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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

December 5, 2013 at 4:37 PM

Where does Sark’s little white lie rank on the prevarication meter?

Three days after Steve Sarkisian left for USC, we’re left to sort out the way he left the UW, which, unfortunately, is the way a lot of coaches move on to other jobs — by stretching the truth (OK, flat-out lying) about their interest in the new job.

A colleague suggested Sarkisian’s clumsy exit was equal to the mess Rick Neuheisel created back in February of 2003, when he had a misbegotten dalliance with the San Francisco 49ers while coaching Washington. More on that later.

Sarkisian went on with KJR’s Mitch Levy early Monday morning and said this when asked whether he had interviewed for the USC job: “I didn’t interview for the job. They reached out to me, and I talked to them. I’m not anywhere near along the course of taking that job, or not. And by no means, I don’t think they’re in that place (of offering it) at all . . . like I’ve always said, I’ve got a great job . . . I’m fired up about where this program is headed . . .”

Within four hours, word was creeping out that he was gone to USC.

If it wasn’t already apparent that Sarkisian had been less than forthcoming, it became patently clear in a timeline Trojans athletic director Pat Haden provided to the LA Times. He said he and three other athletic-department operatives flew in to interview Sarkisian Sunday, and after he got back to Los Angeles that evening, he offered Sarkisian the job.

So in his comments to Levy, Sarkisian could have added: “Of course, I’m lying like a rug.”

He apologized the next day, of course, when asked. He said it was “in the best interest of the young men . . . I didn’t want to put (UW or USC players) in a situation of uncertainty.”

Much better, of course, that his UW players learn of his departure through social media, which most of them did.

Sarkisian isn’t the first coach to be tripped up, and questions about job interest elsewhere are never easy. But rather than flat-out lie, why not say, “No comment,” or “I never speculate about other jobs” or something to that effect?

Now, the comparison to Neuheisel. As tawdry as Sarkisian’s final act was in Seattle, it can’t be compared to the Neuheisel/49ers fiasco.

You’ll recall that on an early-February weekend in 2003, Neuheisel slipped away to interview with the Niners, spending time with the iconic Bill Walsh. Word was leaking out by Monday, and Neuheisel went to elaborate pains to scotch the rumor. He went on KJR with Mike Gastineau. He denied the meeting to Times columnist Blaine Newnham. He even told athletic director Barbara Hedges it wasn’t true. And the crowning misadventure: On university letterhead, the UW released a statement debunking the reports of a Neuheisel-Niners interview.

In terms of elaborate coverups, it was second only to Watergate.

Problem was, you’ll recall that Neuheisel was heard blabbing loudly on a cell phone in an airport gate area in San Francisco about the interview — in itself, that’s hard to fathom; you’re in a gate with Seattle-bound passengers, who might recognize you, and you’re essentially putting your whole weekend on speaker-phone — and was overheard by Post-Intelligencer columnist John Levesque. A couple of days after Neuheisel’s campaign to throw cold water on the 49er meeting, Levesque wrote about the whole scene at the airport, and Neuheisel’s story came crashing down ignominiously on him and Washington.

My colleague postulated that the only thing that separates the two incidents is that Sarkisian left and Neuheisel didn’t. Indeed, there’s a grain of truth to that; if your spouse cheats on you, reconciliation is probably tougher than just booting him/her out the door. Still, the Neuheisel debacle takes the cake for prevarication — made more laughable by the fact he was caught so red-headed in the lie. It no doubt greased the skids to his eventual firing later months later, as it caused a serious erosion in support.

With Neuheisel, there was also the nagging sense that he was more frequently looking at other jobs (Notre Dame, Cleveland Browns) so the lie was even harder for UW partisans to stomach. So, edge to Neuheisel on this one.

Back in 2003, when his lie about the meeting with the 49ers was exposed, Neuheisel explained that he’d done it to protect a confidentiality agreement with the NFL team. When his turn came a decade later, Sarkisian said it was in the best interest of the young men.

Such noble, high-minded thinking.

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