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What Kiffin's Departure Means for Washington

From calls from Pat Haden to Steve Sarkisian, to an altered recruiting landscape, the firing of USC's head coach Sunday morning will reverberate for years to come.

The vacancy of USC's head coaching position will send shock waves throughout the Pac-12 and college football.
The vacancy of USC's head coaching position will send shock waves throughout the Pac-12 and college football.

On Sunday morning, USC athletic director Pat Haden bowed to the seemingly inevitable and fired Lane Kiffin, his embattled head football coach, following the Trojans' embarrassing 41-62 loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils. In many ways, Haden did nothing more than read the writing on the proverbial wall, as the Trojans' listless performance was just the latest in a string of low-water marks for the storied program that go all the way back to last season, when Kiffin lied about voting his team No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, had his players switch jersey numbers to help beat the eminently beatable Colorado Buffaloes and presided over equipment managers who illegally deflated game balls to help make them more catchable.

As we all know, a football program is bigger than any player, administrator or coach, particularly one as storied as the University of Southern California's. At this early stage, it seems quite likely that the vacancy of USC's head coaching position will affect Washington's football program, both directly and indirectly.

The first such possibility is potentially the most momentous: that Pat Haden tries to lure Steve Sarkisian back to Los Angeles. As has been widely discussed, Kiffin and Sarkisian rose to prominence together during USC's dominant run, with both serving as SC's offensive coordinator at various times in the mid-2000s. He's known to be a popular commodity amongst USC boosters, and perhaps more importantly, has a proven record in building a solid foundation as a football team's head coach, as evidenced by his steering Washington from an 0-12 record the year prior to his arrival to their current 4-0 record and No. 15 ranking. Sarkisian has also demonstrated an ability to assemble an all-star staff of coaches and a willingness to hit the recruiting trail hard, which is an absolute must-have trait for whomever serves as head of the Trojan program. On the other hand, it's possible that the Lane Kiffin experiment has so thoroughly poisoned the well among USC bigwigs and boosters that they'll want to make a clean break from anyone associated with his time at USC, experience and credentials be damned.

Even if USC declines to offer Sarkisian the position, or if he rebuffs their offer, Washington's efforts in recruiting will inevitably be affected by the Trojans' decision of who to name head coach. Despite having adopted a hurry-up no-huddle offense this year, Sarkisian's play calling philosophy is very much a product of his time as USC's offensive coordinator, and as such, Washington and USC have naturally tended to pursue the same athletes — Cyler Miles, Pio Vatuvei, John Ross III in each year's recruiting class. Add in Sark's familiarity with (and affinity for) pursuing athletes in talent-laden southern California, the same region from which USC has traditionally found its own players, and it's easy to understand why the recruiting acumen (or lack thereof) of USC's next head coach could greatly affect the trajectory of Washington's football program several years down the road.

With Ed Orgeron already named as SC's interim head coach, it's likely that Haden will take his time in naming Kiffin's successor. Perhaps no program in the nation is easier to recruit to than USC, and after a three-plus year period in which Kiffin served as the program's face, it's a given that the powers that be at the University of Southern California will put a premium on making sure that their search yields the right person for the job, no matter how long that search might take. In the meantime, expect to hear Sark's name readily bandied about alongside others like Jack Del Rio and even Orgeron. While most prognosticators are skeptical that Sark would leave UW straightaway for USC at this point in his career, his doing so remains firmly within the realm of possibility, and Washington fans will likely have trouble sleeping soundly until they know whether or not the architect of their team's rise is in it for the long haul.