USC Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian is taking an indefinite leave of absence after, sources say, he arrived Sunday to team facilities appearing to be intoxicated.
Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will take over as interim coach of the team, the school said.
Sarkisian was not in attendance at the Trojans’ practice on Sunday afternoon. USC athletic director Pat Haden met with the media after practice to announce the move, saying it was “clear to me that he was not healthy.”
A player told ESPN via text that Sarkisian “showed up lit to meetings again today.” Another source said he showed up Sunday morning and “appeared not normal,” and then was told to leave.
“They wouldn’t let him come to practice,” the source said.
Helton takes charge of a Trojans team that is 3-2 and 1-2 in the Pac-12 and has lost two of its past three games. Helton previously served as the Trojans’ interim head coach for the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl after previous interim head coach, Ed Orgeron, quit.
Sarkisian is going through a divorce. His behavior while apparently under the influence of alcohol and painkillers at the Salute to Troy function in August drew national headlines, and he later apologized.
“He was dealing with family issues all [Saturday] night, but he hasn’t been in a good place all season,” a source told ESPN.
Sarkisian was also suspected by his staff to be under the influence during USC’s 42-14 win over Arizona State on Sept. 26, a source said, though Haden was apparently unaware.
Another source who is close to Sarkisian said the coach “needed to hit rock bottom” to seriously confront an addiction and added that “this is rock bottom.”
“I was at a basketball event earlier today when I got a call to say Sarkisian was not at practice,” Haden said Sunday. “I called Steve and he made it clear to me that he was not healthy, and I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence. I think this is the right thing for our team.
“I’ve spoken to our team and our coaches — they obviously had a great deal of concern for the health of Coach Sarkisian. It was also clear to me the support that Clay has from the team, and the staff. We’ve got a big task this week with the Notre Dame game, and Clay will do a great job getting our team ready. I don’t have a lot of answers right now for you guys, as I first heard about this an hour and a half ago.”
Sarkisian publicly apologized before the season after he showed up under the influence at the Salute to Troy event and made a slurred public statement. He announced he would be getting unspecified treatment, but didn’t believe he had a drinking problem, blaming his unsteady appearance on combining alcohol and medication.
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