"I was not right, and I think the moral of the story is this: When you mix meds with alcohol, sometimes you say things and/or do things that you regret, and I regret it —Steve Sarkisian
LOS ANGELES — Southern California coach Steve Sarkisian publicly apologized Tuesday for his drunken appearance at a team rally last weekend, attributing his slurred, profane speech to a combination of alcohol and medication.
Sarkisian plans to seek unspecified treatment, but the second-year Trojans coach doesn't believe he has a drinking problem.
"I was not right, and I think the moral of the story is this: When you mix meds with alcohol, sometimes you say things and/or do things that you regret, and I regret it," Sarkisian said. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all of our fans and donors and all the people that were in attendance, but I'm going to move forward, and we're going to be great. I can't wait to start coaching again today."
Sarkisian was penitent in his comments before the eighth-ranked Trojans practiced on campus, but he expressed confidence in his ability to remain in charge despite his embarrassing performance in front of his players, fans and alumni at the Salute to Troy.
Sarkisian slurred his words, disparaged some of USC's upcoming opponents and used profane phrases before leaving the podium. The coach hasn't been suspended or publicly disciplined by USC athletic director Pat Haden beyond a scolding in a brief public statement.
Sarkisian doesn't believe he has substance abuse issues that would require him to step away from the Trojans, who open the season Sept. 5 at the Coliseum against Arkansas State.
"I don't know if I even need rehab," Sarkisian said. "That's part of the process, and I credit Pat Haden for this, that he has put things in place for me to have meetings to figure that out, and I'll address them as they come. I've got a great staff that can support me along the way, and we'll see what comes out of it."
Sarkisian declined to specify what medication he is taking, but said he was impaired after combining it with "not a lot" of alcohol. The program is banning alcohol from campus and the Coliseum for the coaching staff. Alcohol was never available to players' locker room, Sarkisian confirmed.
"There won't be alcohol in our building ever again," Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian also said he was personally done drinking for the season.
Quarterback Cody Kessler and linebacker Su'a Cravens believe the players support Sarkisian, who went 9-4 last season after rejoining the program where he spent two stints as an assistant coach under Pete Carroll. The Trojans are a popular preseason pick to win the Pac-12 title in their first season after the expiration of heavy NCAA sanctions.
"He came to us as a man, apologized, looked us in the face, told us things, and that's hard to do," said Kessler, a fifth-year senior who has known Sarkisian since early in his high school career. "But at the end of the day, I think he earned more respect from us and the team, and I think it brought us closer together."
Kessler and Cravens said the team's leadership council assigned Sarkisian to do unspecified physical punishment drills Monday, just as they would for a teammate who missed a meeting or made a similar mistake. Sarkisian "came in just drenched" in sweat after his punishment workout, Kessler said with a smile.
The 41-year-old Sarkisian's wife, Stephanie, filed for divorce in April. They have three children.
Sarkisian's misstep is just the latest embarrassment in an epic list of misadventures for the Trojans in the six years since Carroll's departure for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.
Former coach Lane Kiffin was involved in multiple embarrassments during his 3½-year tenure. Sarkisian's first season in charge featured extensive weirdness, including everything from cornerback Josh Shaw's infamous phony preseason story about his injured ankles to a strange sideline confrontation with officials featuring Sarkisian and Haden during a victory at Stanford.
"We've dealt with much worse," Cravens said of Sarkisian's latest misstep. "Obviously everybody makes mistakes, and it's just another one of those things where it's tough. You've got to deal with it, and we've moved on. He's still our head coach at the end of the day, and we love him and support him 100 percent."