A number of candidates have been rumored for the USC head football coach vacancy, but things took an odd turn over the past few days.
Both Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and former Indianapolis head coach turned broadcaster Tony Dungy were reportedly contacted by an imposter, claiming to represent USC and gauging their respective interest in the Trojans job.
USC athletic director Pat Haden and the school released a statement on Monday that flatly denied reaching out to either coach, and USC has identified both imposters.
Immediately after Lane Kiffin’s dismissal at Los Angeles International Airport, Del Rio was dubbed the odds-on favorite. Coming in at 3-to-1 odds, Del Rio spent more than 10 years playing for five different NFL teams, and later bounced around as a defensive coordinator before spending eight seasons at the helm in Jacksonville. Del Rio also guided Jacksonville to the playoffs twice, including the club’s last visit in 2007.
Del Rio's resume appears to be ideal for any top school, and it also resembles lots of the coaches tied to USC. A number of university connections and deep roots throughout the NFL, are all qualities that former Trojans coaches and current candidates share.
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While USC's statement doesn’t name Del Rio specifically, his history in Southern Califorinia and as a former head coach in the NFL has placed the 50-year-old at the heart of rumors. The Trojans have named Ed Orgeron as the interim head coach, and he should likely stay in that position for the rest of the season. USC fired Kiffin on Sept. 29 following a strenuous tenure that began in Jan. 2010 and culminated in a disastrous loss to Arizona State. The school has insisted it is in no rush to find a new head coach.
After Del Rio, Boise State’s Chris Petersen, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and current USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast were named as favorites, based off odds from Bovada.
While that's an extensive compilation of coaches who might all be qualified in their own right, Del Rio represents the ideal candidate and two other coaches embody the "longshot" and "safe choice" routes Haden and USC can take.
Dungy wasn’t on the betting website's list, but he also wasn’t the only Super Bowl-winning coach rumored for the position. ESPN analyst Jon Gruden came in at 8-1, but he’s considered the total longshot, considering he has been tied to nearly every coaching opening since he was fired by Tampa Bay in 2008. Gruden was tied to the Philadelphia Eagles head coaching job this past offseason, but nothing has ever gone further than a Twitter rumor.
However, should Haden coax Gruden out of the television booth, recruiting could shoot through the roof. One of ESPN’s most popular segments involves Gruden sitting down with top quarterback prospects ahead of the NFL draft, and giving them a huge dose of reality. Over the past three years, Gruden has watched game film with such great college players as Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Tim Tebow. The Trojans have had great success over the past decade in signing five-star quarterback recruits, which include Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, and Matt Barkley.
Then there’s the safe choice in Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian. He has the youth at 39 years old, and a history with the program’s best recent era as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator under former head coach Pete Carroll. Sarkisian also has experience recruiting in the Pac-12 and national stage.
With 11 national championships, the USC head coaching job would be upgrade for Sarkisian. He can serve as both the head coach and the offensive coordinator, as Kiffin did with the Trojans.
Sarkisian inherited quarterback Jake Locker, who posted his best college years with Sarkisian as his coach, before moving on to the NFL. Since 2009, Sarkisian has gone 30-26 with the Huskies, and 1-2 in bowl games. The Huskies are currently the No. 16-ranked team in the country, and have tied their best start under Sarkisian with a 4-1 record.