The college football offseason has been filled with conflicting views about USC: The Trojans have the talent of a playoff contender, but in six years as a head coach at Washington and USC, Steve Sarkisian has yet to prove capable of taking a team to the next level. This weekend will give only more fuel to those who believe Sarkisian was an underwhelming choice for the USC job, both on and off the field.
On Sunday, Sarkisian apologized for his behavior during a speech at USC's Salute to Troy kickoff event on Saturday, in which he appeared to be intoxicated, took shots at USC's rivals and, in a segment caught on video obtained by ESPN, told the crowd to "get ready to [expletive] fight on."
"I sincerely apologize to my players and staff and to our fans for my behavior and my inappropriate language at our kickoff event Saturday night," Sarkisian said in a statement. "I have a responsibility to all of them and I let them down. Pat Haden talked to me after the event about my actions and I assured him this will not happen again."
Citing sources, Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman wrote on Sunday that "there has been some concern about Sarkisian's off-field behavior in the past."
"I met with Coach Sarkisian and I expressed my disappointment in the way he represented himself and the University at our Salute To Troy event," said Haden, USC's athletic director. "While the details of our conversation will remain between us, I am confident he heard my message loud and clear."
Sarkisian has a 43-33 career record as a head coach, and a big part of USC's decision to hire him, in the wake of Lane Kiffin's firing, was that Sarkisian -- like Kiffin -- was an assistant under Pete Carroll during the Trojans' run as one of top teams in college football last decade. As a head coach, Sarkisian took over a Washington team that went 0-12 in 2008 and improved the Huskies to 5-7, followed by three straight 7-6 records, then a 9-4 season before landing the USC job.
As they began to emerge from NCAA sanctions, the Trojans proved to be all over the map last year, posting a 9-4 record with wins over Stanford, Notre Dame and Nebraska but a frustrating loss to Boston College, a blowout defeat to UCLA and close losses to Arizona State and Utah. With senior quarterback Cody Kessler, a more experienced offensive line and a handful of rising stars, the Trojans again have heightened expectations entering the 2015 season, making this a pivotal season for the reputation of Sarkisian. He's been criticized before, but this season is also easily his best opportunity to break through as a coach, based on the roster USC has assembled.
On Sunday, the preseason AP top 25 tabbed USC eighth, but the Sarkisian incident proved to be the bigger story.
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