Tramel: Steve Sarkisian and Texas shows that college football shops for coaches in Tuscaloosa
Americans shop Amazon. Athletic directors shop Alabama.
Tuscaloosa has become the first stop on the college football coaching search.
Case in point, Steve Sarkisian, who directs the Crimson Tide offense Monday night in the Big Bowl against Ohio State. Then it’s off to Austin for Sarkisian, who becomes Public Enemy No. 1 north of the Red River and in various locales south.
The Texas football coach always is a Sooner villain, not that any Alabama offensive coordinator is beloved anywhere between Marietta and Medford.
The title game gives the entire Big 12 a sneak peak at the latest Great Burnt Orange Hope, a club that no longer can fit in a Civic. Mack Brown, Charlie Strong, Tom Herman. All fired in an eight-year period.
How will Sarkisian fare? Who knows? Someone someday again will win Bevo big. Could be Sarkisian.
He’s not saying much. In the days leading up to the Ohio State game, Sarkisian said he preferred not to talk about Texas, and inquisitors mostly respected those wishes.
“Clearly I'm excited about the opportunity at Texas,” Sarkisian said. “It's a tremendous one for me. Looking forward to getting started there.
“My focus is on the game. I'm prepping for the ballgame. Any of the spare time that I do have, that's getting my attention for the job at Texas, whether that's staffing or recruiting, things of that nature.”
What? You thought he might tell us whether or not Casey Thompson will be the Longhorn quarterback in 2021?
Nope, we’ll have to wait on Texas news. And we won’t garner many clues on the Bevo offense from watching Bama. The Crimson Tide has three of the top five players in the Heisman voting. Sarkisian inherits a different scale in Austin.
But maybe we can gauge Sarkisian via the Nick Saban lineage. The Great Saban has been sending coordinators to head-coaching jobs since Alabama’s reign of terror began more than a decade ago.
“We're happy for him relative to the opportunity that he's created for himself by the great job that he's done for us here,” Saban said of Sarkisian.
Any coach who doesn’t incur Saban’s wrath is ahead of the game. Lane Kiffin, remember, was Saban’s offensive coordinator in 2016. Two weeks before the semifinal Peach Bowl, Florida Atlantic announced Kiffin as its new head coach. Bama beat Washington 24-7 with Kiffin in charge of the offense, but Saban told Kiffin to scram before the title game against Clemson. Sarkisian, spending that season in Tuscaloosa as a non-coaching analyst, was elevated to coordinator. Alabama lost to Clemson 35-31 in the marble game.
Saban is accustomed to such interruptions. He’s lost defensive coordinators Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee) and Kirby Smart (Georgia), plus offensive coordinators Jim McElwain (Colorado State), Kiffin, Michael Locksley (Maryland) and now Sarkisian.
Why do so many universities covet Saban assistants? Sometimes, the answer is self-evident.
“I think it's the fact that we win, first and foremost,” said Alabama tight end Miller Forristall.
“But it's the system and the process that Coach has instilled in not only his players, but every coach that comes here. They want to come here and learn under Coach Saban, and people want that.
“People want Heisman Trophy winners and championship games and just to play really good football day in and day out. I think people are trying to get a taste of that from Coach Saban, honestly.”
Smart has been a Georgia home run. The others? Various stages of mediocrity. Of course, the same could be said for the jobs they took.
“We've had a lot of great coaches here and they've done a great job for us, and we're always happy to see them get opportunities,” Saban said. “That's what I think they work hard for … Sark has done a marvelous job here. He's very well-organized. He works very well with all the people in the organization, players and coaches alike. He's a good play-caller on game day. He does a really good job of preparing the players gameplan-wise for each and every game.
“I think he'll be very successful as a head coach. And he's taken over a good program, so it's going to be challenging for anybody that plays them in the future, I think.”
That’s what Texas counts on. The Longhorns’ program has dipped. Mid-level Big 12. One conference championship since 2009. One top-two Big 12 finish since then.
Sarkisian has been involved with big-time programs, including Southern Cal in its glory days 15 years ago, Alabama now and even quarterbacking Brigham Young to a 14-1 record in 1996.
“I've been fortunate enough in my career to be around some pretty good players,” Sarkisian said. “You can go all the way back to the USC days when we had Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Matt Leinart, a great offensive line.
“Even a year ago when we had Tua (Tagovailoa) and (Jerry) Jeudy and (Henry) Ruggs on this offense. I've been very fortunate and very blessed throughout my career.”
Sarkisian will have good players in Austin. But Reggie Bush good? Tua good? Jerry Jeudy good? Not right away. Maybe not ever.
But he’s got one last hurrah at Alabama with the likes of DaVonta Smith and Najee Harris and a Crimson Tide machine that regularly churns out head coaches and championships, which is what brings shoppers to Tuscaloosa.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.