TAMPA – Last summer, all Steve Sarkisian wanted was a way – any way – to resurrect his career and put his life back together.
In October 2015, the guy who seemed to have it all as the coach at USC apparently has lost it all when he was fired at midseason amid reports of alcohol abuse.
It is fair to say that not even in his wildest dreams did Sarkisian, 42, believe that on Saturday, January 7, 2017, he’d be here, sitting in front of a bank of microphones on media day for the College Football Playoff national championship game. But because of a set of circumstances that only can be described as bizarre, Sarkisian will be Alabama’s offensive coordinator in Monday night’s championship game with Clemson.
Sarkisian has been a player or a coach for more than 25 years, but for so many reasons, he is about to face the biggest football game of his life.
“I don’t think I could have foreseen this four months ago – when I was contemplating doing TV – that I could get into this situation,” Sarkisian said. “But I’m very grateful and very humbled that coach (Nick) Saban and the entire Alabama Crimson Tide family entrusted me to do the job.”
The job became available this past Monday when Saban decided to part ways with Lane Kiffin, Alabama’s OC for the past three years. It was a stunning and unprecedented move by Saban just a week from playing for his sixth career national championship.
Sarkisian, who had joined Saban’s staff as an offensive analyst in September, already had been named to replace Kiffin, who had taken the coaching job at Florida Atlantic on December 5. But Sarkisian wasn’t scheduled to take over until after the Tide’s final game of the season.
But, to put it bluntly, things changed. For a host of reasons, Saban said he and Kiffin “mutually decided” that Kiffin should leave immediately. Sarkisian now had a week to put together a game plan for Clemson and to bond with the Alabama players. As an analyst Sarkisian, was not allowed to work with the players on the practice field during the season. That has changed this week.
Alabama’s players got word of the change Monday. I asked quarterback Jalen Hurts about his initial reaction.
“I said, ‘Let’s roll,’ ” Hurts said. “I like him. We’ve communicated well.”
Sarkisian agreed, saying, “I think we’ve worked well together this week. Ultimately, I think we’ll work well on Monday night.”
Offensive tackle Cam Robinson said practices have gone smoothly this week with Sarkisian running the show.
“People try to make it a big deal that we made a change,” Robinson said. “You have to adapt when you lose a player and you have to adapt when you lose a coach. We’re going to be fine.”
For Sarkisian, it has been an incredible journey to Monday night’s championship game. He was coach at Washington from 2009-13, then became coach at USC, where he had worked as an assstant for Pete Carroll. After guiding USC to a 9-4 mark in 2014, things started to go south with a 3-2 start in 2015.
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