What Steve Sarkisian’s hiring means to Notre Dame

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When Notre Dame finishes the season next year in the Coliseum, they’ll square off against head coach Steve Sarkisian, who was tabbed to run the Trojan football program on Monday. After firing Lane Kiffin early this season, USC athletic director Pat Haden brings in another visor wearing, high-energy young coach from the Pete Carroll coaching tree, hoping to bring Troy back to the glory days that are feeling farther and farther away.

Sarkisian leaves Washington with a 34-29 record at his first head coaching stop. After taking over for Tyrone Willingham, who was fired after a winless 2008, Sarkisian won five games in 2009. He won seven games in each of his next three seasons, and leaves the Huskies at 8-4 this year. In Pac-12 play, Sarkisian has never won more than five games or lost less than four.

Here’s what Haden said about the hire:

“We are delighted to welcome Steve Sarkisian back to the Trojan Family,” Haden said in a statement. “We conducted a very exhaustive and thorough search, pinpointing about 20 candidates and interviewing five of them. We kept coming back to Sark. He is the only one who was offered the job. I believe in my gut that he is the right coach for USC at this time.

“He embodies many of the qualities for which we looked. He is an innovative coach who recruits well and develops players. He is a proven and successful leader. He connects with people. He has energy and passion. He knows how to build a program and create a culture that we value. He is committed to academic success and rules compliance. And he understands the heritage and tradition of USC.”

As it usually happens, some of the hottest potential candidates came off the board in the past few weeks, with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin re-committing to the Aggies and Baylor coach Art Briles signing a multi-year extension. Yesterday, ESPN’s Joe Schad said the Trojans were focusing on Boise State coach Chris Petersen and Vanderbilt’s James Franklin. That the Trojans hired Sarkisian the next day tells you something about Schad’s sources or the attractiveness of the USC head coaching position, a job that still has to deal with the final effects of crippling NCAA sanctions.

USC fans had wondered what Haden would do with his first big hire, especially after showing such decisiveness in firing Kiffin. But the hiring of Sark could’ve just as easily been hatched by water coolers or barbershops surrounding Heritage Hall. That Haden hired a search firm to seek out a Torrance, California native who will be on his fifth tour of duty as a Trojan says something about the process.

If Notre Dame fans were upset with the hiring of Brian Kelly, fresh off an undefeated season and back-t0-back BCS Bowl appearances at Cincinnati, you can’t expect Trojan fans to go crazy for a guy with a 34-29 record after five seasons. (Seen snarkily posted on the interwebs: Charlie Weis was 34-27 in his five seasons replacing Ty Willingham and he got fired. Sark got the SC job.)

While Sarkisian and Ed Orgeron coached on the same Pete Carroll staff, Orgeron will not remain with the program, turning down a reported offer to be associate head coach and one of the highest paid assistants in the country. Yet continuity between regimes should be something to watch, as the connectivity between the Washington and USC staffs (not to mention their schematic philosophies) is pretty significant.

It’s too early for Irish fans to figure out if they dodged a bullet or not. (Art Briles or Chris Petersen with USC’s athletes? Forget it!) And while Sark is hardly the type of showy hiring that fans come to expect (Jon Gruden, anyone?), he’s a solid head coach, a good offensive mind and a young, energetic guy cut closer from the Carroll cloth than Kiffin ever was.

Still, it’s worth pointing out that the mood at Heritage Hall wasn’t about the triumphant hire of Sarkisian, but the difficulty saying goodbye to Orgeron.

As Washington now decides whether it should chase UCLA coach Jim Mora, the offseason coaching carousel has officially begun to spin.

But for Irish fans wondering about the hire compared to the decision that brought Brian Kelly to Notre Dame, USC wasn’t able to hire Gruden or Bob Stoops, either.