Steve Sarkisian will interview for the Auburn head coaching job on Sunday, according to a report Friday from AL.com.
The Alabama offensive coordinator has shoved away interview opportunities as the Crimson Tide pursues an SEC championship but, with a brief break in the schedule arriving after Saturday night's title tilt with Florida, he will sit for an interview with his current employer's arch rival.
Sarkisian has been the latest star in Nick Saban's Coaching Rejuvenation Program, first entering in 2016 after he was fired from USC's head coaching position in 2015. He spent 2016 as an analyst (and later stepped in as offensive coordinator for the CFP title game after Lane Kiffin left early to become the head coach at Florida Atlantic) and returned in 2019 as offensive coordinator, having spent 2017-18 in the same post for the Atlanta Falcons.
His Alabama offense is the most fearsome in college football. Alabama leads the country (minimum: 10 games) in yards per play, scoring and passing efficiency. Sarkisian has drawn praise for his development of Mac Jones, a redshirt junior has become a Heisman candidate in his first year as a starter. Alabama also has a Heisman candidate in wide receiver DeVonta Smith, whose production has allowed the Tide to continue producing after losing All-America candidate Jaylen Waddle in midseason.
There is, of course, larger context at play here.
Hiring away Nick Saban assistants is the most conventional play an SEC school can make, but it would be the first time Auburn has made such a move.
It must be said that the apparent front-runner for the job, Kevin Steele, is also a former Saban assistant, having worked at Alabama from 2007-08 and again from 2013-14. But hiring Sarkisian directly away from Alabama would be orders of magnitude different from Auburn promoting its current defensive coordinator.
Sarkisian and Steele matched wits on Nov. 28, a 42-13 Alabama win. The Tide gained 445 total yards on 8.4 yards per play, half a yard per snap above Alabama's season average.
No former Saban assistant has ever beaten The Man on the field in 23 tries. Only Kirby Smart has ever come close. If hired, Sarkisian (or Steele) six of the SEC's 14 head coaches would be former Saban assistants or Saban himself, including four of the seven teams in the SEC West.
Of course, any team's season is more than just one game and there's more to a program than how it matches up against a single opponent. But no rivalry tests the truth of those statements like Auburn's hatred toward Alabama. (Auburn fired Gus Malzahn despite his 3-5 Iron Bowl, the best by any coach against Saban over that span.)
One point that would work in Sarkisian's favor is he would not require a buyout, which would help Auburn given the school owes Malzahn nearly $21.5 million and half of that figure within a month. One reported candidate, Indiana's Tom Allen, has a $23 million buyout of his own.
Sarkisian went 46-35 as the head coach at Washington and USC from 2009-15. He took over a Washington team fresh off a winless season and had the Huskies in a bowl game by his second year on campus. Though he brought instant improvement to Seattle, his teams quickly plateaued; Washington went 5-4 in Pac-12 play in each of his last four seasons.
He left Washington for USC in 2014 and went 9-4 in his one full season on campus. He left USC mid-season in 2015 and did not return.