Steve Sarkisian might be a rookie as USC’s head coach, but he’s no rookie to the head-coaching profession.
Sarkisian kicked off his sixth season as a collegiate head coach Saturday night in USC’s 52-13 win over Fresno State. Still, for all that he’s seen and done in nearly a decade of being a head coach, what he encountered in the day leading up to his debut with USC was unlike anything he could really prepare for.
"I said to the staff, jokingly, ‘There’s nowhere in the head coaching manual do you turn to Section 13.2 and it tells you how to deal with this stuff that we dealt with this week,’" Sarkisian said. "You deal with it and you trust your gut and you go with your instincts and you rely on the people that are close to you and you believe in your beliefs and you move forward and that’s all you can do."
As the coach sat at the podium Saturday night during his postgame press conference, still basking in the glow of his offense’s 702-yard performance in their romping of the Bulldogs, he still wasn’t quite sure he handled the off-the-field events of the week perfectly.
He’s certain he wanted to keep his team focused on football and, while the Trojans may not have been perfect Saturday night, they were really, really good.
It was tough sledding, considering his most experienced cornerback, leader of the secondary and team captain, fabricated a tale depicting himself to be hero. And another player quit the team and then went onto social media to call his former head coach a racist.
"I, maybe, brought it up to them twice this week," Sarkisian said of the off-the-field distractions. "It just wasn’t going to be a focus of ours. I wasn’t going to let an external factor motivate us or not motivate us and it never will. That will never happen.
"We’re going to be faced with adversity all the time and we found out about ourselves individually and we find out about our group collectively and I think we found out a lot about this team. This team has great leadership. These guys are mature. They’ve been through a lot and I thought they handled this week just like professionals."
Sarkisian was so convinced, he didn’t feel the need to give his team a motivational speech before kickoff, sensing he had a "hungry" team.
The Trojans devoured the Bulldogs in every facet of the game in Sarkisian’s debut, showing no resemblance of a team that endured one of the craziest off-the-field weeks in program history. And it was much to the delight of the head coach.
"I don’t think we could have asked for more," Sarkisian said.