon: USC taps BYU experience for football hire, again

Published: Monday, Dec. 2 2013 3:50 p.m. MST

Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian runs onto the field before NCAA college football game against Washington State in Seattle on Nov. 29, 2013. Sarkisian has accepted the Southern California coaching job, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The person spoke Monday on condition of anonymity because no official announcement had been made by either school.

Elaine Thompson, AP

Once again, the most storied football program in the Pac-12 taps BYU’s bloodlines.

Steve Sarkisian is now the face of the USC Trojans, according to multiple reports.

Good for him. It is the dream job for the former Cougar quarterback who, at just 39, has had a most remarkable football career.

Sarkisian returns to the inner circle of a storied organization, a powerful and iconic college football realm.

“I’m not surprised,” said former BYU coach LaVell Edwards. “Once he began coaching, he’s risen quickly to big jobs.”

Sarkisian’s expected hire is the seventh time USC has turned to a BYU product for help, either as a head coach, offensive coordinator or quarterback coach.

I remember the first time I ever talked to Sarkisian, back in 1994 after Norm Chow recruited him from El Camino Junior College near his home, just a stone’s throw from Southern Cal.

“I’ve always wanted to play at USC,” he said. “I grew up a big Trojan fan. I played baseball there out of high school but never got a chance in football,” he said that day outside the Smith Fieldhouse.

He came off as an extremely confident, very friendly, totally focused young athlete. First impressions have held true 17 years later.

Sarkisian came to Provo as a cool, calm, brainy quarterback. He gobbled up BYU’s playbook. He feasted on what Chow had to offer, a pro-set system, use of the tight ends, involvement of the backs in the passing game and the schemes hatched two decades earlier by Doug Scovil.

Within his first spring practice sessions, Sarkisian rose to the top in a void left by John Walsh.

In 1995, Sarkisian set an NCAA accuracy mark in the season finale against Fresno State. The next year, with the help of soon-to-be-NFL tight ends Itula Mili and Chad Lewis, he led the Cougars to an upset of Texas A&M, a 14-win season and Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State. It was one of the best seasons in BYU history.

“The thing that stood out about Steve as a quarterback is how quickly he came in and picked up things," said Edwards. "I think he is the first junior college quarterback to come in and start playing right away. He didn’t have a great arm but he had the ability to make the play. He was very personable, very confident but not overbearing. He was a guy who just went about doing his job.”

USC is a football mine field. It’s been one of the legendary programs of all time, but historically, it has been a football system that is famous for running backs and the power sweep right and left.

The BYU influence helped USC transition in the period from John Robinson to Pete Carroll over three decades through seven hires/elevations.

1. In 1982 John Robinson turned to former BYU offensive coordinator Ted Tollner to take on the same job for the Trojans.

2. In 1983 USC hired Tollner as the head football coach.

3. In 2001 when Pete Carroll was looking for an injection of offensive firepower, he turned to former BYU offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who had just coached Phillip Rivers at North Carolina State and was recognized as the nation’s top assistant.

4. In 2001 Chow decided to hire Sarkisian as his quarterbacks coach to help implement concepts he’d perfected at BYU with Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer. USC then won the 2003 Associated Press national title for the first time in 25 years.

5. In 2005, just one season after Chow and Sarkisian left USC for the NFL, Carroll decided he needed more BYU flavor and hired Sarkisian back as the quarterbacks coach.

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