1. Did you support Pat Haden's decision to only offer Steve Sarkisian the job?
Mike Luca- The reception of Steve Sarkisian could have been so much warmer had Pat Haden not pounced and slobbered all over him like a lovesick husky puppy. The swift firing of Ed Orgeron was one thing -- interim coaches are naturally on short leashes regardless of their accomplishments, and in hindsight, losses to two rivals were insurmountable regardless of Haden's contradictory claims. The rashness, though, came off to some as an effect of unfiltered emotion and desperation.
Sark possesses USC roots and that's a crucial element in relating to your inherited program, and why Haden most likely singled him out. Nonetheless, what was the rush? Exhibit patience in light of inevitable bowl casualties and NFL's Black Monday. Take the time to woo Chris Petersen more effectively. Confidently embody the fact even a depth-ridden USC football program is a desirable destination for a head coach.
Trojan fans have since embraced Sarkisian, but though calmness can be misinterpreted as complacency, a more thorough courting process could've made the transition smoother.
Luke Holthouse- I was rooting for Jack Del Rio to get the job. I think his NFL experience was unique to all the other major candidates, reminiscent of Pete Carroll and the most powerful recruiting tool a coach could have, but it looks like he's going after head coaching jobs in the NFL.
But with the given available candidates, I think Sarkisian was the best guy for the job because of how well he can recruit the LA region as a former player and assistant coach in Southern California, so I think it was perfectly justified to only make the offer to him. The speed at which he was hired allowed him to get a head start on recruiting, and he's certainly taken advantage of that with some big name signees like Jalen Greene, Toa Lobendahn, Claude Pelon and Chris Brown.
Evan Budrovich- While many were upset that Pat Haden did not make a dream hire, the Trojans got a head coach who fully supported this program and also knows what it takes to win in the Pac-12 conference. Not only will Sarkisian recruit well, he can also scheme up offense with some of the best, and given his staff additions, this team should be fine. Haden did assess a large collection of 20-plus candidates, but only found one who truly wanted the job. That may sound crazy but think about it, many of the other candidates had previous ties and were not all in to becoming the next football coach and if I'm on the team, I want someone who really wants to be there and lead this program to championships.
2. Would Steve Sarkisian be wise to bring back Ed Orgeron on staff?
Mike Luca- It wasn't "Lane Kiffin" embroidered on players' arms in the Las Vegas Bowl. Orgeron is the major culprit behind the Trojans' rediscovered passion and resurgence as a national entity, and the team and fan base adore him. For the same reasons, Sark would have benefited from maintaining Clancy Pendergast, the stability and familiarity will positively counter-balance the regime transition should this move occur.
Of course, it's less wise for Orgeron to return. It depends on whether or not Coach O prioritizes his loyalty to Southern California or his ego, but it's apparent (and understandable) that the prospect of being a head coach is not something he wishes to relinquish. Plus, there's the ongoing sanctions that could potentially be perpetuated by the Tosh Lupoi allegations that unintentionally followed Sark to USC. If that doesn't matter to Orgeron, and if he plays the field and strikes out, then hopefully the graceless exit is forgotten and the recruiting guru is welcomed back with open ink-covered appendages when the Trojans need that most of all.
Luke Holthouse- I think it would be unwise at this point to try to bring Coach O back. This would sort of render the question irrelevant, but I don't think Orgeron wants to be on Sarkisian's staff. He obviously wants to prove that he can be a head coach, so it's not like Coach O is even an option for Sarkisian to potentially hire as his defensive line coach. If he had accepted the offer to be the assistant head coach/defensive line coach when Haden first made the offer immediately after Sarkisian was hired or even after Sarkisian first made the same offer, maybe that would have indicated that Orgeron would still be able to put all of his heart and soul into a non-head coaching role. But at this point, it's clear he wouldn't. I think Sarkisian made a great pickup from the 49ers tabbing Tim Drevno to coach the offensive line, so I wouldn't be shocked if he made another steal from the NFL.
3. Do you like what Sarkisian is assembling with his staff?
Mike Luca- The aggression and urgency behind Sark's recruitment is encouraging. He knows the talk must be backed up with walk. The initiative taken to rebrand the roster's bluntest weakness and branch out to Baltimore Ravens' offensive line coach Todd Washington was obscure enough to be respectable (albeit in failure).
Now, the faithful packaging of Washington assistants is something that comes with the business of sports, akin to an elementary school dodgeball draft. What's intriguing, however, is how the offensive strategist is employing the Huskies' undervalued defensive crew presumably led by Justin Wilcox and company, while relying on the established rapport of Clay Helton, Tee Martin and the incumbent offense. Sark is the unquestioned leader, but he's starting to find a healthy balance between the people he knows and the people USC knows, and Orgeron would further fortify that recipe.
Luke Holthouse- Sarkisian could have put more of an emphasis on retaining the USC staff and avoiding turnover rather than bringing in so many of his Washington assistants, but I still like the way it's shaping up. Although there are some questions to how well he recruits and it looks like he'll probably head back to the NFL, Pendergast would have been a really valuable assistant to keep not only because of his defense acumen but simply for consistency with all of last year's players. However, a fair amount of last year's starting unit has either graduated or declared for the draft, so I don't think this is a huge deal. John Baxter is another guy that was a popular assistant who I wish Sarkisian could have found a spot for on his staff. But Clay Helton is a great retention, and overall I think the group looks good.
4. What type of role do you expect Clay Helton to have on the team next season?
Mike Luca- Though not in as stubborn a fashion as Kiffin, Sarkisian instinctively prefers to call his own plays, and come crunch time it might be difficult for him to surrender that responsibility. Fortunately, Helton's ego isn't too large to allow for it. His demonstrated capability to share the football will be cherished in the spread option, he'll keep Sark's commitment to the running game honest, and present relationships with Cody Kessler and company will continue to be fleshed out.
Luke Holthouse- The Trojans will essentially have two quarterbacks coaches and two offensive coordinators with Sarkisian and Helton on board together. And even though Marques Tuiasosopo and Tee Martin are officially assigned to work with tight ends and receivers, both of them were star quarterbacks in college, so there will be a huge brain trust of coaches for the QBs going out for the starting job in the spring. Helton won't call plays under Sarkisian, but I think he'll have much more influence on play calling than he did when Lane Kiffin owned the playbook. The most important thing Helton will be doing is tutoring the respective quarterbacks, throughout practice as well as during the year after a starter is chosen, on how to run the hurry-up offense. The offense requires the quarterback to make a lot of very quick reads and decisions, and though it's unclear who will actually be the starting quarterback, it will require a lot of assistance.
Evan Budrovich- Now that we know Steve Sarkisian will be calling plays next season, Clay Helton's role will be very similar to the one he had under Lane Kiffin. Luckily for USC, Helton is not dying for the spotlight and would rather improve individual positions and the quarterback group in general over having his hands in the playbook 24/7. Helton can certainly be a great guide during the new-found quarterback battle that will take place this Spring, and should also help the continued development of the Trojans passing game which took major strides near the end of the season.