- Tim Keown, Senior writer, ESPN.com
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Once again we're presented with a tale – a parable, really – involving men who demand loyalty, devotion and persistence from others while displaying none themselves.
Steve Sarkisian left his job as coach of Washington on Monday to take the same job at USC. No big deal, right? It's the way the game is played. It's unfortunate but inevitable. It's a business, and this is how business gets done.
Ed Orgeron left his job as interim coach of USC on Monday because Sarkisian was given the permanent job. No big deal, right? Coach O was 6-2 as a head coach. He brought the Trojans back to relevance after the firing of Lane Kiffin. He was bypassed by athletic director Pat Haden despite the vocal support of his players, so it only makes sense that he would go somewhere else to soak his hurt feelings.
This kind of thing happens every December. Why fight it?
But consider this: A hypothetical Washington Huskies' player, recruited by Sarkisian under the assumption that he would get four years of his coaching, might be sitting in his dorm room thinking about transferring to follow his coach. He can do that, of course, providing he's willing and able to sit out the mandatory Pac 12 "academic year-in-residence" -- euphemisms, arise! -- during which he is not eligible to receive an athletic scholarship.
This season has brought some pretty heavy stuff when it comes to the ongoing issue of Scholarship Athletes v. The Man. Johnny Manziel had the audacity to trade his name for cash. Jadeveon Clowney looked a lot like a guy making sure he's still healthy when it's time to get paid. The All Players United uprising -- hardly Arab Spring, but still -- flashed briefly in front of the media's eyes.
But some things appear immutable, and the most immutable is this: Coaches can be duplicitous and disloyal and get rewarded with more money and a better job. Players who protect their future earnings or take a stand for better treatment or try to parley their fame into a few bucks -- the same way the NCAA and universities do -- are savaged for their lack of gratitude.
The coaching racket runs like a fifth-grader's homemade Rube Goldberg contraption. If you find enough people to believe you're a genius, and those people spread your gospel to the masses, you can keep the marble moving until the book falls off the table. These coaches must sit around and wonder how in the hell they get away with it.
Where are all the people who told the Grambling players to shut up and play after they protested the conditions in their program? Shouldn't those people be telling Orgeron to shut up and coach?
So many people talked about the how they'd do anything to have the opportunity to play big-time college football like Manziel or even small-time college football like the Grambling players. They preached on and on about the privilege of playing -- they'd do it for nothing, I tell you, and like it -- and the obligation to the team and the responsibility to play by the rules. Where are those people now? Is that vitriol reserved for the young and mostly African-American players who drive the revenue that makes Sarkisian's multimillion-dollar contract possible?
Why are so few people saying Orgeron should feel blessed to coach USC and Sarkisian should stay loyal to his team until the end of this season? Wouldn't those same people who would give anything -- anything, they'll tell you -- to play college or pro football give anything, or at least something, to coach USC in a bowl game?
The mere suggestion that Orgeron should suck it up through the Sun Bowl is possibly blasphemous and definitely un-American. Roughly 80 percent who responded to an ESPN poll indicated they had no problem with his decision to quit. But why? Those players at USC stood up for him, but he couldn't stand up for them. If you shed all the ego and hurt feelings from the situation, isn't that exactly how it shook out? He could have stuck around, swallowed his pride for the sake of those guys -- guys he professed to love while he was coaching them -- but he didn't.
It doesn't matter that they played for him and won for him and put him in a position to apply for jobs that were far beyond his reach just two months ago. He couldn't be bothered with spending three more weeks with them to see the thing through. And so he gets to quit and take up a lane on the high road at the same time. He's justified in his decision to walk away from them, leaving them to play for their third coach since October, just because his boss decided eight weeks of good head-coachin' work didn't offset a body of work that indicated he's a tremendous, but career, assistant.
But wait: The man was disrespected. And if there's one thing to know about him, it's this: Coach O doesn't take any crap from anybody. No sir. Coach O is a man of principle. You wrong the man and he wrongs you right back. In the immortal words of the legendary ballad "Colonel Reb is Crying": "Yo yo yo yo yo -- football."
The NCAA won't change anything. It could rule that schools and coaches can't announce that they've accepted a new job until after the bowl season, but any change in the system would necessitate a corresponding change in the recruiting calendar. Besides, if there's a no-hire period, would there have to be a no-fire period as well? Actions and reactions.
Washington freshman quarterback Troy Williams tweeted out the most compelling indictment of the entire system when he told high school kids not to choose a team based on a coach. "Faker then a 3 dollar bill," he wrote before deleting it.
And we all know Sarkisian's first days on the job at USC will be judged on his ability to get kids he recruited to Washington to de-commit and join USC. In other words, Sarkisian will be deemed an immediate success if he convinces high school kids to perform a lower-case version of his own act.
Perhaps it's unfair to expect a betrayed freshman quarterback to understand the dynamic. There are two standards, and the players happen to be operating under the less attractive one. Coaches are expected to move along -- and, presumably, up -- while players are expected to do what they're told to do, when they're told to do it.
'Tis the season for hypocrisy in college football coaching changes.