It’s apparent now that USC head football coach Steve Sarkisian’s most challenging tactic wasn’t the defense of an opposing football team, but rather a more insidious demon: alcohol.
The warning signs of alcohol’s control in Sarkisian’s life were in plain sight long before Athletic Director Pat Haden released a statement regarding his termination this past Tuesday. Many of these clues are universal traits for those in addiction and reveal a destructive path that commonly takes place, which is denial, neglect in responsibilities, damaged relationships and an indirect cry for help.
Signs of Addiction
Here is a timeline of reported events that should have brought more concern and attention to Sarkasian’s relationship with alcohol, which may or may not have prevented all that has transpired this week.
- 2009–2013: During his time as head coach of University of Washington, former players have mentioned that Sarkisian and other coaches regularly consumed alcohol in their offices and that he has appeared uncharacteristically loud and unsteady on team flights. Receipts, hotel folios and expense reports obtained by the Los Angeles Times show that alcohol was a major presence.
- November 2014: USC football players say that Sarkisian drank and passed out on a flight back from a Washington State game.
- November 2014: At one of the most publicized rivalry games, a member of the team claims Sarkisian drank a bottle of Patron Tequila after the USC vs. Notre Dame game at Coliseum.
- December 2014: Rick Doyle reports witnesses observing Sarkisian consuming tequila in the locker room following the Holiday Bowl victory by USC over Nebraska.
- August 22, 2015: Sarkisian’s addiction finally manifested itself on a public stage at “Salute to Troy,” the annual official kickoff rally for the USC football season. He was visibly intoxicated as he slurred his speech, dropped an F-bomb and was pulled offstage.
- August 23, 2015: The next day, Sarkisian apologized in a statement from USC Athletics: "I sincerely apologize to my players and staff and to our fans for my behavior and my inappropriate language at our kickoff event Saturday night. I have a responsibility to all of them and I let them down. Pat Haden talked to me after the event about my actions and I assured him this will not happen again."
- August 25, 2015: At a press conference, Sarkisian publicly stated that he would seek out treatment and abstain from drinking alcohol during the football season, all while maintaining his position as head football coach.
- September 26, 2015: Assistant coaches believed Steve Sarkisian was inebriated during the Arizona State game and had to pull him out of a player huddle.
- October 11, 2015: Sarkisian was described as “not healthy” by Pat Haden after he did not show at an afternoon practice. Team members also say they smelled alcohol on his breath during a morning meeting.
This, of course, all came to a halt on October 12, 2015 when Pat Haden issued a simple statement that read: “After careful consideration of what is in the best interest of the university and our student-athletes, I have made the decision to terminate Steve Sarkisian, effective immediately. Through all of this we remain concerned for Steve and hope that it will give him the opportunity to focus on his personal well-being.”
Sarkisian has often been described as a nice guy with a powerful commitment to young people. Unfortunately, by putting football ahead of addressing his alcoholism (as well as ignoring or denying many of its warning signs), it has only caused the harmful conduct to intensify over time.
The former coach’s symptoms of denial, lack of control and disregard for others is a cautionary tale for all of us. If you or a loved one shows any indication of addictive behavior from alcohol or any other substance, it’s important to seek help immediately. Catching the illness early on is what can prevent tragic falls such as these from taking place in the future.