Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2019 season and beyond.
No. 19: Bryan Brown, Louisville
No. 18: Phil Longo, North Carolina
No. 17: Les Koenning, Kansas
No. 16: Andy Avalos, Oregon
No. 15: Joe Cauthen, Houston
No. 14: Bodie Reeder, North Texas
No. 13: Mike MacIntyre, Ole Miss
No. 12: Andy Ludwig, Utah
No. 11: Kenny Dillingham, Auburn
No. 10: Jim Chaney, Tennessee
No. 9: Sean Gleeson, Oklahoma State
No. 8: Dan Enos, Miami
No. 7: Kendal Briles, Florida State
No. 6: Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison, Ohio State
Who: Steve Sarkisian, Alabama
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator (2017-18)
Why he’s important: Oh, boy. Where do we begin?
Say this for the man, he knows how to make an exit.
After inheriting a winless Washington team, he immediately brought the Huskies to five wins, then seven, then an AP Top 25 ranking before ducking out ahead of U-Dub’s bowl appearance to take the USC job. And we know how that ended.
He spent 2016 in Nick Saban’s Finishing School and Image Rehabilitation Center for Once and Future Head Coaches as an analyst, then was hastily promoted to offensive coordinator for the national championship game after Saban granted Lane Kiffin an early dismissal to go be Florida Atlantic’s head coach.
Many Tide fans happily blamed Sark for that loss to Clemson despite the fact Alabama’s defense surrendered 99 plays, 511 yards and 35 points to Deshaun Watson and company. Nevertheless, Sarkisian turned down a promotion to Alabama’s full-time offensive coordinator (he would not be the last) in order to run the Atlanta Falcons’ offense. Fresh off the most epic Super Bowl collapse in the history of Super Bowl collapses, Atlanta’s offense plummeted from 33.8 points a game in 2016 to 22.1 in 2017, then rebounded to 25.9 last fall (the club was fifth in the NFL at 2.40 points per drive). Nevertheless, Sarkisian was shown the door.
Despite the fact Nick Saban seems like the last person to ever re-hire someone who leveraged a promotion into a different job, Saban re-hired him following Mike Locksley’s departure to Maryland.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Sark,” Saban said last week. “He’s very well organized, he does a good job with the players, he’s a good teacher, he’s got a really good personality, he’s easy to work with, I think he does a really good job managing the staff. I know that my time in the NFL — and I can’t really speak for him — was very beneficial for me because you work on football or how you’re going to bring personnel to your team, and when you do that all the time I think you get better at it. Sark did a really good job when he was here before and I’ve been very pleased with the job he’s done since he’s been here.”
Purely as a coordinator and play-caller, the Alabama gig is the ultimate thankless job.
The Tide finished second last season in yards per play (7.76), third in scoring (45.6 points per game), ninth in first down (24.7 per game) and first in plays of 10-plus yards (293). Sarkisian is tasked with refining Tua Tagovailoa, who for a time last year played the quarterback position as perfectly as it’s ever been played. Even despite battling through a late-season ankle injury and tossing four combined interceptions against Georgia and Clemson, Tua still set the FBS single-season record — besting 2017 Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and 2018 Heisman winner Kyler Murray — with a 199.44 efficiency rating.
The whole receiving corps is back. Two of the top three running backs are gone, but 2017’s No. 1 running back recruit Najee Harris returns, where he’s joined by 2019’s No. 1 running back recruit Trey Sanders.
Keep the gravy train going and, well, of course Alabama can score. Did you see them last season?
If Alabama falls off even just a little and it’s obvious where the fault lies. Did you see them last season?
But if the goal is to be a head coach again, there is no better place to be than coordinating Alabama’s offense. Here again is Saban talking about what Sark brings to the staff, notice what he says about scheme versus what he says as a leader:
“If Sark’s got things he thinks are going to be beneficial and fit in with the things that we’re doing, then we’ll implement some of those things,” Saban told The Athletic this summer. “He’s got great knowledge and experience, and the biggest thing is he’s well organized and he’s got good relationships with the players and he’s a good teacher.”
Sarkisian will lead an offensive staff that is almost entirely new. Running backs coach Charles Huff was hired from Mississippi State, Holomon Wiggins from Virginia Tech, and offensive line coach Kyle Flood followed Sark from Atlanta. Tight ends coach Jeff Banks is the senior man in the room; he joined the staff in 2018.
It’ll be on Sarkisian to align those coaches thoughts and experiences with what Alabama’s players are familiar with.
If he does it right, Sarkisian will likely have another quick exit, likely for another head coaching shot. If he doesn’t, well, he’ll have a quick exit for a different reason.
No pressure, right?