LOS ANGELES – Introduced as the USC football coach Tuesday, former Washington coach Steve Sarkisian offered an apology for his misdirection in an radio interview the previous day.
Hours before he accepted the position in Los Angeles, Sarkisian told KJR 950-AM that he did not have a formal interview with Trojans athletic director Pat Haden. But Sarkisian acknowledged Tuesday that he had been interviewed, and Haden said he and other staffers flew to interview Sarkisian and another unspecified candidate over the weekend.
“I’m sorry if my message got misconstrued, but it really was in the best interest of the young men,” Sarkisian said. “Hindsight’s 20-20. I probably should have said it was an interview. Semantics are semantics. If I could do it all over again, I probably would have just said exactly what the conversation was that Pat and I had.”
Sarkisian, 39, said he spoke cautiously because he wasn’t sure it would work out with USC.
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“I just felt like at the time, nowhere near finalizing the deal, that it wasn’t the right thing to say,” Sarkisian said. “I didn’t either want to put (USC or UW players) in a situation of uncertainty.”
Sarkisian said telling Washington players he was leaving later Monday was “brutally difficult.”
“It’s not an easy decision for change, but change is inevitable,” he said. “And when you finally come to a finalized result, then you have to go face those kids.”
Then he faced his new players at USC, many of whom he recruited heavily for Washington, like Tacoma native Zach Banner, who attended the Tuesday news conference. Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler, “very close” with Sarkisian during his days as a top recruit, was impressed with Sarkisian’s honesty.
“I can honestly say that he probably did the best job recruiting me,” Kessler said. “He was real. Nothing he did was a lie.”
Until they encountered each other in a hallway Monday, they hadn’t spoken since Kessler called to tell Sarkisian he was committing to USC three years ago.
“He looked at me, laughed and said, ‘Well, here we are now,’ ” Kessler said. “It was kind of funny, and it’s kind of cool when you build those relationships.”
In his Tuesday news conference, Sarkisian referenced Washington success stories, such as running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, adding that he wanted to speed up the Trojans’ offensive pace.
Sarkisian, who finished his fifth season at Washington by winning his last two games, stressed that his goal at USC would be to win championships — conference and national. He said he believed he could win them with the Huskies team he had developed, but not as quickly as he could with the Trojans.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished at Washington,” said Sarkisian, whose Huskies were 8-4 this season and 34-29 during his five-year tenure. “I felt like we played three poor quarters this season, unfortunately, and it cost us a few ballgames, but I think we were very close,” Sarkisian said. “Whoever gets the job at the University of Washington is walking into a great situation. They get to reap some of the benefits of my hard work, but that’s OK.”
Sarkisian, who could end up doubling his UW salary of $2.9 million, must repay $1.5 million for leaving before the end of his contract.