LOS ANGELES — In the place where former USC head coach Pete Carroll has transformed the Seattle Seahawks into the top defensive unit in the NFL, his former co-offensive coordinators with the Trojans will be center stage in a Pac-12 battle on Saturday.
Steve Sarkisian and Washington (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12 North) will host Lane Kiffin and No. 11 USC (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12 South) at CenturyLink field on Saturday.
Carroll, whom Kiffin still affectionately refers to as “Coach,” had advice for Kiffin when he left USC to become the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Carroll told him to continue to call plays in addition to being the head coach.
“He said the worst thing I can do is give that up because the players feel that from you and the relationship it creates,” Kiffin recalls. “That’s always kind of sat in the back of my head.”
Carroll was his own defensive coordinator at USC. Kiffin followed suit and became his own playcaller with the Raiders, Tennessee, and now currently at USC.
Sarkisian has done the same at Washington.
While their teams will meet with them as head coaches for the third time, they each will have their own struggles to overcome as offensive playcallers against the opposing defenses.
“We’re calling plays for our own offenses and then we’ve got defensive coordinators in Monte (Kiffin) and Justin (Wilcox) that we are calling against,” Sarkisian told The Seattle Times.
They two have remained friends through the years and have a ton of respect for the others program.
“I know Lane hates when I say this but they’re probably the most talented team in our conference,” Sarkisian said. “You just look at their starting 22 they are (a) really talented group.”
Added Kififn, “He says that every year, so he’s just going to say that no matter what.”
In his return to USC, Kiffin and quarterback Matt Barkley have developed a good relationship. In a way, an assist goes to Sarkisian. Something he admired about Sarkisian when they coached together was how he dealt with quarterbacks on gameday. That’s stuck with Kiffin.
“He was always downstairs,” Kiffin said. “I was always upstairs and (he) really wouldn’t get rattled when things started going bad. (He) always would have great reminders for the guy right before the play and that’s why his quarterbacks have played so well over the years.”
Sarkisian’s most recent pupil is St. John Bosco grad Keith Price. All five of his touchdown passes on the season have come in home games. In a sense, it’s a microcosm of the way the Huskies’ season has gone. CenturyLink has been quite comfortable for Washington this season. Two weeks ago they handed then-No. 8 Stanford their first loss of the season.
“They play better at home,” Kiffin said. “They’ve done that before (Sarkisian) got there and especially since he got there. They’re two different teams (home and away).”
The Huskies are 3-0 at home this season and winless on the road. The Trojans have become road warriors so far this season. The matchup at Washington will wrap up a stretch of four of six games on the road to start the season. They’ll be immersed in the elements in Seattle where rain is expected throughout the day on Saturday. To prepare for that, the Trojans went through drills on Thursday with the sprinklers running preparing for this “business trip.”
In a place Carroll now calls home, there likely won’t be any sight of him when his former pupils square off on Saturday. Carroll will be occupied preparing for the Patriots’ Sunday visit. A reunion comprised of the three away from the field this weekend in the Emerald City shouldn’t be expected.
“No not at all,” Kiffin said. “We know a lot of people on the staff up there. Coach Carroll and his staff’s got a lot to do outside of this game to prepare and so do we so it’s all business.