Sarkisian offers quick transition

In 2010, USC athletic director Mike Garrett, attempting to maintain the glory days of the Pete Carroll era, hired Carroll's former co-offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, a head coach of moderate success, to return to Troy.

Four seasons later, replace Garrett with Pat Haden and Kiffin with Steve Sarkisian of Washington, and you have what took place at Deja VuSC on Monday.

There are a few key differences between Sarkisian and his close friend Kiffin. Sarkisian has the people skills that Kiffin lacked, a critical element of Kiffin's downfall. Sarkisian knows how to deal with the Los Angeles media and won't make unnecessary problems for himself the way Kiffin did. Kiffin loved the chess match of X's and O's. Sarkisian, as a better communicator, is known as a good teacher.

By bringing Sarkisian back to USC, Haden is attempting to maintain the connection to the past decade, when the Trojans won consecutive national championships (and played for a third) under Carroll and his band of bright, young assistants.

But Haden also is bringing to mind the desert that Alabama wandered through after the death of Bear Bryant, when the university prized bloodline over performance. It worked well with Gene Stallings, less well with Ray Perkins, and not so well with Mike DuBose and Mike Shula. In selecting Sarkisian, Haden also took the coach who has enjoyed less success than another prominent candidate, Chris Petersen of Boise State.

That's not a referral to this season, when Sarkisian and Petersen each went 8-4. All Petersen has done in eight seasons at Boise State is take a small regional power and turn it into a national contender, going 92-12 (.884).

Sarkisian took over a Washington program with a grand tradition that had gone winless the year before he arrived (2008) and won only 12 games in the four years before that. To review, that's five seasons, 12 wins. In five seasons at Washington, Sarkisian went 34-29 (.540), 24-21 in Pac-12 play. To put it another way, he plateaued at the Holiday Bowl level of the Pac-12, his teams playing well enough to earn four consecutive bowl bids but never challenging for a conference, or even a division, championship.

But given the NCAA scholarship penalties that are forcing USC to compete at a disadvantage, Sarkisian makes a lot of sense. He will run an offense that fits the players he will find there. There was some reservation at USC about transitioning to a spread offense, which demands more plays (and more players) on both sides of the ball.

The rebuilding that Sarkisian had to do at Washington will stand him in good stead at USC. Sarkisian knows what it's like to play true freshmen because that's who you have. He also understands the pressures and the spotlight constantly trained on the program. There will be no learning curve for him at USC, which is particularly important given the new recruiting calendar.

The Trojans can sign as many as nine midyear enrollees, an important part of their rebuilding effort. Yet the NCAA recruiting calendar has expanded the December-January dead period to run from the week leading into Christmas through the BCS bowls. There are a lot of openings and not a lot of time. Sarkisian is the candidate who needs the shortest transition period. Given USC's predicament, that is no small thing.