TAMPA — Steve Sarkisian was downright serene at Saturday’s Media Day, which only made sense. This isn’t his first rodeo. He was an assistant coach and co-offensive coordinator (with Lane Kiffin, about whom more shortly) at USC under Pete Carroll in the glory years of Bush and Leinart, which nearly yielded three consecutive national championships. He has been head coach at Washington, a big-time program, and also at USC, which is among the very biggest.
That Sarkisian became Alabama’s offensive coordinator on short notice won’t faze him. That was set to happen anyway. Owing to Lane Kiffin’s inherent brattiness, it’s just happening sooner than expected. But plays are plays and headsets are headsets, and Sarkisian — not to put too fine a point on it — isn’t Kiffin.
Trying to juggle two jobs — he’d accepted the head coaching position at Florida Atlantic — and wrangle his considerable ego, Kiffin lost the plot against Washington in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Everybody in the world could see that Alabama needed only to hand the ball to Bo Scarbrough except for the guy charged with ordering handoffs. Kiffin had been late to meetings, which YOU DO NOT DO under Nick Saban, and loose with his just-unzipped lip in Pete Thamel’s eye-opening story for SI.com.
Dr. Nick’s diagnosis: Distraction.
Enter Sarkisian, who was one of two fired USC head coaches on staff in Tuscaloosa. His story is even stranger than Kiffin, who’s simply an entitled jerk. Sarkisian was dismissed by the Trojans for coming to work inebriated. He got word he’d been fired on his way to a rehab facility.
Amid all the questions about play-calling posed Saturday, someone asked Sarkisian how he was getting along. “I’m doing great,” he said. “Thanks for asking.” No brattiness here.
For all those who believe Kiffin might be missed in Monday night’s game against Clemson … he won’t be. He brought some very good things to Alabama’s offense, but his play-calling could stump the band. (Go back to Bama’s loss to Ohio State on Jan. 1, 2015.) As Saban said post-Washington: “We had 25 plays for negative yardage, so what do you think I saw?”
The guess here is that Sarkisian will need no prodding to hand Scarbrough the ball. His predecessor did. (Against Washington, with eight minutes remaining in a 17-point game, Kiffin ordered a pass on first-and-10.) The guess here is that Alabama will be better for the change in both the short and long run, no pun intended. Sarkisian is working to get his life squared away. It’s unclear whether Kiffin ever will.
College Football Playoff reading: