In a move seen by, oh, literally everyone months ago, Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban has named offensive analyst, Steve Sarkisian, to be its offensive coordinator following the departure of Lane Kiffin to Florida Atlantic.
Sarkisian is best known, or at least most positively regarded, for his mentoring of quarterbacks, both at USC and Washington. Sark spent the latter portion of his college career under the tutelage of legendary Norm Chow and LaVell Edwards at BYU. There he set an NCAA mark for completion percentage in a game that stood until 2015.
Coach Sarkisian followed Norm Chow to USC, where he would serve as the quarterbacks coach and later as offensive coordinator for Pete Carroll’s Trojan machine. At Southern Cal, Sarkisian mentored John David Booty, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer — the latter two both Heisman winners. Despite this string of collegiate success, Sarkisian tried his hands in the pros. His one season as the NFL’s Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach, his players passed for over 4000 yards, good for 8th in the league.
Coach Sarkisian’s collegiate head coaching record was a bit spottier than Lane Kiffin’s. However, Sarkisian turned a moribund Washington program around that had been winless the season before he arrived and led them to some degree of respectability, He is an excellent recruiter, and is generally credited for raising the talent level in Seattle, including recruiting, developing and sending Jake Locker and Bishop Sankey to the pros. From 2009-2013, the Huskies went 34-29 and made bowl games the final four years of his tenure.
In 2013, Sarkisian was again approached by USC AD Pat Haden to fill the position of head coach vacated following the
bush league, karma-inducing firing of then-head man, Lane Kiffin. During his time at USC, Sark also served as de facto offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, irrespective of the label on Clay Helton.
We know how the Southern Cal tenure ended — amid recriminations and allegations of self-destructive alcoholism, including a charge that he had been drunk during a game versus Arizona State and that he had showed up for meetings and practices intoxicated. It later came to light that there had been “multiple incidents at Washington involving alcohol.” Following his termination, Coach Sarkisian entered rehab. In 2015, Sarkisian lost his wife, his children, his job, possibly his career and became the fodder for some of the internet’s crueler jokes.
Fast forward a year, and Alabama’s Nick Saban hired Steve Sarkisian in September 2016, ostensibly to be an “offensive analyst,” but, for all practical purposes to establish offensive continuity in the eventuality that Lane Kiffin received a head coaching position. During his time on campus, Sarkisian has become very popular with the players, has kept his head down in the game plan, has stayed sober, and by all accounts is working very hard to redeem himself and to help the Crimson Tide win ball games.
In short, today’s announcement is the least expected thing since Alabama wearing Crimson for home games.
Coach Saban had this to say on Sarkisian’s hiring:
“He has been a great asset to our coaching staff this season and brings a great deal of energy and enthusiasm to his job. Steve will be a phenomenal addition to our coaching staff and someone who can seamlessly transition into the job with a full understanding of how our organization works.”
Coach Sarkisian released a statement as well:
“I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to join Coach Saban’s staff, and I can’t thank The University of Alabama enough. I have always admired the Alabama program from afar and getting to be part of this football team these past few months has only reinforced my belief that this is the best college football organization in the country.
“There are many outstanding coaches and athletes at The University of Alabama, and I am extremely excited to start working with them in my new role. This is a very special place to have the opportunity to coach when you consider the program’s rich tradition and the unrivaled passion of the fan base.”
Some may jest that Nick Saban has a home for wayward coaches, and in some respects that may be true, if you look only to the baggage. But Saban is a man of second chances if someone has earned that trust. And Saban does not see the baggage; he sees an excellent recruiter, a bright young offensive mind, a tireless worker, and more importantly now, a member of the Alabama family.
We will have more in-depth coverage of Coach Sarkisian’s offensive bona fides, as well reactions to the hire, over the coming week. But tonight one thing remains certain: Nick Saban is playing a different game than anyone else in the country.
Welcome Coach Sarkisian, and Roll Tide.
Ed. Note: Feel free to discuss the hire. Yes, Coach Sarkisian’s alcoholism and prior mistakes are part of the story, but they are not the entire story. Merited, thoughtful criticism is appropriate when examining the downside of the hire, and we encourage that. However, be aware that reckless attacks on a person’s illness or any sort of character assassination will earn you a lifetime ban -- forever and ever, amen.