Seattle’s football resurgence over the past few seasons has been fueled by the University of Southern California. The Seahawks — a franchise worth $1.87 billion, according to Forbes — have been to two Super Bowls under Pete Carroll, USC’s former head coach, while Steve Sarkisian, an assistant of Carroll’s at USC, guided the Washington Huskies from 0-12 to consistent bowl eligibility in five seasons with the team.

Steve Sarkisian, seen here with the Washington Huskies in 2012, was fired by USC last month. Photo by Neon Tommy / CC BY.

Steve Sarkisian, seen here with the Washington Huskies in 2012, was fired by USC last month. Photo by Neon Tommy / CC BY.

Sarkisian’s success with UW and his history with Carroll landed him the head coaching gig at USC, but things soured quickly; he was fired last month, five games into the season, after alleged issues with substance abuse.

USC’s football program, a nonprofit entity that generated nearly $60 million in revenue in 2014, is a big business that is faltering. During Carroll’s heyday, the team essentially functioned as L.A.’s pro franchise. Over nine seasons, USC won two national championships, finished in the Top 5 seven times, and produced three Heisman Trophy winners. Celebrities such as Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell roamed the sidelines at practice.

The Trojans’ downfall has been vicious, and ESPN The Magazine chronicled how the two coaches with Seattle ties, Carroll and Sarkisian, were instigators and victims of the program’s plummet. Sure, it’s a football story, but it’s a poignant business read, particularly for managers of prominent organizations.

One takeaway is how not to handle managerial succession. Carroll quickly and unexpectedly “bailed” on USC in 2010, with sanctions looming surrounding former star Reggie Bush allegedly accepting $300,000 from a marketing firm. Carroll’s departure to the Seahawks, author Tom Friend writes, left USC scrambling for years trying to recreate Carroll’s magic. That tack led to the hiring of Sarkisian in 2014. Now, after Sarkisian was fired, many are calling on USC to entirely divorce itself from the Carroll era.

Sarkisian’s termination was controversial. He appeared to be drunk at a booster event in August, but was not punished. Afterward, Sarkisian chalked up the behavior to combining alcohol and medication, which Friend reports was an antidepressant (Sarkisian is going through a divorce). Then, Sarkisian was suspected to be under the influence during a late-September win. He was indefinitely suspended on Oct. 12 after reportedly showing up to team facilities intoxicated; the next day, he was fired.

Many are criticizing athletic director Pat Haden’s poor vetting of Sarkisian and his indecisive actions, but a bigger question looms: How should employers handle staff with addictions?

It’s not controversial to terminate employees with substance abuse issues; many critics say Haden should have fired Sarkisian back in August. But zoom out a bit, and the scenario becomes more complicated. It’s widely believed unemployment leads to greater alcohol consumption. Substance abuse surely compromises one’s ability to lead a prominent organization, but the same can be said of any other disease. USC’s attempt to bandage a battered reputation will, in turn, make the already challenging recovery Sarkisian faces even more daunting.

Sarkisian had family issues, but his job also was stressful. He had to deal with the sanctions levied on the program after Carroll jetted off to Seattle, and did so under the spotlight that comes with coaching a traditional powerhouse. People don’t choose to become addicts, and it’s naive to think Sarkisian’s job in no way played a role in his alleged addiction.

Once Sarkisian’s symptoms reached the public eye, USC fired him, a move countless other teams, companies, and nonprofits would emulate. But is that right? As our understanding of addiction and treatment improves, hopefully we will research and evaluate best practices for employers with staff who suffer from this challenging and stigmatized condition.


Hope you like your nanny

It’s hard balancing work and home life, as we’ve written, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the scales are shifting toward work; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both parents work in 60 percent of married-couple families. And, as The New York Times details, folks don’t seem very happy with the arrangement.

The gist of a new Pew Research Center survey, according to the Times: “Working parents say they feel stressed, tired, rushed and short on quality time with their children, friends, partners or hobbies.” Sound like anybody you know?


A vision of driverless cars for all (rich people)

Bill Ford Jr. at the reveal of the Ford Mustang in 2013 in Barcelona. Ford was CEO of the eponymous company from 2001 to 2006. Photo courtesy of Ford.

Bill Ford Jr. at the reveal of the Ford Mustang in 2013 in Barcelona. Ford was CEO of the eponymous company from 2001 to 2006. Photo courtesy of Ford.

Bill Ford Jr., he of that empire Henry Ford built, sees the writing on the wall. Though his family has made a lot of money selling them, Ford realizes not everybody will be buying F-150s in the future, and carmakers need to plan as such.

The first iteration of this more-automated, less-personal driving future will probably be driverless cars. Microsoft’s Eric Horvitz thinks there might be specific lanes for automated vehicles, which probably won’t be very cheap, so just think of them as express lanes for the wealthy.


You can invest in startups. Don’t invest in startups.

Now everybody can be an angel. Illustration by Alice Popkorn / CC BY.

Now everybody can be an angel. Illustration by Alice Popkorn / CC BY.

What’s been possible in Washington for a year now is possible nationwide: Anybody can invest in a startup. In the past, only folks with $200,000 salaries or $1 million in assets could act as angel investors; now, the Securities and Exchange Commission said anybody can do it.

But there was a reason for the $200k/$1 million requisites — investing in startups is very risky, and a payoff can take years to realize. Please don’t dump your nest egg into a startup. Please don’t forgo your employer-matched 401(k) to invest in a startup. If your primary investment strategy is lottery tickets, then maybe investing in startups is a better idea.