A history of the USC-Washington coaching rivalry


LOS ANGELES -- On Thursday night, all the talk, comparisons, and analysis featuring second-year head coaches Steve Sarkisian of the USC Trojans and Washington Huskies Chris Petersen will finally be settled on the hallowed grounds of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Or will it?

As has been chronicled over and over and over again, Sarkisian is the former Washington Huskies head coach (2009-2013) and Petersen is the former Trojans head-coaching candidate who eventually replaced Sarkisian as the Huskies head man.

Since the two teams didn’t play each other in 2014, there is still the lingering question of which university made the better coaching hire?

That answer may depend on what school’s colors you’re wearing.

However, long before the Sarkisian vs. Petersen hiring debate, the Trojans and Huskies already had a long history of head coaching comparisons and confrontations. These two traditional West Coast powers have had some of college football’s most successful coaches and also some of the more controversial ones, as well.

Historians of this western rivalry will tell you there wasn’t a bigger tormentor of the Washington Huskies in the modern era of college football than Trojans Hall of Fame head coach John McKay (1960–1975), who won four national championships and countless conference titles during his extraordinary tenure.

And nobody suffered more at the hands of McKay and his juggernaut of teams than those young men wearing the purple and gold from Seattle.

In his 15-year USC coaching career against the Huskies, John McKay was 11-3-1, and from 1965 thru 1974 he never lost a game to UW. Now that’s domination!

Huskies fans point to their Hall of Fame coach Don James (1975-1992) as the counter argument. In 18 seasons which included one shared national championship (1991), James had a 10-7 record against the Trojans. Hardly McKay-type domination and surprisingly James never had a winning streak against the Cardinal and Gold lasting any longer than three games.

There were two other Hall of Fame head coaches -- one from each university -- that participated in the longtime series. Washington’s Hall of Fame coach Jim Owens (1957–1974) was tormented by the Trojans throughout his career, finishing with a un-Hall of Fame record against the Men of Troy at 3-14-1. By the way, Owens was the Huskies coach who lost 10 consecutive times to John McKay.

Trojans College Football Hall of Fame coach John Robinson had his hands full with the Huskies. In two separate coaching tenures, Robbie was a combined 2-2-1 against the Dawgs, mediocre numbers for a coach of his stature.

Leave out the Jim Owens and Don James eras and the Huskies parade of head coaches and their records against the Trojans has been pedestrian at best. Jim Lambright (1993-1998), a former Huskies player who succeeded Don James, was 3-2-1 against the Trojans in his six seasons in Seattle.

Other Huskies leaders were mere footnotes in the rivalry. Rick Neuheisel (1999 - 2002) was 1-1 in his four seasons against the Trojans and didn’t face “Southern Cal” in 1999 and 2000 because of scheduling.

Keith Gilberston (2003–2004) couldn’t get a victory (0-2) against the Trojans, and Tyrone Willingham (2005-2008), who was previously the head coach at Stanford and Notre Dame, was blanked as well (0-4).

And, no, we didn’t forget Steve Sarkisian (2009-2013) who finished his five-season Huskies coaching career with a 2-2 record against his future employers.

One of those victories by Sark was his team’s 16-13 upset of Pete Carroll’s nationally ranked Trojans in 2009, which sent Huskies Stadium into delirious nirvana.

However, don’t feel too bad for Pete Carroll, who dominated the Huskies to a tune of a 7-2 record. Ironically, the current Seattle Seahawks head coach lost both his first and last game in which he competed against the Huskies.

Outside of McKay and Carroll, the Trojans also had some mediocrity against the Huskies in its coaching ranks.

Ted Tollner (1983-86) was 2-2, Larry Smith (1987-92) finished 3-3, and the infamous Paul Hackett (1998-2000) was 1-0 against UW, thanks to the schedule maker who didn't pit Hackett's Trojans with the Huskies in his final two seasons. The controversial Lane Kiffin (2010-2013), who was a modest 2-1 against the Purple Gang.

All of which returns us to Thursday night’s matchup between Steve Sarkisian and Chris Petersen.

Will Huskies fans be seeing in Sarkisian a new Trojans head coaching nemesis along the lines of a McKay or Carroll?

Or will Trojans fans be seeing in Petersen the second coming of the Huskies Don James?

History is ready to be written.