As Steve Sarkisian was introduced as the new head coach at Southern California University Tuesday, we were learning that Jim Mora had agreed to a long-term contract extension to keep him at UCLA. Mora was the top candidate to replace Sarkisian, and now Athletics Director Scott Woodward will have to look elsewhere.
Since the quickest of solutions is now off the table, Woodward’s quest for a new head coach of the football program becomes a great test of his skills, a test he’s passed multiple times since taking the job. Getting the football hire right is critical, however, and he doesn’t have a lot of time.
The recruiting trail is red hot right now and losing out on that front can be crippling to the school’s next few classes, particularly the one coming in for 2014. Not having a coach to lead that trek basically means the school is not recruiting. Sure, the assistants, coordinators and position coaches that remain can do what they can to keep that trail warm, but whether or not defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi will be with the school much longer remains to be seen, as various media reports suggest Sarkisian wants to bring both to Los Angeles.
Among the names being bandied in consideration to become the next head man at Montlake include Wilcox, and the following:
Chris Petersen, Head Coach — Boise State
Gary Pinkel, Head Coach — Missouri
Doug Nussmeier, Offensive Coordinator — Alabama
Tim DeRuyter, Head Coach — Fresno State
Ed Orgeron, former USC interim Head Coach
James Franklin, Head Coach — Vanderbilt
Kirby Smart, Defensive Coordinator — Alabama
Offering Wilcox the job may be the only way he doesn’t leave to join Sarkisian at USC, though he has a $1 million buyout attached to his contract with Washington. Nussmeier did not call plays in his time under Sarkisian at Washington as the offensive coordinator, but he’s been doing so at Alabama the past two seasons.
Pinkel is entrenched at Missouri and appears like a longshot, and possibly not much of a fit anyway, despite his success. Pac-12 schools generally need recruiting roots in southern California and Pinkel doesn’t really have that having coached in the Big 12 and now the SEC for more than a decade, generally recruiting the south and the midwest.
Petersen was an assistant at Oregon, so he has lots of west coast ties, and may be the frontrunner in the eyes of many, but Nussmeier is said to want the job badly.
Franklin and Smart appear to be longshots at this stage, and like Pinkel may not be great fits, anyway. I’m surprised nobody has brought up the names of former California head coach Jeff Tedford, San Diego State head coach Rocky Long, Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason and Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham.
It’s certain Woodward and his staff are considering candidates right now that have not been mentioned in the media. When Sarkisian was hired five years ago his name came out of nowhere. While one can argue the degree of success Sarkisian had at Washington, he did take a winless college football program and turn it into an annual bowl-game participant, and one that still has a shot at nine wins in 2013.
There’s also the question of who will coach the Huskies in their bowl game, particularly if Wilcox is ultimately not an option. The candidates include offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau and offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto. Kiesau has not been calling plays — Sarkisian did that — but he may make the most sense, despite not having any head coaching experience. Cozzetto is also the running game coordinator, so he and Kiesau could roll in tandem in calling the offensive plays.
One of the fallouts when a head coach leaves is verbally committed — and even current players with eligibility left — changing their minds. One 2014 recruit — wide receiver Rahshead Johnson — de-committed upon learning of Sarkisian’s decision to leave UW, and two freshman — quarterback Troy Williams and wide receiver Darrell Daniels — tweeted out their displeasure, advising that recruits should not commit because of a coach. Williams even called Sarkisian “faker than a 3 dollar bill.”
The school has a lot of work to do in a very short period of time if they wish to salvage the 2014 recruiting class, win game No. 9 in their bowl game and find the right hire to run the program moving forward. Waiting too long can be very detrimental, but misfiring on the hire also is not an option.
Woodward has earned the confidence of those around him, his peers and many observers. This test could turn into another feather in his cap. Only time will tell, but the clock is ticking.
– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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