January 2021

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Texas Longhorns put their trust in offensive guru Steve Sarkisian ESPN Editor

Dave Wilson has been the editor of ESPN.com since 2010. He previously worked for the Dallas Morning News, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Las Vegas Sun.

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Texas Longhorns put their trust in offensive guru Steve Sarkisian Senior editor ESPN

    • University football reporter
    • Since 2007 on ESPN.com
    • A graduate of the University of Tennessee…

Steve Sarkisian’s patience as an attacker last year is matched only by his patience with the other schools that have come his way.

After Sarkisian was hired by Texas to replace Tom Herman, who was fired on Saturday, his patience is put to the test in a job that is often determined not only by the challenges he faces on Saturday, but also by the challenges he faces in his spare time.

Part X and O is a trifle at this point, said the former Texas assistant coach Saturday. Most people who go there are good football coaches. That complicates everything else.

Sarkisian has taken an already explosive attack on Alabama to another level. He returned to Alabama in 2019 as Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator and achieved an average of 47.2 points per game in his first full season. Alabama surpassed that brand this season, averaging 48.2 points per game to place second national.

As Alabama coach Nick Saban recently told ESPN, a good defense can’t defeat a good offense, and Sarkisian’s attack over the past two seasons has been a stark reminder of that – making him one of the hottest players in college football, and in the end the Texas coach has failed to bring the Longhorns back to an elite level.

There’s a lot of talent on this team, Sarkisian told reporters Saturday night. I think this team has championship skills. Clearly there is work to be done, otherwise nothing would have changed.

Herman set a record of 32-18 in four years in Texas, including a 10-4 record in 2018. Overall, he has a 54-22 record as head coach, including two seasons in Houston. Sarkisian has a record 46-35 as head coach in five seasons in Washington and two seasons at USC. His best season as head coach came in 2014 when he went 9-4 at USC before his career was derailed by a sudden death. In August 2015, Sarkisian reportedly sought help mixing alcohol and drugs for a school event. In October of the same year, he took a leave of absence after sources reported that he seemed to arrive at the command facility drunk. He was fired later that week.

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But after attending Saban’s training school while rewriting the Alabama record books, a year ago Sarkisian was at the top of search engines at several schools and refused a head coach position in Colorado. A year ago he also had SEC candidates, and last month he turned down Auburn’s offers to become head coach.

As a former USC and head coach of Washington, Sarkisian could afford to be picky. After all, he earned $2.5 million a year as the offensive coordinator of Alabama, which coaches great players and plays for championships.

In short, Sarkisian waited for the big event before venturing back there, and Texas qualifies as the big event.

While Texas’ resources and recruitment base make the job attractive, these factors do not always lead to success. Since their first Big 12 title in 1996, the Longhorns have won two more titles, in 2005 and 2009. Oklahoma, meanwhile, have just won their 14th straight game. The win, the sixth in a row, is one of the reasons why the Longhorns have hired their third head coach since Mack Brown retired in 2013.

Charlie Strong won 16-21 in three seasons and was fired in 2016. Herman has won more times, but his 32-18 record includes a 1-4 score against Oklahoma and home losses this season against the TCU and Iowa State.

We all want Texas back, Mr. Sarkisian said. We all think Texas should come back. That’s why I’m taking this job. But the reality is we have to work hard. And when you start this adventure, you get the results you want.

Off the field, the controversy over which players remained on the field for the Texas Eyes threatened to eclipse their season, especially after the loss to Oklahoma, when quarterback Sam Ehlinger was the only player who stayed on the field and sang his alma mater. Athletic Director Chris Del Conte made a statement shortly after, in which he said he expected the players to get together for the song.

For years, coaches from Darrell Royal to Brown have talked about the importance of keeping all the boosters in line, repeating the beloved royal analogy of opening a box of BBs and throwing them everywhere, and then trying to put all the BBs back in the box.

Easier said than done.

When we arrived, Brown said to the UT publication in 2018. We’ll put it back in the box. Then they came back, and this place is so crazy about attention and rumors that some people don’t necessarily want you to get away with it, so it’s a lot harder.

The disturbance returned this season with a very public flirtation with the former state bus Urban Meyer from Ohio, followed by reports that Meyer had rejected the job. On the 12th. In December, Del Conte issued a statement saying he wanted to confirm Tom Herman as coach before he fired Herman three weeks after a 55-23 victory over Colorado in the Valero Alamo Bowl, as Texas finished the season 7-3.

Fault! The file name is not specified. After the Alabama attack reached a new level, Steve Sarkisian was killed for coaching Colorado and Auburn among others. AP Photo/Vasha Hunt

According to Sarkisian’s summary, the Longhorns can expect the explosive offensive that defined the Big 12.

A rival SEC defensive coordinator told ESPN that Sarkisian’s penchant for creating inconsistencies is one of the things that sets him apart as one of the best offensive minds in football.

He’s very good at articulating imbalances, whether it’s at the staff level or perhaps something as simple as getting on one side and getting everyone in the game and then leading the game, said the defense coordinator.

It can be a plan or just the creation of a real physical inadequacy of staff and then its implementation. He’s good at it.

Another defensive coordinator said that Sarkisian’s patience as a player was a lost art.

Most people are ahead of themselves and they can’t fix it, but [Sarkisian] is very methodical in the way he dissects you, the defense coordinator said.

One of the things all programs are looking for, especially in this era of high-potential football, is a coach who can train quarterbacks. Mack Jones, once an Alabama rearguard waiting to be summoned behind Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, has led the nation in passing yards this season, throwing 36 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. Jones is a finalist for the Heisman trophy.

For years, Texas has struggled to find its next big quarterback. Ehlinger, who started four seasons in Texas, stabilized the position and helped the Longhorns regain some ground as a quarterback, but has since announced his departure for the Draft NFL. He has a chance to come back in 2021 because the NCAA has granted all players an exemption allowing them to participate in the current season without considering their suitability due to the circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

His assistant, Casey Thompson, played an almost perfect game for the injured Ehlinger Tuesday night at the Alamo Bowl, making eight of the ten passes for 170 yards and four touchdowns. Hudson Card, in his second year the following season, was a coveted rookie, ranked 40th in the ESPN 300 ranking.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Casey Thompson, the second year quarterback from Texas of, replaced the injured Sam Ehlinger in the Alamo Bowl and made eight of the ten passes for 170 yards and four touchdowns. AP Photo/Eric Gay

Ehlinger was good, but he wasn’t Colt McCoy or Vince Young. Southlake, Texas quarterback Carroll Quinn Evers, the number one rookie in the class of 2022, had once signed with Herman, but quickly terminated his contract and is now under contract with the state of Ohio. One of the challenges for Sarkisian will be to get Ewers back to Austin or find another elite quarterback.

One of the things he’s so good at is playing three quarterbacks as well as they can, and that’s hard to do, said the SEC’s first defensive coordinator.

Of course, Sarkisian had elite talent in the Alabama attack, as evidenced by the two Heisman Trophy finalists this season, DeVonta Smith and Jones, who were both involved in the Crimson Tide’s attack.

He has very good working tools, but that should not be taken away from him as a game designer and designer, said the defensive coordinator of SEC. It’s not his fault he has all these players, because this guy can run the game.

Sarkisian’s playing ability has been documented. But Herman’s offensives as coordinator at Ohio State and as head coach in Houston were also very successful. Herman also had a decade of recruiting experience in small schools in Texas; he was a graduate student in Texas under Brown, and that wasn’t enough.

The fact that Sarkisian has learned how to run the Alabama program from his time in Washington and USC will be the most important factor.

When Brown was hired in December 1997, the then sports director of Longchorns, DeLoss Dodds, talked about the need to unite the broken fan base.

We need to get our alumni together, Mr. Dodds said. You have to fight for the University of Texas in good times and bad. They need to understand how important it is that we all support the football coach and the team together, because it means something to us in recruitment and to the players on the field.

This is Sarkisian’s biggest problem.

Sam Hahn Jr. contributed to this story.

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