LOS ANGELES (AP) — A few hours after Steve Sarkisian was hired by Southern California, the coach bounded up the steps of the palatial McKay Center and went to work on getting the Trojans back to national title contention.
USC hired Sarkisian away from Washington on Monday, bringing back the former Trojans offensive coordinator to his native Los Angeles area and the storied program where he thrived as Pete Carroll's assistant. Sarkisian immediately held a 35-minute evening meeting with his new players, easing their next transition in a tumultuous season.
"It's awesome to be home," Sarkisian said on USC's downtown campus while clad in a black Trojans sweatshirt. "A lot has gone on, but it's awesome to be back. I'm fired up to be here. ... It's great to be back. It's great to be part of the Trojan family again. It's always been a dream of mine to be here."
Two days after USC's regular season ended with a 35-14 home loss to crosstown rival UCLA, athletic director Pat Haden replaced interim coach Ed Orgeron with yet another assistant coach from Carroll's halcyon era at the school.
Orgeron resigned from USC when he wasn't chosen for the full-time job despite going 6-2 after replacing Lane Kiffin in late September. USC hasn't made a formal announcement, but players said offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be the interim coach for the Trojans' bowl game.
The 39-year-old Sarkisian went 34-29 in five seasons at Washington, rebuilding a decimated program into a perennial bowl team with four straight winning seasons. He is the permanent replacement for Kiffin, his former co-offensive coordinator at USC under Carroll.
Sarkisian will be formally introduced at a news conference Tuesday, but he's already at work on the transition with an evening of meetings.
"Got a lot of work to do in a short amount of time here in the next few days," he said. "It's been obviously an emotional day or so for the players here, for myself and my former team, those kids up in Seattle."
Haden declined comment on the decision while leaving the meeting, only saying the coach "hit it off really well with our kids." In a statement released by USC, the athletic director said he conducted a major search during the regular season, interviewing five coaches for the job.
"We kept coming back to Sark," Haden said. "He is the only one who was offered the job. I believe in my gut that he is the right coach for USC at this time. He embodies many of the qualities for which we looked. He is an innovative coach who recruits well and develops players. He is a proven and successful leader."
When Sarkisian formally takes over in late December, he'll be the Trojans' fourth head coach in less than three months — but his ties to USC run deep. He briefly played baseball at USC before going to BYU as a quarterback, and he served three stints as an assistant coach with the Trojans before Washington called.
"Hopefully this time I don't have to leave again to come back again," Sarkisian said with a laugh. "Hopefully the fifth time is the charm."
Sarkisian is a Torrance native who has been an impressive recruiter in California, luring dozens of talented players to Seattle from high schools within a short drive of USC's campus. During Monday's team meeting, when Sarkisian asked which players he had recruited for either the Trojans or Huskies, more than half the room raised its hand.
"He recognized all of us," said USC offensive lineman Kevin Graf, who was recruited by Sarkisian. "He did a good job letting us know it's going to be a family again. That's important to him."
Sarkisian takes over one of college football's crown jewel programs, a five-time AP national champion with a lengthy history of national prominence. He also inherits a roster stocked with solid talent by Kiffin and Orgeron, yet still laboring under the last of NCAA sanctions stemming from violations during Carroll's era.