From 2001-2009 Pete Carroll brought back the juggernaut that is the Southern California Football program. Considering the success he had, it is not surprising that his coaching tree would branch out into the PAC-12.
Former assistants Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin both found a home as head coaches in the PAC12. They took different routes, but now they are both in a job they proclaim as a dream situations, and they have their success under Carroll to thank.
When this group was last all together, USC had a dominate offense and a Rose Bowl win with Kiffin served as the Offensive Coordinator while Sarkisian served as the Quarterbacks coach.
Following the season Kiffin headed to the NFL to coach the Oakland Raiders, while Sarkisian stayed at USC to coordinate the offense through the 2008 season. Kiffin had a rocky year and a half with Oakland before being ousted.
Midway through the 2008 season it was obvious that the Tyrone Willingham era was coming to an end, and the University of Washington started looking into possible replacements. Considering the success that the Southern California had enjoyed, it is not surprising when UW looked to USC for their next head coach.
Prior to the Rose Bowl, Sarkisian was announced as the next Head Coach at Washington.
As for Lane Kiffin, it did not take him long to find an opening in the college ranks. After parting with their longtime coach Phil Fulmer, the Tennessee Volunteers found themselves looking for a young energetic coach brought in Lane Kiffin to replace Fulmer.
Both coaches took aggressively tackled the job of turning once proud programs back around.
Sarkisian had the job of turning around on 0-12 team, and started instilling a winning attitude, discipline, and ultimately confidence in his team.
The result for season one was a five game improvement, and a team that was starting to really believe they can play with anyone, punctuated by an upset win of the then third ranked USC Trojans, beating his former boss and mentor Carroll with a last second field goal.
Kiffin went out of his way to draw attention to the Volunteer program, some positive and some negative, because he felt that it was the only way to start gaining on the Florida's and Alabama's of the SEC world.
The results were a 7-6 season with a bowl loss, but Kiffin had returned the Volunteers to a bowl game. Lane looked set to continue progressing at UT when something unexpected happened in Southern California.
Pete Carroll bolted for the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks. Shortly after his departure came NCAA Sanctions banning USC Bowl games for two years, and reducing available scholarships.
Naturally everyone felt USC would look to their former Offensive Coordinators to navigate the proud Trojan program through the sanctions.
Sarkisian early on proclaimed he was quite happy at Washington, and was not interested in taking over the program. Kiffin, on the other hand, looked at the opening as great opportunity to return to the school where he had so much success on offense, and a program he coveted.
Much to the chagrin of the Tennessee fan base, Kiffin abandoned the rebuilding project in the south for a entirely different kind of project in Los Angeles. Lane was charged with the task of not letting USC fall off the football map while they rebuilt their depth.
The 2010 season was a breakthrough for Sarkisian and his Huskies when they returned to a bowl game and won, avenging a beat down by Nebraska during the regular season. Although the senior year for highly touted Quarterback Jake Locker did not live up to the hype, he was still able to leave as a Bowl game winner and Sarkisian had another one of his quarterbacks drafted in the top 10.
While Kiffin's task at Tennessee was similar to Sarkisian's at Washington, he faced a whole new challenge at USC. He arrived to find a program very thin on depth and without the 2 deep full of stud recruits. The lack of depth forced Kiffin to suspend tackling in practice, and it showed on the field as the Trojans struggled, by their standards, with a 8-5 record, finishing third in the PAC-10.
Washington was able to upset USC for a second strait season by a field goal, and then USC's inability to play in a bowl game opened up the Holiday Bowl for the Huskies.
Going into the 2011 season Sarkisian and Kiffin had plenty of questions to answer.
How were the Huskies going to fare after their four year starting quarterback is gone? Was Mason Foster going to be a huge loss for the Huskies defense? Can Sarkisian improve on his seven game win total considering the huge loss of those seniors on each side of the ball?
Turns out that the 2011 Huskies are missing Mason Foster at linebacker much more than Locker at quarterback. That is not to diminish Locker's contribution to the team, but rather speaking to the efficiency in which Keith Price has ran the offense. The Huskies have thus far proved they are close to being a top 20 team again, but are still not back to being able to challenge the elite teams.
For Kiffin and USC the main question was if he was going to be able to keep his Trojans motivated even without the carrot of a bowl game. Considering how successful USC had been prior to the upperclassman joining the team, it was natural for them to expect a bowl game all four years, so there were legitimate motivation concerns.
Led by incredible quarterback play, and leadership, from Matt Barkley, the Trojans have shot out to a 7-2 record and have played the top teams in the PAC12 toe to toe, nearly upsetting forth ranked Stanford in a shootout.
After a suffering back to back upsets at the hands of Washington, the Trojans are looking to Saturday for revenge. While the Huskies will be going to bowl while the Trojans sit at home, USC is the team that still has the elite talent to play with the top teams in the league. The Huskies will be looking to take out a notable opponent to regain some pride in their season.
The Carroll coaching tree has taken root in both the North and Southern divisions of the Pacific 12. Going into year three Sarkisian has done a good job with steady improvement and is bringing the Husky program back to respectability.
Kiffin has taken his talented USC program and has them playing offense on a high level, and has so far kept the team motivated and playing hard through the difficult sanctions they are currently facing.
These two young coaches both stepped into difficult situations and have made good progress towards returning the teams to what they traditionally have been, the two top football programs on the West Coast.
Just as Carroll dominated the PAC10 during his tenure, Kiffin and Sarkisian have a chance to take control of their respective divisions in the next few years, setting the scene for many more epic battles between the Trojans and Huskies.
This Saturday Lane and his Trojans are going to be looking for revenge over Sarkisian and his 2-0 record versus USC. No matter who wins this game, it is setting up to be an intense rivalry over the next several years as these friends carry on the winning tradition they learned together under Carroll.