What now?

Sark is gone, Notre Dame is Saturday, lots of things for USC to do -- and get right this time. Here's what must -- and must not -- happen.

Lots to do here for USC football and not much time to do it -- although firing Steve Sarkisian Monday afternoon 24 hours after his Sunday practice no-show gets it going in a hurry.

Sure, there's a little game this weekend at Notre Dame (4:30 p.m.. PT, NBC), but that's only in the No. 3 spot right now for the Trojans .

Win it, you have a chance to finish strong still. Lose it and it's a long way from 3-3 to anywhere a USC team that was ranked as high as No. 6 in Week 3 would hope to be.

But as hard as it may be to imagine, the Notre Dame game is not even one of the top two issues facing the Trojans at this moment.

First you have to figure out what to do about just what happened with Sarkisian -- while asking how that was allowed to happen and clearly worsen once he was here.

Then what do you do? How do you find that next John McKay, John Robinson or Pete Carroll?

Can USC escape the additional self-sanctioning its own people have been piling on the program in these post-NCAA years thanks to an insulated culture specializing in stupid unforced errors?

But first the now and the near-past. If there was one aspect of what happened Sunday with Sark's inability to handle his coaching duties and make it to practice, it was the apparent surprise at the top levels of the USC Athletic Department.

How did AD Pat Haden not only not hear about Sark's no-show until after 1 p.m., more than a half-hour after the start of practice, but how could he possibly have been shocked by it? As one who was there Sunday, and has been there for every Sark practice in the last two years, this was not a surprise.

Not after Aug. 22 and the Salute To Troy. Not after Sark's halfhearted admission and then denial of any real problem at the next practice. Not after a University response that seemed to depend on players coming up with a penalty that ended up with "up-downs."

Sark didn't need up-downs, he needed USC administrators to step up and do their jobs to not only help him address his issues but protect the USC players, who should have had no part in being either enablers or victims of any of this, much less the disciplinarians in the room.

USC failed Sark. But it wasn't the first time. They failed him the way they failed Lane Kiffin and Kevin O'Neill.

By the way, if you're keeping score, that's three high-profile coaches under this administration who had an issue with alcohol and who embarrassed the University way too many times. They should have been counseled after being set aside from positions they couldn't possibly succeed in -- and ultimately let go well before their final seasons when they had to be replaced under the worst possible circumstances.

Has any AD in memory had to appoint more "interim" coaches than Haden? In just men's basketball and football in the last three years, that number is four -- one came in basketball and three -- including Helton twice -- in football.

And that, my friends, is malpractice. None of the three head coaches should have still been coaching at the time they had to be replaced with an "interim" guy. O'Neill's struggles with alcohol were well-known around Galen. Getting into a fight with an Arizona booster after a Pac-12 Tournament game in LA,should have never happened but when it did, KO should have never been in position to embarrass USC from that moment on. But he hung on somehow into the next season.

Kiffin's legendary Sun Bowl face-plant two days before that horrific on-field performance that will go down as one of USC's worst-ever, should also never have happened. Kiffin never should have been in town and allowed to coach that game. If it takes makeup and dark sunglasses to get you presentable enough to go out for a game, you probably aren't in any place where you can coach it. Much less be allowed to come back for a next ill-fated abbreviated season culminating in a tarmac firing.

USC doesn't need coaches whose contracts have mandatory alcohol counseling clauses in them. Who hires like that?

And then there's Sark. For those of us who liked the guy despite what we knew he was doing to the team and the program, the Salute To Troy, again as over the top and outrageous as it was, was no surprise. When the top qualification for the person USC hired from Washington allowed critics of the flawed process to dismiss it as simply hiring "a drinking buddy," you have a problem.

No, USC has a problem. Because when the issue becomes more than one person's drinking, the finger of blame moves past Sark, even if he did pass up on the chance to acknowledge his problem and do something about it in August, and on to his enablers.

There were just too many stories. We've all heard them. And seen them up close for ourselves at practice. Stories of staff drinking on road trips, of grad assistants whose duty on those same trips was to know exactly where the nearest 24-hour liquor store and pharmacy was to the team hotel. And what did really happen that Sunday of the missed conference call?

So there's clearly a blind spot that maybe the memory of John McKay and those "Mad Men" days at Julie's have left with the program. But just as USC has shown you can't go back to the Pete Carroll Era of a decade ago, try as they might by hearing two of Pete's guys, you surely can't live back a half-a-century ago.

So now what? Where does USC go and how does it get there?

Well, here's the first rule: The people who continually got you lost no longer are allowed to lead the search. Seems pretty obvious, right?

Now how do you do that? Not saying that without Haden's making the call himself, he's probably going to be a part of this. J.K. McKay too. And Steve Lopes. But it can't end there. No more Mark Jackson driven processes that clearly overlooked what came back to bite USC and Sark. Not that any of this was unknown, just that it was discounted as not mattering.

Clearly it did. And clearly the people who were put where they were to protect USC's good name were not in the least able to do that. Because they made this about them. About their buddies. About what would be easiest for them. About who would not push them to change.

And this is what they got. It's embarrassing. It's unfair. It's way below the standard of a great university. And it must change.

One way to do that is to expand the search committee to people outside Heritage Hall. I'd like to see generous and supportive alums like Wayne Hughes and Brian Kennedy there. And Marcus Allen and Anthony Munoz. How about a student rep. And a couple of distinguished faculty members. And a couple of alums whose names resonate internationally -- George Lucas, anyone?

A quick coaching hot list would have to have Utah's Kyle Whittingham on it and as the hot, smart young guy, former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, a Simi Valley/Cal Lutheran guy who did wonders at OSU last year and already is doing so at Houston. We can all come up with names.

As one of the top five jobs in college football, and one of the top three historic programs, USC must find someone who fits that profile and that profile alone. He has to be much more than someone who "gets USC," as we were told Sark did, but someone who can "get USC" back to the top of the college football world.

Get the right guy and it could happen next year.

But don't give up on this year. Two years ago, Ed Orgeron and his coaches didn't give up on USC. We can only expect the same of this Clay Helton staff although that staff then -- minus Lane -- had a lot going for it.

And we all know how badly it turned out for everyone the last time. After a bogus Korn-Ferry headhunting search to cover the tracks of Sark's hire and nearly $8 million in additional transition coaching costs, look where USC football is.

The people who oversaw that shipwreck of a search should have no more than a minority role in this one.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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