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Throughout the 2000s, Texas was where it felt it was supposed to be in the college football world under Mack Brown. The Longhorns never finished lower than 13th in an AP postseason poll, won the Rose Bowl and 2005 national title, and made it to the 2009 BCS Championship, falling to Alabama in Pasadena.
Since then, Texas has had four underwhelming seasons under Brown, then three straight losing records under Charlie Strong, before returning to underwhelming the past four years under Tom Herman, whose saving grace in his four years at the helm was perfection in bowl games.
But even a 55-23 thumping of Colorado in this past week’s Alamo Bowl wasn’t enough to save Herman’s job after Texas had three losses in this truncated season, to TCU, Oklahoma, and Iowa State. Herman being more in tune with the social moment and racial justice than his peers? That doesn’t matter if the wins aren’t there.
That’s fine. The vultures have been circling Herman for a while, and a program that’s treading water is well within its rights to go in another direction. The school’s statement even acknowledges that there’s been “measured progress,” but that a coaching change is necessary to “get us on track to achieving our ambitious goals.”
But that change being… Steve Sarkisian? Uh…
Sarkisian started his head coaching career at Washington, where he had records of 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6, and 8-4, with a 1-2 bowl record. Sarkisian then went to USC, went 9-4 with a Holiday Bowl win his first season, and was fired at 3-2 in 2016 after appearing inebriated and cursing at a pep rally. Sarkisian sued USC, claiming that instead of being fired, he should have been allowed to seek treatment for alcoholism, but an arbitrator ruled that Sarkisian had tried to hide his condition from his employer.
Alcoholism shouldn’t be held against anyone, but results should. Sarkisian’s head coaching record at other schools has been quite Hermanesque, and while he’s had two stints as an assistant at Alabama, in between those stints was Sarkisian spending two years as the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, after which he was fired and returned to the Crimson Tide.
You can certainly understand why Texas would be interested in Sarkisian after watching him direct Alabama’s offense this year. The Longhorns would love for Bijan Robinson to be their Najee Harris, for Joshua Moore to be their DeVonta Smith, for Casey Thompson to be their Mac Jones. The problem with Herman wasn’t his recruiting, it was an inability to make that talent work on the field.
But the only thing on Sarkisian’s resume that hints at an ability to do such a thing to Texas’ lofty standards is his time at Alabama. And Nick Saban’s coaching tree is not the most reliable source for picking someone to lead a successful program. For every Mario Cristobal or Billy Napier, there’s a Jim McElwaine and a Jeremy Pruitt. And for what it’s worth, Cristobal was an assistant at Oregon before ascending to the top job there, while Napier stopped at Arizona State as offensive coordinator before going to Louisiana.
Brown came to Texas after leading a historically meh North Carolina program to six straight bowl games in the 1990s, including back-to-back 10-win seasons and a top-5 finish in his final year. Strong’s solid work at Louisville and Herman’s at Houston show that past performance is not indicative of future results, but going with Sarkisian is a move that shows Texas doesn’t really have big ideas, they’re just going with a big name that’s been connected to some form of success, and hoping that somehow works.