"Obviously, [Sarkisian's] dealing with some tough stuff right now, but I wish him nothing but the best. I really do," Kessler said. "There's no hard feelings from me. I've been praying for him. I've been hoping things are going to go good for him. He's always been great to me, so I have no hard feelings there.
"I know this team doesn't either. The first thing this team wants is for him to get better. We're still going to support him as he goes through the next steps he takes, but our main focus right now is getting back out there. We still have a game Saturday."
Sarkisian was officially terminated as the Trojans coach Monday, a day after he was placed on an indefinite leave of absence upon showing up to a team meeting seemingly intoxicated. Sarkisian has since entered an out-of-state treatment facility and was fired for cause, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad.
For Kessler, a fifth-year senior, and several of the team's veteran players, the midseason coaching change is hardly a unique experience.
Two seasons ago, Lane Kiffin was also fired after five games and the Trojans proceeded to win six of eight games under interim coach Ed Orgeron. And when Orgeron resigned when Sarkisian was chosen as Kiffin's permanent replacement, Clay Helton -- who is back in the interim role -- stepped in to coach the team to a bowl win against Fresno State.
Perhaps leaning on that experience, Kessler appeared unfazed Wednesday as the Trojans (3-2) prepared for Saturday's game at No. 14 Notre Dame, which will be the 87th meeting all-time between the storied programs.
"It's the same as it's always been," Kessler said of the team's mood. "You can be upset and you can pout and walk around, or you can come back out and get back to work. It's my job as a leader to make sure our guys are ready to play a game on Saturday."
For the team's younger players, though, this is all new.
"The older guys who have been through it are teaching us younger guys and telling us to stay focused and stay positive like you've seen on Twitter," sophomore cornerback Adoree' Jackson said. "All the older guys are saying we've been through this before and we just got to fight on like we normally do. Our confidence is the same, we're just ready to go out there and play."
Wednesday's practice was one of the more lively sessions in the past few weeks, but Kessler said any perception of renewed enthusiasm had more to do with trying to bounce back from a tough loss to Washington last week than anything to do with the coaching situation.
"Things haven't gone exactly as we planned this year, but it's a challenge," Kessler said. "I look at it like an opportunity more than a burden. I see it as these guys have a chance to do something great this year still and I really know they're going to respond well and do some great things the rest of the season."
In last year's 49-14 win against Notre Dame in Los Angeles, Kessler threw for 372 yards and six touchdowns as the Trojans ended a two-game losing streak to the Fighting Irish.
Trojans looking to put noise behind them
Ted Miller and Brad Edwards preview USC's trip to Notre Dame, where the Trojans will once again be looking to put a midseason firing behind them and rally.