Now that Steve Sarkisian has agreed to be the next head football coach at USC we can finally divulge what we know about the entire process and how athletic director Pat Haden arrived at his decision. We had promised sources close to the program that we wouldn’t name names until the process was over and decided to comply with that because of the relationships we’ve built with those sources.
When Lane Kiffin was fired in late September, Haden and USC’s higher-ups already had a loose list of about 30 names. With the help of search firm Korn Ferry, they whittled that group down to 20 names and began digging into the backgrounds of everyone on it.
All along four names stayed on the list: Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, Sarkisian, Boise State head coach Chris Petersen and Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Interim head coach Ed Orgeron entered the discussion after a few weeks on the job.
Other names came and went as well. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald was high on the list initially then dropped as the season went along. Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin was also highly thought of, but the controversy surrounding his program off the field right now was a big turn-off to Haden and his team. Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter’s name also surfaced a few times, but we have been told he was never under serious consideration.
Sumlin, Sarkisian, Petersen and Del Rio all lobbied hard for the job for the better part of two months. All four guys made it known that they wanted to be considered and were willing to move on if USC made the right offer. As we detailed on Sunday, Sumlin backed out last week out after pushing for the job. He never interviewed and was never given an offer by USC despite some reports to the contrary.
Sarkisian, Petersen and Del Rio all interviewed with USC in Denver in early November. Reports of Del Rio’s interview became public, but the other two guys were able to keep their names from leaking.
Del Rio was always considered a deep backup option for the job, given that he has never coached in the college ranks in any capacity at any level.
Petersen’s interview left a lot to be desired. USC’s people were expecting to have him emerge as the leader after meeting with him, but instead left with more questions than answers.
All of our sources say Sarkisian blew USC’s representatives away with his interview and plan for the program. So much so that he never fell out of the top group of candidates USC was looking at despite an average season at Washington.
Sumlin did not want to interview until after the regular season ended, so USC set up a meeting for December 1. Obviously, that meeting never happened, as Sumlin removed himself from consideration last week, then signed a six-year extension to stay at Texas A&M.
Ed Orgeron certainly had a chance to win the job as well, and had a lot of momentum in his favor. But the team’s 35-14 loss to UCLA on Saturday pretty much ended his candidacy.
On Sunday, USC met with Petersen again and after discussions both sides agreed that it just wasn’t a fit. There were major concerns about how Petersen would handle the media in Los Angeles and some feared his personality was too similar to Kiffin’s.
Haden and USC then had discussions again with Sarkisian and determined he was the guy they were looking for. He was by far the best interview of all the candidates and his plan for the program far surpassed all others considered.
While our sources were not unanimous about Sarkisian’s ability to win championships at USC, they all agreed he stood out more than the other candidates interviewed.
Sarkisian was also the only candidate offered the job. That’s not to say he was the only choice, he’s just the only one that got to the point of an offer. Sumlin may have gotten an offer had he interviewed and it went well, but that never happened. Petersen also did not get an offer as it was clear to both sides that USC was not the right place for him.
Haden has said publicly that he interviewed five people for the position, but at this time we are only aware of interviews being conducted with Sarkisian, Del Rio, Petersen and Orgeron. We do not know know who Haden is referring to as his fifth interview, but we do have several calls in to sources and are waiting to hear back from them.
Check back as we will update this when we find out more.
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