Shortly after USC hired Steve Sarkisian as coach, ex-Trojans linebacker Riki Ellison warned school officials Sarkisian’s off-field behavior had “caused issues” during his five seasons as Washington’s coach. Ellison said he is close to a UW regent.

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LOS ANGELES – Two days after USC hired Steve Sarkisian as its coach, Riki Ellison remained shocked at his alma mater’s speed in making the decision.

The linebacker on USC’s 1978 national-championship team played nine seasons in the NFL, but kept close tabs on the Trojans.

So, on Dec. 4, 2013, Ellison emailed J.K. McKay, USC’s senior associate athletic director for football, warning Sarkisian’s off-field behavior had “caused issues” during his five seasons as Washington’s coach.

“I am very close to one of the UW Board of Regents who were looking to replace Sark due to his off the field activities that have caused issues in the community as well as their frustration with him,” Ellison wrote in the three-paragraph email he provided to the Los Angeles Times. “Character and values have to be foremost in his new position at USC and you should be shaping that part just as much as you do with his football aspects as head coach.”

Ellison, known as Riki Gray during his USC days, said he previously interacted with McKay by email and in person but never received a reply.

The email takes on new relevance in the wake of Sarkisian’s firing by athletic director Pat Haden this month.

Ellison provided the name of the Washington regent to the Los Angeles Times on the condition the person not be named to maintain their relationship; the regent didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Sarkisian slurred words and shouted an expletive during USC’s annual “Salute to Troy” preseason rally in August — something he blamed on mixing alcohol and medication. He appeared unsettled during a team meeting and then didn’t show up for a subsequent practice.

Sarkisian checked into a rehabilitation facility after his dismissal Oct. 12.

Haden has said USC thoroughly vetted Sarkisian before he was hired and noted Washington never disciplined the coach.