USC fires head coach Steve Sarkisian

Associated Press and ND Insider Staff
ND Insider

One day after he was ordered to take an indefinite leave of absence, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has been fired, athletic director Pat Haden announced Monday.

"After careful consideration of what is in the best interest of the university and our student-athletes, I have made the decision to terminate Steve Sarkisian, effective immediately," Haden said in a statement.

"I want to thank Clay Helton for stepping into the interim head coach role, and I want to add how proud I am of our coaching staff and players and the way they are responding to this difficult situation. Through all of this we remain concerned for Steve and hope that it will give him the opportunity to focus on his personal well being."

Sarkisian didn't show up for a Sunday practice and was called by Haden.

"I called Steve and talked to him," Haden told reporters on Sunday. "It was very clear to me that he is not healthy. I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence."

Haden announced Sarkisian's leave of absence in a hastily called news conference Sunday.

"I think it's the right thing for our team, and I've always got to do what's right for our team and for our school," Haden said.

Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will take charge of the Trojans (3-2, 1-2 Pac-12), who have lost two of their last three games. USC visits No. 14 Notre Dame (5-1) on Saturday.

Haden wasn't specific about the reasons for Sarkisian's absence, only saying that "it was very clear to me" that the second-year USC coach was not well. Haden asked Sarkisian to take a leave during a phone conversation.

Sarkisian publicly apologized before the season after he appeared to be intoxicated while making an unsteady public statement at the Salute to Troy pep rally. He announced he would be getting unspecified treatment, but didn't believe he had a drinking problem, blaming his appearance on combining alcohol and medication.

Sarkisian was 12-6 during his short tenure leading the talented Trojans, who were dropped from the AP Top 25 after losing 17-12 to unranked Washington last Thursday. Sarkisian had been on the road recruiting during the long weekend, but apparently wasn't in condition to lead practice Sunday, according to Haden.

Haden informed the players of Sarkisian's leave of absence in a team meeting on Sunday.

"(It was) clear the team had a great deal of concern about the health of Coach Sarkisian," Haden said. "So did the staff have that concern for him, and it was also very apparent to me in the room of the support that Clay has from our team and his staff."

Helton begins his second stint as USC's interim coach. He led the Trojans to a Las Vegas Bowl victory in 2013, a calendar year in which the Trojans had four different head coaches.

"It's a very unique honor to get it (this way)," Helton said on Sunday. "Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been in this situation before, and once again am very fortunate to have a group of first-class kids that are very talented and want to do something special here."

Sarkisian went 9-4 in his first season at USC, losing a handful of big games but showing promise in the final year of the school's NCAA-mandated scholarship restrictions. In the first recruiting cycle after the sanctions ended, Sarkisian and his staff signed the nation's consensus top class last February.

The Trojans were ranked No. 8 in the preseason AP Top 25 and picked to win the Pac-12 in a media poll, but the talent-laden team has been unimpressive since rising to No. 6 in the rankings last month. USC gave up 41 points in its first loss to Stanford last week, and the offense was inept throughout its five-point loss to the Huskies.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian yells at an official late in the fourth quarter against Washington on Thursday night. Sarkisian has since been placed on indefinite leave and will miss Saturday night's matchup at Notre Dame. (AP Photo/PAUL RODRIGUEZ)