Former Clemson coaches now with Alabama confident in new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian
TAMPA, Fla. — Four months ago, Steve Sarkisian was ready to dabble in the world of television broadcasting, his football coaching career in limbo after he was fired at Southern California.
On Monday night, he’ll walk through the gates of Raymond James Stadium to compete on college football’s ultimate stage with a shot at a national championship.
Much has changed since September, when Sarkisian took a job with Alabama as an offensive analyst, a role in which he had limited in-game duties and was not permitted to talk on his headset, per NCAA policies. But now he’s Alabama’s offensive coordinator. Lane Kiffin left the program last Monday to take over full time at Florida Atlantic.
And for the first time all season, it will be Sarkisian in the press box calling all of the offensive shots, having had only a week to prepare for the biggest game of the year when Alabama faces Clemson.
“I don’t think I could have foreseen it four months ago,” Sarkisian said Saturday.
“I wouldn’t go with ‘nervous’ — I’m excited. This is what I love to do. I’ve been doing this a long time, I’ve been fortunate to have coached in some big games in my career. Obviously this is another big one.”
Certainly there’s been no shortage of chatter and buzz about what this sudden change in staff might mean for Alabama, who has a true freshman quarterback facing one of the most potent defenses in the country in Clemson’s unit.
But at least two Alabama coaches with former ties to Clemson are confident in Sarkisian’s ability. Billy Napier is Alabama’s wide receivers coach and spent two seasons as Clemson’s offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010 — the youngest coordinator in Clemson history — before Dabo Swinney fired him.
Burton Burns is Alabama’s running backs coach, having spent from 1999 until 2006 in the same role at Clemson.
“I think the biggest thing is (Sarkisian) and Lane were able to talk about it, where Lane was at during his transition. All of (Sarkisian’s) decisions are well thought out, but more than anything, he has a sincere appreciation for the players and the work that they’ve put in,” Napier said.
“I didn’t know Sark (at the beginning of the season) but I had people who were friends of mine who had worked with him in the past and more than anything, what you see is Sark’s extremely talented, he’s very qualified.”
Sarkisian enters the title game with a decorated resume, having served as the quarterbacks coach for the Oakland Raiders and the head coach at Washington and Southern California prior to this Alabama stint. At Southern Cal, Sarkisian struggled with alcohol consumption, and was let go in 2015.
Burns indicated that the transition to Alabama has been a smooth one, and that while Sarkisian’s role changes drastically Monday night, those of the assistants stay the same.
“I’ll continue coaching the running backs. I think this is what assistant coaches do anyway, so it’s not a major adjustment because our job is to help each other, whether it’s the offensive coordinator, whether it’s the O-line coach or whether it’s the head coach,” Burns said. “We get caught up in that routine, so it’s not that big of an adjustment for us.”
As for the one person who it is a large adjustment for — Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts — “it is what it is,” Hurts said Saturday.
Monday should provide some answers.
“It’s a big difference because ... you know, you’re hearing this voice, you’re hearing this guy, you’re hearing this guy and then you got another guy that’s coming in. So it’s kind of weird,” Hurts said.
“But at the same time, it’s something that we’re going to have to get used to ... we have complete confidence in Coach Sark, and we think he’ll do a great job come Monday.”