Dick Harmon: USC taps BYU experience for football hire, again
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.
6. Two years later to keep Sarkisian the next season, Carroll elevated him to assistant head coach and offensive coordinator while keeping his duties as quarterback coach.
7. After firing Lane Kiffin in the middle of this past season, USC turned to Sarkisian this week and hired him from the University of Washington where he worked his first head coaching job.
“They’ve all been good men and coaches,” said Edwards. “Don James had it going pretty good, and then Washington struggled a little. Steve came in and did a great job there, proving he is an asset.”
The Sarkisian hire is a good one for a myriad of reasons.
He’s a local kid, a proven commodity as a coach, a Trojan insider in recruiting, marketing, and media personality, and is fully aware and capable of mingling with and uniting a frustrated and anxious Trojan booster group.
But most of all, Sarkisian brings to USC, a treasure trove of offensive experience and knowledge, a great chunk of which he gained in Provo from Norm Chow, Lance Reynolds and LaVell Edwards.
USC has always been able to attract great talent. This year, USC’s defense was atop the Pac 12, but the offense struggled, even with one of the top receivers in the country.
What Sarkisian brings to the Trojans is a proven philosophy. In applying it to USC talent, he will immediately elevate the NCAA-penalty-plagued program, just when USC is coming out of a bad-boy coma. He has been a coach with the Trojans for seven seasons since 2001.
It couldn’t be a better fit for both parties.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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