As Steve Sarkisian takes a leave of absence to seek help and treatment for his alcohol and substance abuse problems, the USC Trojans football program is cast in more negative light which puts a lot of pressure on Pat Haden, the athletic director.
Haden has been the AD of the Trojans since 2010. The hiring of Lane Kiffin isn’t on him, but it seems that sticking to guys who worked under Pete Carroll at some point and not being in any rush to recognize real problems has led to this point – of a head coach coming drunk or incapable to training and maybe even coaching one of the games under the influence of some substance, and for the second time in three years using an interim, Clay Helton, to try and salvage something off of this season.
Sarkisian showed up in no condition to take charge of practice three days after a tough loss to Washington at home, and a few days before the big game against Notre Dame. Pat Haden got the call from the coaching staff and he told Sarkisian to take a leave of absence. Now, that it seems we won’t see Sarkisian, who has been struggling with off-the-field issues for quite some time, again this season, a lot of stories are coming out into the open.
I got a call that Coach Sarkisian was at practice. I learned this at about 1 o’clock. I called Steve and talked to him. It was clear to me he’s not healthy. I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence. I think it’s the right thing for our team. I always want to do what’s right for our team and school. I then spoke with the coaches and team. It’s clear the team had a great deal of concern about the health of Coach Sarkisian. So did the staff.
Sarkisian was drunk in a booster event shortly before the season began. He apologized, saying he made mistake mixing alcohol with meds and said he didn’t think he has a drinking problem. But turns out there’s more to it than just one night of foolishness in front of some very powerful people. Some assistants believe he was drunk during the win over Arizona State (September 26) and other sources suggest players had smelled alcohol on Sarkisian’s breath at practice in the past. While USC won’t go ahead and fire him while he’s on this leave of absence, trying to get better, it’s doubtful he’ll coach for them ever again.
Clay Helton, the offensive coordinator, is taking his place. He was an interim coach for one game in 2013 after Ed Orgeron resigned, leading USC to a win in a bowl game. He has been with the program since 2010, filling various roles on offense, and has been the OC for two seasons before this one.
As for Haden, this might put a lot of pressure on him. Hiring Sarkisian was highly criticized, likened to the move of hiring Lane Kiffin, which blew up in everyone’s face. The Sarkisian matter seems to be dealt with a bit too late, even if everyone knew there was a problem. There seems to be a growing discontent with boosters and former players about how Haden has been handling things, accused of trying too hard to stick to Pete Carroll’s era and those who worked under him, instead of making smarter decisions. A program like USC, with so many resources and history, can’t be caught making these kind of mistakes again and again.