USC has everything needed to hire its own Nick Saban, Urban Meyer
There should be no joy at USC or elsewhere in regards to the heartbreaking end to Steve Sarkisian’s head-coaching tenure. If anything, there should be anger at AD Pat Haden for allowing an adult with outward signs of substance abuse to continue leading 100-plus 18-to-22-year olds rather than put him on leave in August. And hope that Sarkisian finally gets the treatment he needs.
But now that his tenure is officially over, USC, mercifully, can end its futile quest to reincarnate Pete Carroll. In fact, come December, whoever’s doing the hiring of the next coach (I can’t imagine it will still be Haden) will enjoy a rare opportunity.
Simply put, USC’s forthcoming opening is going to be one of the most attractive a coaching candidate could ever want. As such, this will be USC’s chance to hire its own Urban Meyer or Nick Saban. This is its chance to hire a rock star Coach.
Most times when one of the sport’s blueblood programs has an opening, it’s a daunting rebuilding situation. See Charlie Strong at Texas. Or James Franklin at Penn State. That’s because most coaches don’t leave one of those jobs voluntarily. If it’s open, something’s gone terribly wrong.
The next coach of USC will be walking into the opposite of a rebuilding situation. On the contrary, his first team meeting of 2016 will include the likes of WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, CBs Adoree' Jackson and Iman Marshall, RB Ronald Jones II, LB Cameron Smith and a host of other members of consecutive top-10 recruiting classes. Three-year starting QB Cody Kessler will be gone, but former five-star prospect Max Browne is waiting to step in.
And for the first time in six years, the NCAA’s Reggie Bush sanctions will no longer be a factor.
In other words, all the pieces are in place to win big right away, but without the burdensome expectations to match. After so many years of dysfunction the fan base should initially just be thrilled to not lose 17-12 games to unranked foes.
Michigan this season provides a comparable example. There, a rock star coach (Jim Harbaugh) took over a roster full of former blue-chippers that had not previously tasted success. A core group of players that went 5-7 last season are 5-1 and now look like viable Big Ten championship contenders. And that was a bigger rebuilding job than USC’s should be.
USC is one of those rare places where literally everything a coach needs to win big is right at his fingertips. Take a rock star coach and hand him the LA recruiting turf and media market, big money, immaculate facilities (still relatively new), celebrity fans and a cool-to-the-kids brand, and he should be able to field a regular national title contender.
Which is why it’s been so maddening to watch the school keep putting nostalgia ahead of resume and keep handing such a prestigious job to coaches on training wheels.
There are lots of good coaches across the sport, but I’d only put three — Meyer, Saban and Harbaugh — in the rock star classification. They’re also about the only three currently in college that USC stands no chance of landing. Most others would flock for this opportunity.
It’s also important that USC doesn’t limit itself to a specific archetype to which many of the unimaginative and/or stubborn among its older-skewing fan base still cling. I’m talking about you, Jeff Fisher/Jack Del Rio/other West Coast-NFL clones. Hire the best coach, regardless of whether he runs the pro-style, the Air Raid or something in between.
Start by placing a call to Chip Kelly — the definitive rock star coach. How he still feels about the NFL will likely depend in large part on how the Eagles finish the rest of their season. He’ll likely stay put, but it’s worth a shot. He’d inject much the same immediate spark that Meyer did at Ohio State or Harbaugh at Michigan.
Next up: Brian Kelly. I know, it’s blasphemy, a Notre Dame guy, but the media-savvy Kelly may find LA more to his liking than the other Kelly. He’d also rid himself of some of the Notre Dame-specific headaches — the academic restrictions, an independent’s schedule, all those night games — that often frustrate him.
What about Baylor’s Art Briles? All that guy does is put up 50 points every week with often overlooked recruits. Imagine giving him USC’s recruiting pool. Or Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin? Another prospective rock star. Utah’s Kyle Whittingham has worked wonders with hardly any publicity. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald would thrive given the opportunity.
And all that’s just a starting point.
As long as USC’s brass can stay out of its own way — a recurring problem lately — this really shouldn’t be that hard a sell. USC can’t afford to screw this one up. There’s already been far too much of that lately.
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.