USC must be considering 2014 its "leap year," or rather "leap-in-front-of-a-bus year." Nearly four years ago, Lane Kiffin was hired into the backlash of illegal benefits received by Reggie Bush, resulting in sanctions that continue to exhaust the football program. Now Steve Sarkisian is coming to town with his own unique yet eerily similar baggage.
Washington assistant Tosh Lupoi is under NCAA investigation for potential recruiting infractions, based on last Wednesday's reports from LA Times' Gary Klein and allegations presented on behalf of former prospect Andrew Basham. The defensive lineman's high school coach Mike Davis relayed the chronicle of how Lupoi offered monetary aid for private tutoring and the tactics he employed—including a new secret ingredient of "Seattle's Best Coffee" that oddly resembles cash—before failing to follow through on the recruitment. Needless to say, Kiffin is saving a seat on the unemployment line.
One would believe this majorly becomes the issue of Chris Petersen and his newly inherited Huskies, but according to Adam Jude of The Seattle Times, that among many things remains uncertain. Because this ultimately occurred under the supervision of Sarkisian, however, Trojans fans should prepare to reset their panic mode.
For one thing, long sought credibility and calm is compromised. Throughout their compliance with the NCAA, Sark and USC both confidently boast his innocence in the matter and smooth sailing moving onward. He denies knowledge of the situation as incessantly as Lupoi claims all allegations to be false. Unfortunately, the sanctity of human word has deteriorated after Pete Carroll fled from the Bush scandal to the NFL, Joe Paterno didn't know about Jerry Sandusky and Santa Claus is really your gin-soaked uncle.
Seattle Times' Larry Stone recalls the league's altered rules deeming head coaches unconditionally accountable: "According to the NCAA, 'If a violation occurs, the head coach is presumed responsible, and if he or she can’t overcome that presumption, charges will be forthcoming.'"
Whether or not Sarkisian, Lupoi or anyone is lying can only be left to mere speculation at this point. Regardless, for everyone linked to USC, it's deflation in the face of turmoil too familiar—particularly unwelcome after an awe-inspiring Las Vegas Bowl victory en route to inaugurating a trustworthy disciple of the vacated championship regime.
As the fourth coach in as many months, stability was finally intended to sink in, but now what can blameless players and supporters look forward to? Is a swift slap on Sark's wrist and wallet in waiting, or is another cumulonimbus cloud of a postseason ban looming? What would be even worse are scholarship restrictions, enabling the depth and injury concerns that handicapped the Trojans' otherwise miraculous 2013 campaign.
Pat Haden and USC cannot be naive toward any possible scenario. What can firmly be anticipated, though, is another lengthy and tumultuous summer of uncertainty. It took four years to probe the Reggie Bush case, and this investigation has only just begun.
This contrarily could all blow over as quickly and painlessly as the NCAA's rejections of Haden's request to have sanctions reduced. Nonetheless, fans and employees alike are trained to hold their breath.
USC performed surprisingly well considering the mooching chips under their shoulder pads, but the adversity was starting to fade at long last. It is unfair to continuously ask college students to focus under such distraction and duress, especially when it's entirely at no fault of their own. Nothing has happened yet, but the sole threat and constant mention of off-field factors are tiring.
They're tiring enough to possibly deter incoming freshmen, indirectly cutting off scholarships anyway.
Recent verbal commit Jalen Greene—as reported by Greg Biggins of Scout.com (subscription required)—is not only a dual-threat quarterback, but he's brave. Either this recruitment (albeit three stars) is an indicator that Sark and USC will be fine, or an exception to reality as a class headlined by Damien Mama resides on the fence, with waning drama originally implied.
In light of the Tosh Lupoi investigation, will Ed Orgeron or Clancy Pendergast coach for USC next season?
Then there's the rest of the coaching staff to be replenished. Fans excited about Sark's recommitment to pursuing interim phenom Ed Orgeron (according to Tom Fornelli of CBSSports) aren't fully reading between the lines of "Coach O" embroidered arms. Aside from the fact that Coach O is better advised for grander opportunities after being spurned by Haden, another lurking chapter of investigations and sanctions may not be in his best interests.
Consequently, in favor of a man under legal scrutiny whose Washington defense recorded merely one sack more (36) than that of USC (35), the Trojans are most likely out two candidates in Lupoi and Orgeron.
Does this signal the departure of Clancy Pendergast as well? Are Clay Helton and Tee Martin suddenly wishing they were turnover casualties? Do Sarkisian's other optioned assistants feeling rescued or imprisoned? Mermaidman, where are you?!
The ongoing loyalty amid this past USC decade is apparent and admirable, but it's human for these thoughts to make cameos in one's mind. There's assuredly a lot of guessing and controlled paranoia circulating throughout the football team and its fanbase, and that's the unfortunate nature imposed upon them. What appeared as a punctuation in Las Vegas turned out to be an excruciating intermission.
Sarkisian was brought on to implement his up-tempo offense and steer the program's growth into the future. Hopefully the investigative process utilizes an identical no-huddle strategy.