So I have thought about these two coaches and their relationship for awhile. They have been intertwined for what seems like 20 years. But as far as we can tell the relationship began in 2001 at USC. Kiffin had just been hired as the TE coach and Sark was brought in by OC Norm Chow who coached Sark at BYU to be his QB coach. From all reports Lane and Steve seem to be good friends. I am sure they want to beat each other badly when they have at it this Saturday, but after the game they will go back to being friends. Much has happened for both coaches since that time back in 2001.
Kiffin stayed at USC through the 2006 season. He was OC for the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Sarkisian left briefly for the NFL, taking the QB coaching job with the Raiders in 2004. He was back at USC in 2005 as QB coach and Assistant Head Coach. This is about the time when I first heard rumblings from the USC faithful. After the 2005 National Championship loss some fans blamed Kiffin. My USC friends have stated numerous times that Sark was better. One has pointed out multiple times that in that game Kiffin's play calling from the box was terrible and Sark got frustrated enough with it, that he removed his headset and started calling plays on his own. I have never been able to find in confirmation or denial of this incident but nevertheless, people were talking about which one had the best mind for offense, and which one should take over the USC head coaching job if Pete Carroll should leave. Most said Sarkisian.
After the 2006 season Al Davis and the Raiders once again came calling on Steve Sarkisian - this time to be their head coach. It was well rumored that Steve had been offered the job, only to remove his name from the running soon after. It didn't take long for Al, who was famous for hiring young coaches, to offer Lane Kiffin the job. Lane didn't have much success at Oakland. But who has since Gruden left? This furthered the discussion that Sark would have been the better man for the job. This was exacerbated by the fact that a lot of USC fans are also Raider fans. Sark would take over has the OC for USC for the 2007-2008 seasons. Both games would end in Rose Bowl victories, giving Sark three as an assistant coach at USC.
Things again would change for each coach in 2008. Sarkisian was hired as the next head coach of our beloved Purple and Gold. It was a surprising move as the names we were hearing were all guys with experience: Mike Leach, Gary Pinkel, etc. But if you're like me, the hiring of Sark brought great joy. My USC fans were saying, "I am so happy for you guys", "Sark is such a great guy and coach", and "He will turn your program around". They were right when Sark and company knocked off #3 ranked USC - a moment that made this fan shed a tear. I knew that day that we had seen the best of 2009. But, that day told me that everything would soon be OK again on Montlake. Kiffin on the other hand was fired over the phone by the Raiders on September 30. This created a lot of animosity and lawsuits from the Raiders and Kiffin. Kiffin said he was owed money, the Raiders called Kiffin a liar and said they had cause to fire him. An arbitrator sided with the Raiders in 2010 and Kiffin never saw the $2.4 million he said he was owed.
Lane was hired as the Tennessee Volunteers head coach in November 2008. And he promptly went to Oakland to try and hire assistants. Tom Cable (Raider head coach) was not real happy about this and called Kiffin out publicly. Lane was able to vastly improve Tennessee in the one year he led that program. He even seemed to really like Knoxville as his first son was given the middle name Knox.
Pete Carroll Leaves USC
On January 10, 2010 Pete Carroll announced he was leaving for the Seattle Seahawks. Everyone - and let's be honest, including Pete - knew that sanctions were coming soon for USC. And they did later than summer. But the question was over who would be the next head coach. The rumors quickly turned to Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin (among other guys like Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden and Jack Del Rio). When Sark was asked about the job, he quickly stated "I have not talked to him" meaning his agent. And went on to reiterate that in regards to the UW "People don't understand it, but this is my dream job". I believe Sark when he makes these comments. So much that I named my dog after him.
Lane Kiffin spurned Tennessee to take what was probably his dream job too. Volunteer fans hate him, but to me that is part of the business. At Tennessee the students rioted and started fires, blocking Kiffin's departure (much like our brethren over at CGB did after Sark hired away Tosh).
Head Coaching Rivalry
Sark once again upset USC in 2010. But this time it was against Kiffin and in the Coliseum. Kiffin got his payback in 2011 with a 40-17 trouncing of the Huskies. USC started this season ranked #1. They have struggled at times and lost to Stanford. USC fans could be heard saying once again that "Kiffin can't playcall" and "Sark is a better coach" That was exacerbated when Sark and company knocked off Stanford with a better game plan. I am sure that Sark and Wilcox watched the USC - Stanford game and took numerous notes. Did this prove that Sark is better?
That brings us to this weekend's matchup Saturday afternoon at the Link. The two former USC assistants are tied so far in their matchups as head coaches. That will change this weekend. USC is ranked 9th in the coaches poll with a 4-1 record. Washington is unranked and 3-2. It would have been great to upset USC as the number 1 team in the country, but anytime we beat USC, it's great day.
Kiffin is charged with leading USC through their sanctions. 2012 is the first year that they are bowl eligible. They will certainly make a bowl but are no longer a favorite for a BCS bowl. Reduced scholarships will significantly impact the depth chart. But Lane has shown that he can recruit top ranked classes, even if he can only take 15. If Kiffin does not make a BCS bowl soon, the USC boosters will be calling for his head. And if and when Lane Kiffin leaves USC, Steve Sarkisian will almost undoubtedly be at the top of the list to replace him. Sark says he is not going anywhere and that Washington is the type of program where you can win championship. Maybe it's those comments and former loyalties to USC that make him of favorite of Trojans and not Kiffin.
The arguments for who is better will probably go on for a long time. What is known is that these two are considered two of the best young coaches in college football. I hope Kiffin and Sark stay at their respective schools for a long time and the debate will continue for decades. PAC 10 Football to me was always about USC and Washington. Today's PAC 12 is about Oregon and USC. Is Sark the next Dawgfather? Is Kiffin the next John McKay? Those questions will not be answered on Saturday. But I do believe that whatever the outcome, one of the storylines will continue to be the Coaches.