In a strange twist that left the Oakland Raiders jilted by their first choice to succeed Art Shell, Southern California quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian on Friday evening rejected the team's offer to become its next head coach.
League sources who confirmed the move by Sarkisian gave no reason for his decision. The Raiders had offered a contract longer than the two-year deal Shell signed but further details were not available.
In a statement late Friday, the Raiders denied Sarkisian had been offered the job, and said he removed his name from consideration. The statement, in part, read: "The Oakland Raiders were not ready to offer the position and wanted to wait until after the weekend as the organization is still doing its due diligence."
In a separate statement, released by the university, Sarkisian said he wanted to stay at USC.
"I thank them for their interest in me," Sarkisian said. "While the job was never
offered to me, at this time in my career, I've told them I want to
stay at USC. I strongly believe that the Raiders' job is a great
opportunity for whomever their next head coach is going to be."
The presumptive front-runner for the Oakland vacancy for much of this week, Sarkisian interviewed on Wednesday with team officials for the second time in two weeks. He then flew back to Los Angeles, but returned to the Bay Area on Thursday for another round of interviews.
In fact, the Raiders even interviewed Southern California offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who was Sarkisian's choice to be his No. 1 offensive assistant, on Thursday. That prompted speculation that the club was close to finalizing a deal with Sarkisian.
In their statement, the Raiders said that Kiffin had made "no commitment" to join the staff if Sarkisian landed the job.
Sarkisian, 32, served as the Oakland quarterbacks coach in 2004 and, while he has not been a coordinator or head coach, he fit the mold of the kind of coach owner Al Davis has traditionally sought. Davis typically looks for candidates whose expertise is on the offensive side of the ball, and who are young and innovative.
A former Brigham Young quarterback who played three seasons in the CFL (1997-99), Sarkisian has a limited coaching resume. Beyond his two stints at Southern California (2001-2003 and 2005), Sarkisian was on the staff at El Camino (Calf.) Junior College in 2000.
In a related matter, San Diego Chargers wide receivers coach and Hall of Fame member James Lofton, who met earlier this week with Oakland officials, withdrew his name from consideration for the job.
Beyond Sarkisian and Loton, the Raiders have interviewed current Oakland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel. ESPN.com reported Tuesday that former Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green rebuffed overtures from Oakland officials to arrange an interview.
It is not known if Oakland will expand its search now or simply work from the pool of current candidates.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.