No one mentioned the elephant in the room, but it couldn’t be missed as Alabama Coach Nick Saban announced that Steve Sarkisian would replace Lane Kiffin as Crimson Tide offensive coordinator beginning with the end of this season.
Kiffin has been named head coach at Florida Atlantic University, but will continue in his role as Bama offensive coordinator and play-caller through the end of this season. That could be through the College Football Playoff Semifinal Game in the Peach Bowl against Washington on Dec. 31, or perhaps through the National Championship Game in Tampa Jan. 9.
Sarkisian joined the Alabama staff as an offensive analyst – an off-the-field position – this season. Sarkisian had been dismissed at Southern Cal in 2015 because of alleged inebriation at a booster function.
Conventional wisdom had it that Sarkisian was the heir apparent for offensive coordinator when and if Kiffin moved on to a head job. In addition to both having been head coach at USC and both having been released in bizarre circumstances, the two had worked together on the staff of Pete Carroll at Southern Cal.
Late this season there were unconfirmed rumors that Sarkisian had failed to adhere to the strict conditions of being a part of Saban’s Alabama staff. Earlier this week there were more rumors -- that Sarkisian was back in the lead for the offensive coordinator position.
Saban didn’t specifically mention any Sarkisian demons, but said, “This guy is part of our family now, and we’re going to help him be successful every way we can. That’s in his life as well as a coach.”
In follow-up dialogue, Saban said, “We want to be supportive. I think a lot of us have had issues somewhere in our life or in our family, and we want to be very supportive. He has been very diligent about what he's trying to do to do the right things in terms of his life, and we're going to continue to support him and help him. He wants to do it, and we want to help him do it, and we're going to do it any way that we can.
“We have a lot of support people here for our players. We have support folk for anybody in our organization. We’re going to use all the support staff that we have to design – professionally, I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about professionals – which has been in place since the guy came here. And we’re going to continue to do that. Those people are going to help him the best that we can.
“We have players that need help, we have players that need support, we have people in our family who we are going to always help everybody that has issues or problems.”
Saban’s main point, which he reiterated, is “I wouldn't have anybody in this organization that I didn't have total faith, trust and confidence in that they would do a good job with our players. He did a good job for us for a long time here and that's what made me feel confident that the guy was ready to do this.”
Saban is on firm ground insofar as Sarkisian’s reputation as an outstanding offensive football coach.
Saban said, “He has a great track record and has done a really, really good job wherever he's been, whether it was as the coordinator at Southern Cal or as the quarterbacks coach. He has a history of developing quarterbacks as well as being a very good play-caller and a well-organized, good designer of offense. He's been here with us all fall and done a really good job, so that makes the transition a lot easier.
"I think you look at the whole body of work that the guy has done throughout his career, wherever he's been, the points they've scored. They were a no-huddle team at Washington and USC and were very productive in terms of points scored. He did a great job organizationally and helped Lane through this last season in terms of some of the things that we did. I just thought that he was a real positive addition to our staff. So I think the knowledge and experience of being in leadership positions and the results that he's gotten, I think is what we saw and he did that here for us and we were pleased all the way around."
In a prepared release, Saban said, “We are pleased to be able to hire an offensive coordinator with the pedigree and experience of Steve Sarkisian .He has a tremendous offensive mind and is someone we believe will do a great job of teaching and developing our football team on the offensive side of the ball. 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.”
Sarkisian spent the 2016 season on the Crimson Tide’s staff as an analyst. Prior to that he served as the head coach at the University of Southern California from 2014-15 and the head coach at the University of Washington from 2009-13.
“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,” Sarkisian said in the release. “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.”
During his time as head coach at Southern California, Sarkisian led the Trojans to a 12-6 overall record including a second-place finish in the Pac-12’s Southern Division in 2014. His 2014 offense at USC ranked in the top 25 nationally in passing offense, passing efficiency, third down conversions, and scoring offense.
At Washington, Sarkisian inherited a program in 2009 that had won just 12 games during the previous five seasons, including going winless the year before he took over. Despite that challenge, he guided the Huskies to bowl games his last four seasons. His eight victories in 2013 were the most at UW since 2000. His overall Washington record was 34-29.
Sarkisian arrived at Southern California in 2001 and took over as the quarterbacks coach in 2002, where he tutored quarterback Carson Palmer to the Heisman Trophy and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. After spending the 2004 season as the quarterbacks coach for the Oakland Raiders, Sarkisian returned to the Trojan staff in February of 2005 as the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach for four seasons (2005-08). He added the offensive coordinator role to his duties in 2007 and 2008 at USC.”