Alabama football under Nick Saban has had more than its share of its success and no small amount of drama. The Crimson Tide will meet Clemson in the College Football Playoff national championship game in Tampa Monday with an opportunity to add to the Saban/Bama list of accomplishments.
Alabama is 14-0 and ranked first in the nation, Clemson 13-1 and ranked second.
As for the drama, how about Saban and Alabama parting ways with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin before beginning preparations for the national title game?
The second part of that equation is the elevation of Steve Sarkisian from offensive analyst to offensive coordinator with that short time frame to prepare for the game.
Four months or so ago, Sarkisian was thinking about a career change. The former offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll at Southern Cal had progressed to head coach at Washington and then to USC, but crashed on the job amid reports of alcohol abuse.
He was considering a job as a television analyst.
But Sarkisian missed football. He had been in football camp every August for as long as he could remember. He decided to take a look at how teams might be doing things differently. He checked out the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Bucs and the University of Florida.
And one of his stops was at Alabama. “I had a great visit with Lane and Coach Saban,” Sarkisian said Saturday. “The talks were kind of in play after that, and when the job opportunity came, I thought this would be a good spot for me to come and learn a different way of doing things. I was fortunate to work with Pete Carroll for a lot of years. There are a lot of similarities between Nick Saban and Pete Carroll, but also some differences, and I felt this would be a good one to take advantage of, and to see what Lane was doing now offensively, and I jumped at the chance.”
That chance was offensive analyst, which is not a coaching position.
Today it looks as though it was a valuable decision, for Alabama as well as Sarkisian.
It has facilitated his move to offensive coordinator. “Being part of the program the last four months, and seeing Lane work, and being around the office, and game-planning and working with the coaches, it’s not just so foreign where I’m just coming in from the outside and trying to pick up where they left off. I’ve been around this thing. When you start calling plays, you start calling plays and you don’t get caught up in everything that’s going on outside, you focus on what’s between the lines, and that’s the mindset I will have.”
He said it helped that when Kiffin took the job as head coach at FAU and Saban announced that Sarkisian would replace Kiffin as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach/play-caller that Sarkisian immediately began thinking about that role looking ahead to spring practice and fall camp. The promotion came earlier than expected when Saban and Kiffin came to the conclusion that Kiffin would move on to his new job prior to the championship game. “It was kind of a natural transition for me,” said Sarkisian.
“This isn't like I flew in on a plane and I just took over this week. I've been here for four months. I've worked with Lane hand-in-hand. He's done a tremendous job here for three years. He did a tremendous job this season with a true freshman quarterback, a really good job of coaching football.
“I've been in those meetings. I've been on the headsets, heard him call plays. I've been able to see it firsthand.”
In joining the Tide staff as an analyst, he said, “For me, I think the biggest thing is this is a new system for me. There is some carryover that Lane had brought with him that we had had from years ago – Lane and I had not coached together for almost 10 years – so there was some carryover, but the reality of it was what I learned is the system in that time, and I really tried to dive into it, because I wanted to be able to speak the language.
“I liken it to you live in the States and someone puts you on a plane and you have to go live in France, sooner or later you have to start speaking French or you’re not going to be able to eat, you’re not going to be able to do the things you need to do. So I really tried to do that, learn the language, speak the language, understand the system, so I could be in the best help that I could be in the role I was in.”
He also said “to get this opportunity to get back on the field it was like I was a bottled-up ball of energy.”
Rather than being nervous about his situation, Sarkisian said he would use the word “excited.”
Incidentally, he will call plays from the sideline, not the press box. He has always called plays from the sideline, including being the play-caller when he was head coach.
There’s a coaching adage that assistant coaches make suggestions and head coaches make decisions. Coordinators also make decisions. As an offensive analyst, Sarkisian offered suggestions to the assistant coaches and to Kiffin, the offensive coordinator. Sarkisian could not even do what coaches do, which is coach players.
As a result, he had little contact with Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. In a week he has developed what he believes is a good relationship with Hurts.
“He’s a kid who loves football,” Sarkisian said. “He’s a gym rat, he works at the game. Those are the kind of guys I like to be around. They make my job easier. I think it’s a good one. I think we’ve worked well together this week and I think we’ll work really well Monday night.”
He said, “Today and this week it’s about doing the job and getting these players who have worked so hard for months, who have put themselves in this position to play this game, to do what I can do to help them?”
Steve Sarkisian is confident he will be a head coach again. “I’m young for this profession at 42,” he said.
96 Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE But meanwhile, there are final touches on Alabama’s offense, and particularly on Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts, and a chance at the national championship.