Texas Longhorns coach Steve Sarkissian says Alabama’s Nick Saban saved my career

AUSTIN, TX – Steve Sarkissian has not, and will not, forgotten.

There’s no way he could, especially not this week with Nick Saban and No. 1 Crimson Tide coming to town.

To most of the college football world, Saban is the man who led Alabama to six amazing National Championships, the man who transcended college football in myriad different ways and the man who built a dynasty that the sport might not like. See again anytime soon.

But for Sarkissian, Saban is simply the man who “saved my career”.

It will be as big a game as it will be for Texas when Alabama visits the DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday — and one as big for Sarkissian to show that the Longhorns are on the right track after suffering through a losing season in his first year in office — he says he will forever be indebted to his boss. the old.

“I’ve said this many times, but I wouldn’t be the head coach of Texas without Nick Saban,” Sarkissian told ESPN. “He gave me a chance when I struggled to get an interview, no matter what job. There were days when I thought, ‘Man, I’m never going to be a head coach again. I’ll never be my offensive coordinator again. I’m never going to get another job.'”

“But Coach Saban took the opportunity when I needed someone to believe in me again.”

Sarkissian’s problems with alcohol were well-documented and led to his five-game expulsion from USC in the 2015 season when then-athletic director Pat Haden said that “Sarkissian’s behavior does not meet USC standards” and that Sarkissian “was not in good health”. Sarkissian has spoken candidly about his alcoholism and says he hasn’t stopped anything from his Texas players.

“I’m honest with my players,” Sarkissian said. “I’m really open. I’m really honest.” “I’m sharing my story about where I was in my career when I was 33 or 34 as a head coach at the University of Washington, then was fired publicly on national television at USC and then moved to a treatment facility for 30 days.”

Sarkissian needed a chance to rebuild his career, and there was no better place to do so than Alabama under Saban, who helped revive more than a few coaches.

“Sark is the one who did this work,” Saban told ESPN. “We supported him and made sure we had the right resources and people to help him, as we did so many others. But, listen, he saved his career by doing a great job for us and rehabilitating himself professionally, and I’m not just talking about things on a personal level, but personally. Professionalism in a really positive way that impacted our program in a big way and helped us achieve success here.”

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In fact, Saban took two chances on Sarkeesian, who opened the Longhorn’s season with a 52-10 victory over Louisiana Monroe. The first came when Saban appointed Sarkissian as an offensive analyst just before the start of the 2016 season, which was a complete surprise to Sarkissian. In fact, he had already committed to being part of the Fox broadcast team that season and had no plans (or opportunities) to train.

He was on the Alabama campus that summer as part of his own little tour where he spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons on the NFL side and Florida and Alabama on the college side.

Tuscaloosa happens to be his last stop.

“I would spend three to five days all over the place, just trying to take advantage of where my friends were training and trying to stay in touch with the game,” Sarkissian said. “I’ve never had August before where I haven’t been to a training camp.” One of the main reasons he ever went to Alabama was to reconnect with old pal Lynn Kevin, Tide’s offensive coordinator. They were together at USC as Joint Offensive Coordinators under Pete Carroll and remained close.

During Sarkissian’s visit to Alabama, Saban would watch a Sarkissian tape and draw plays on the whiteboard.

Sarkissian recounted: “Every day, it was like, ‘Watch this, watch this and tell me what you think about this, what do you think about that.’” Coach Saban doesn’t miss a thing. It always picks up your mind.”

In the end, Sarkissian said Kevin was “kind of a hero behind a lot of it” and floated the idea of ​​joining the Alabama staff as an analyst. Sure enough, Saban offered him a position, but Sarkissian wasn’t sure if he wanted to take it.

“I went back and forth and agreed to take the job in Alabama, and that’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Sarkissian said.

Little did he know he’d be talking about playing in the National Championship game later that season after Saban broke up with Kevin after defeating Washington 24-7 in the college football semifinals. Kevin was planning to stay in the championship game after agreeing to take over as Florida Atlantic’s president, but Saban had other ideas after seeing Tide struggle on offense in the win over the Huskies.

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“Definitely one of the most unique experiences of my career,” Sarkissian said of the 35-31 national championship loss to Clemson.

Sarkissian had already been appointed to succeed Kevin, but his first assignment as offensive coordinator in Alabama lasted less than two months. He left on February 7 to be the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, replacing Kyle Shanahan, who was appointed head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. But after two years with Atlanta, Sarkissian was fired as part of a change to the Falcons’ crew.

Admittedly, Saban wasn’t happy with Sarkissian’s quick withdrawal, but he took a second chance after Mike Locksley left to take charge of Maryland after the 2018 season and then abruptly left Dan Inos to be Miami’s offensive coordinator. Sarkissian was ready to stay in the NFL and take a job as the Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator when Saban called again.

“In my mind, I would have stayed in the NFL, but I had to take a step back and look at myself and say, ‘You know? This is a guy who offered me a job when no one even wanted to interview me,'” Sarkissian said. ‘This is the guy who entrusted me with calling up a National Championship game when I was a pundit all year. This is the guy who hired me as offensive coordinator and I left after a few months…and he still calls me to come back?’

“I felt at the time that I owed him. He gave me an olive branch, and I don’t know how much I really appreciate it and how much I admit it.”

Under Sarkissian’s tutelage, Alabama’s crime set records. Tide averaged 47.2 points per game in 2019, second only to national champion LSU.

After that season, Sarkissian turned down coaching opportunities in Colorado and Mississippi to stay in Alabama.

“I said to myself, You know, I think there is a better job for me, and I have unfinished business,” Sarkissian said. “We didn’t win a national championship. We were good enough. We were talented enough. I didn’t do well enough. It was the right thing for me, for the program and for coach Saban to stay another year.”

Sarkissian is becoming a hotter commodity in 2020 as Crimson Tide went through the season unbeaten en route to a National Championship, and he did so while playing the entire SEC schedule during the COVID-affected regular season. Tide once again ranked second nationally in scoring (48.5 points per game) with the full-time quarterback for the first year. Mac Jones On his way to being one of the winners of the first round of the NFL competition and receiving it Defonta Smith Win the Heisman Cup. They scored more than 40 points in 10 consecutive games.

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With the college football game looming, Sarkissian turned down an opportunity to interview for a head coach job at Auburn.

“There were two chances, but it just didn’t work for me,” Sarkissian said. “But then Texas came…too late.”

And very quickly.

Texas announced the appointment of Sarkissian on January 2, 2021, about five hours after Tom Hermann’s exit as coach was announced.

“Then I felt comfortable,” Sarkissian said. “We were going to play for a national title, and I felt like I accomplished what I owed coach Saban. Plus, it was Texas.”

The Saban program in Alabama has been a haven for coaches looking for second chances, whether they were fired on their previous stops for not winning enough or for other reasons. Saban said the people who got a second chance had one thing in common.

They were committed to helping themselves.

“I gave so many people chances, and they all did a really good job, whether it was Lynn, who had a lot of baggage, or Mike Loxley, who had a negative past, and then Sarek,” Saban said. “I think people learn a lot sometimes when things go wrong, and that makes them realize there are some changes that need to be made.

“It wasn’t because I told them. They did it themselves, did a great job here and got their chance.”

The Texans will have to work their way back to national prominence after spending 12 consecutive years without a conference championship. The Longhorns have had nearly as many coaches (four) as winning seasons (six) over the past decade. Sarkissian knows what the pinnacle of college football looks like. I’ve seen her up close.

“It’s been Alabama for the past decade and a half,” Sarkissian said. “And at the end of the day, we also have to be one of those teams at the top, and that’s what we strive for.”

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