Steve Sarkisian has been placed on an indefinite leave of absence as USC’s football coach, athletic director Pat Haden announced. Former Washington coach Sarkisian, in his second season as USC’s coach, did not show up for the Trojans’ practice Sunday.
LOS ANGELES – Steve Sarkisian has been placed on an indefinite leave of absence as USC’s football coach, athletic director Pat Haden announced Sunday.
Sarkisian, in his second season as USC’s coach after previously coaching the Washington Huskies, did not show up for the Trojans’ practice around midday. Haden made his announcement after USC completed its workout.
According to a Los Angeles Daily News report, Sarkisian went to a special-teams meeting Sunday before practice and players said they smelled alcohol on his breath and noticed he was acting in an unusual manner.
Offensive coordinator Clay Helton, 43, has been named interim coach.
Haden spoke with media after he and other top USC officials met with the team to inform players Sarkisian would be taking a “temporary leave of absence and coach Helton will be our interim head coach,” said a player who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Haden said when he learned Sarkisian, 41, was not at practice, which was scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Sunday, he phoned the coach.
“I called Steve and talked to him,” Haden told reporters. “It was very clear to me that he is not healthy. I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence.”
USC, which lost at home 17-12 to Washington on Thursday night, is 3-2 in a season that started amid tumult after an embarrassing incident involving Sarkisian at a pep rally Aug. 22.
When Sarkisian spoke to the gathered Trojan faithful, he slurred his words, disparaged several opposing teams and uttered an expletive before the school’s rallying phrase “Fight On.” Witnesses said Sarkisian appeared to be intoxicated.
A day later, Sarkisian issued an apology on USC’s athletic-department website, which also carried a statement by Haden.
“I sincerely apologize to my players and staff and to our fans for my behavior and my inappropriate language at our kickoff event Saturday night,” Sarkisian said. “I have a responsibility to all of them and I let them down. Pat Haden talked to me after the event about my actions and I assured him this will not happen again.”
Said Haden: “I met with Coach Sarkisian and I expressed my disappointment in the way he represented himself and the university at our Salute to Troy event. While the details of our conversation will remain between us, I am confident he heard my message loud and clear.”
Sarkisian held a news conference and said the incident was the result of him mixing alcohol — “not much” — with medication he did not specify.
According to the Daily News, sources that include a USC assistant coach said they believe Sarkisian was intoxicated during USC’s 42-14 victory over Arizona State on Sept. 26.
“In the locker room, he was too animated and had bloodshot eyes,” the coach said.
Another source claimed Sarkisian tried to huddle the players on the sideline but was pulled away by assistant coaches who believed he was not sober. Sarkisian spoke to media after that game and did not appear to be drunk.
This is Helton’s second tour of duty as interim coach.
In 2013, after Lane Kiffin was fired, Ed Orgeron was named interim coach. When Haden hired Sarkisian as Kiffin’s permanent replacement, Orgeron left the program and Helton led USC to a victory over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Another USC player who asked not to be identified predicted older, experienced players would not be affected by the coaching change.
“We’ve been in this exact position before with Coach Helton,” he said. “The locker-room mood is shocked, obviously. But the locker room is focused on what we can kind of make this season into.”
USC plays at No. 14 Notre Dame on Saturday.
Of becoming interim coach, Helton said, “It’s a very unique honor to get it (this way). 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.”
• USC center Max Tuerk will miss the rest of the season with a torn knee ligament.
• Maryland fired coach Randy Edsall, who went 22-34 in 4½ seasons. The Terrapins have been outscored 122-34 during a three-game losing streak.
• Georgia running back Nick Chubb is expected to miss the rest of the season after injuring his left knee in Saturday’s 38-31 loss at Tennessee. Chubb entered with 13 straight games with at least 100 yards rushing.