USC football coach Steve Sarkisian will take an indefinite leave of absence on athletic director Pat Haden’s insistence. Haden held a press conference to announce the decision while citing that the head coach is not doing well from a mental standpoint.
“I think it’s the right thing for our team, and I’ve always got to do what’s right for our team and for our school,” said Haden.
In Sarkisian’s absence, offensive coordinator Clay Helton will take over for the Trojans, who are 1-2 in the Pac-10 and 3-2 overall.
Haden didn’t offer any details on what exactly is wrong with Sarkisian, only saying “it was very clear to me” that the coach is “not healthy.”
Things started off on the wrong foot this season when Sarkisian showed up to the Salute to Troy pep rally in a drunken state. At the time, he blew off the debacle as having combined alcohol with medication that day. But now it may be clear that Sarkisian’s pep rally appearance wasn’t just an isolated incident.
Haden held a team meeting to let players know about the coach’s leave of absence.
“(It was) clear the team had a great deal of concern about the health of Coach Sarkisian,” Haden said of the meeting. “So did the staff have that concern for him, and it was also very apparent to me in the room of the support that Clay has from our team and his staff.”
Dating back to last year, Sarkisian is 12-6 as head coach of the Trojans, who’ve been trying to return to prominence ever since Pete Carroll left to the NFL in 2010. However, a recent 17-12 loss to the unranked Washington Huskies will make this goal difficult since it’s knocked the Trojans out of the AP Top 25.
Helton will now embark on his second stint as interim coach of USC. He assumed the same duty in 2013, leading the Trojans to a victory in the Las Vegas Bowl after they went through three coaches.
“It’s a very unique honor to get it (this way),” said Helton. “Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been in this situation before, and once again am very fortunate to have a group of first-class kids that are very talented and want to do something special here.”
As for Sarkisian, he is a former BYU quarterback who also played in the CFL. He then became an assistant to Carroll and helped many of the great teams of the 2000s. After coaching alongside Lane Kiffin, he took the University of Washington head coaching job in 2009, turning a winless team into a bowl team.
When Kiffin was fired in 2013, Sarkisian came back to USC to take the job. Despite having a scholarship restriction in 2014, Sarkisian would guide the Trojans to a respectable 9-4 record. This is a big reason why they entered the 2015 season with the No. 8 ranking and were picked to win the Pac-10.
However, they’ve now stumbled after a 41-point loss to Stanford last week and a second-straight loss to the Huskies. This is where Helton hopes to stop the slide.
“They still have a lot of things out there that we can attain,” the offensive coordinator said. “We have a big game versus Notre Dame this week, the opportunity to still compete for the South championship in the Pac-12, and again, I’m very fortunate to have a group around me as a staff that is as first-class as they get.”