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Monday, December 9, 2013
Sark vs. Pete -- the epic debate begins

By Greg Katz

LOS ANGELES -- If you’re a USC fan, you’ve already heard the news that Washington has hired highly successful former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen as its new head football coach, replacing the departed Steve Sarkisian, who left the Emerald City for the bright lights and glitter of the USC Trojans.

Of course, what makes this all the more tantalizing is the fact that the Trojans did make contact with Petersen regarding its coaching opening. As history has unfolded, USC athletic director Pat Haden decided that Sarkisian was a better fit for the Trojans, which opens the door for even further scrutiny of Haden’s decision down the line.

Sarkisian might be Haden’s answer for the future, a good coach with great recruiting skills and a dynamic personality. Although Sarkisian’s overall record at UW was just above average at 34-29, he did an admirable job resurrecting a Huskies program that was 0-12 the season before he arrived in 2009.

Stuck in the powerful Pac-12 North Division, which features powerhouses Oregon and Stanford, Sarkisian was up against it. For the past four seasons, the Huskies finished with a 5-4 conference record, which doesn’t get you to a BCS bowl and would give you a pink slip at USC faster than you can say Tommy Trojan.

Chris Petersen
Some Trojans fans are wondering why new Washington coach Chris Petersen wasn't picked over old Washington coach Steve Sarkisian.
This is not to suggest that Sarkisian won’t become another Trojans coaching legend. The great example is that of Pete Carroll, who came to USC under intense fan dislike and turned out to be a likely College Hall of Fame coach. If Haden is right in his evaluation of Sarkisian, Traveler will be doing a lot of victory laps around the Coliseum.

Because Petersen was a Trojans coaching candidate and is Sarkisian’s replacement up in Seattle, there was an immediate comparison between the two. Sark’s introductory press conference last week in The McKay Center might have been a home run, but many Trojans fans are in constant debate whether they’d rather have Sarkisian or Petersen as their new head coach.

Choosing between Sarkisian and Petersen is a moot point because it’s already a done deal. However, the comparison game will begin as the 2014 season unfolds, and just wait till they meet each other for the first time on the playing field. There should be some buildup for that one, and the outcries could be deafening if the Trojans fall short on the scoreboard.

If one wishes to get a sneak preview of coming attractions, Sarkisian’s Washington team blasted Petersen’s then-No. 19 Boise State team 38-6 in Seattle in this season’s opener. If you’re a Trojans fan, you can take great comfort in knowing that Sarkisian really put a hurt on the Broncos. In fact, the Huskies amassed 592 yards in total offense against Petersen’s defense.

Conversely, Boise State nipped Washington 28-26 in the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl. It could be argued that Pac-12 teams should never lose to a “lower-tier” opponent in a bowl game, even Petersen’s highly respected Broncos.

In the overall picture, Petersen’s Broncos appeared in a BCS bowl game twice while Sarkisian’s Huskies never sniffed a BCS appearance. Petersen was 92-12 in his eight seasons at Boise State, including five conference titles, and guided the Broncos into national prominence with two Fiesta Bowl victories.

There has been little information revealed by anybody regarding Haden’s decision to bypass Petersen. There are unsubstantiated rumors that Petersen’s interview with the Trojans athletic director wasn’t exactly impressive. The one thing you can say about Petersen is that he is one of the best coaches in college football and has the record to prove it. Just ask Oklahoma.

If you’re looking for personality comparisons, Sarkisian wins hands down. Sarkisian’s demeanor lights up a room. On the other hand, Petersen is reserved and might not have been a hit at the Trojans’ many alumni clubs around California. He is considered a straight shooter and one of the good guys in college football.

By Haden’s own admission, the stress of picking the next Trojans head coach was monumental. Fans of both USC and Washington will now focus on how each other do from week to week. You can bet that Haden can wait and will have Maalox ready.

The two new Pac-12 head coaches might both end up winners for their respective programs, and the possibility exists that they might eventually meet each other in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Wouldn’t that be something?

If Haden is correct about “fits” and “gut feelings,” all could end up happily ever after for both teams, and Trojans fans could enjoy an unexpected and revitalized new rivalry to boot.