Exclusive: Inside the USC coaching search

December 2, 2013 – 6:56 pm by Ryan Phillips

Steve Sarkisian

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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  1. 18 Responses to “Exclusive: Inside the USC coaching search”

  2. This has at least a dozen factually inaccuracies, probably more. You should stick to rumors, cause when you try to post facts you just come off looking stupid.

    By Truth on Dec 3, 2013

  3. Ryan, I read a post on another site that sounded like it could be legit. The 5th guy they talked to was Lovie Smith, per this insider. I think that would make a lot of sense.

    By KRM on Dec 3, 2013

  4. There was some contact with Smith but I’m really not sure how serious it got. That could be correct but I can’t say definitely one way or the other.

    By Ryan Phillips on Dec 3, 2013

  5. What utter made up tripe. Petersen never interviewed for the USC job beyond probable phone discussions and I doubt they ever spoke with him personally. He certainly never went to Denver to interview. Petersen has never formally interviewed for a position at another university since getting his gig as OC for BSU.

    I can’t imagine a top AQ job that would intrigue Petersen less than USC. The only thing Petersen related in this article that rings true is concerns with his media chops. He doesn’t like dealing with the media. So much so he almost didn’t take the HC job at BSU.

    I’m sure the question USC people had about Petersen after talking to his agent was, “Why doesn’t he want to be our coach?” Too Kiffin like?!?!? Laughable, the only two people more opposite than Kiffin & Petersen are Hitler & Ghandi.

    By Ghost of Joe Dugan on Dec 3, 2013

  6. Like much of the college world, I wish Petersen would leave Boise and that podunk town and program would fade away again.

    But to think the guy who turned down millions at UCLA twice “Bombed an interview” at USC is laughable.

    Interview with Petersen:

    Haden: Are you willing to cheat if neccesary

    Petersen: no

    Haden: Are you willing to recruit 5-star rapists and criminals versus 3 and 4-star quality players

    Petersen: No

    Haden: Are you willing to cater to booster demands and let them pay our players and give them other benfits

    Petersen: NO!

    Haden: Are you willing to let the media in on meetings and Practice

    Petersen: HELL NO!! I’m going to withdrawal myself from consideration.

    Haden: Thank you for your time Chris. I don’t think this will be a good fit

    By whywontpetersenleave on Dec 3, 2013

  7. Well considering he flew to Denver for an interview, then met with Haden a second time, he was clearly interested.

    By Ryan Phillips on Dec 3, 2013

  8. I agree with whywontpetersenleave. That guy has never blown an interview with his life. When he wants a high profile head coaching job, he will get it. Could be UW. And Ryan, you reiterating the statement that he flew to Denver for an interview (allegedly) means nothing. This story smells hoky from the “four candidates names remained on the list…” And then names five people. I’m sure this is driving traffic (it got me here) but to call it factually accurate is a joke.

    By Me on Dec 3, 2013

  9. The fact that people are taking the time and energy to bash USC here only reinforces the greatness of USC Football. It takes a lot of success to garner this kind of hate and jealousy lol. How does the old saying go? Oh yeah…”haters gonna hate!!”

    By Hey Joe on Dec 3, 2013

  10. ME,
    I reworded the section about the “four names” to make it more clear. Ed Orgeron wasn’t on the list of four names but earned his way into consideration. I understand how that could have been confusing.

    By Ryan Phillips on Dec 3, 2013

  11. whywontpetersenleave:
    Your speculation on the interview is in complete disagreement with the facts regarding what USC Football program was accused by NCAA for doing; while USC’s penalties are almost unanimously accepted as too high for the accusations, particularly in view of what other programs got, NCAA is trying not to have the “documents” of the violations become public – go figure.
    Get you facts straight

    By Greek Trojan on Dec 3, 2013

  12. So in other words, this wasn’t about who would be the best coach for USC, it was about who gave Haden the best sales job in the interview? Great job Pat!

    By Morty on Dec 3, 2013

  13. If Petersen went to talk to anyone it’s out of respect. There’s nothing wrong with talking to someone if they hold you in such high acclaim, but USC – wow – Laughable – As if Coach Pete want’s to drag his family from Beautiful Boise to go to the cesspool of Southern California.

    If anything he’d leave to a program in a small town family setting. Period
    This article factuates itself in the title of the site – Rumors…. Anything to draw attn to your site factual or not – just a bunch of dribble….

    By Seriously? on Dec 3, 2013

  14. Having attended USC and now living in Boise, I prayed Pete would stay home. I’m so happy he stayed in Boise. If he had moved on to USC they would have been national champs in short order with the talent they get. If stays maybe someday Boise State will be, now that is a coaching challenge. Good Luck Sark, by the way what was his record against Boise?

    By Jim c on Dec 4, 2013

  15. Hey Whywont………….leave. Have you ever been to Boise? I’m not sure what your definition of a “Podunk town” is? It is far from a small town. I had the privilege to play for Pete his first two years as Boise States OC and I have the up most respect for. Pete has turned down other oppurtunities because he and his assistants enjoy the quality of life in Boise because it isn’t “Podunk” or to big. He makes $2.3 million a year which was about $600,000 less than what Lame Kiffin was making and that goes a long way here. He enjoys only having to drive 10 minutes to his office instead of a jammed packed 1-10 or 330 days of rain on the I-5. The challenge of trying to build a team like Boise State with kids he can develop and coach instead of 5 star primadonnas is much more rewarding. He has a chance to leave behind a coaching legacy here instead of going to a school that already has everything in place. He likes his lifestyle here, his family does and his assistants do. And that’s why he won’t leave!

    By Pete elite on Dec 4, 2013

  16. So if Sark looses to Notre Dame and UCLA is he going to be fired? If not than why did Ogeron not get the Job!

    By usctrojanhtl on Dec 6, 2013

  1. 3 Trackback(s)

  2. Dec 6, 2013: Poll: Who Got The Better End Of The Coaching Carousel, USC or Washington? - Reign of Troy - A USC Trojans Site - News, Blogs, Opinion and more.
  3. Dec 7, 2013: Steve Sarkisian Was A Better Hire For USC Than Chris Petersen - Reign of Troy - A USC Trojans Site - News, Blogs, Opinion and more.
  4. Dec 9, 2013: USC Football: Poll - Has Your Opinion Of The Sarkisian Hire Changed? - Reign of Troy - A USC Trojans Site - News, Blogs, Opinion and more.

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