We’re all trying to figure out what kind of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will be in Atlanta, but we do know he’s likely to keep the same kind of system that Matt Ryan flourished in this year, and that he loves strong ground games and no-huddle offenses.
To get more insight, we turned to the people who know him best: SB Nation college football blogs. During his time with Washington, USC, and even Alabama, these sites had the opportunity to get a closer look at Sark, and can help us understand who he is and what he might do in the NFL.
Here’s a mixed review from our friends at CougCenter. You’ll recall that Sarkisian spent a long time at Washington, developing some great players along the way, before he headed to USC. It was a turbulent tenure, too.
During Sark's time at UW, he established himself as an aggressive play caller and effective recruiter who rescued the Huskies from the depths of the 0-12 2008 season under Tyrone Willingham. He returned the program to respectability by sending Washington to four consecutive bowl games between 2010 and 2013, though he left for USC prior to that last bowl game and did not coach the Huskies in it. However, he failed to elevate the program any higher than that (acquiring the nickname "Seven Win Steve" in the process), going 1-9 against Pac-12 North opponents Stanford and Oregon.
His teams played considerably worse on the road than they did at home, and perhaps most frustrating to Husky fans were the head-scratching annual blowout losses to teams that fielded comparably skilled athletes. At UW, Sarkisian was very skilled at identifying matchups on the field that benefited his offense, particularly in the passing game. He developed Jake Locker into a top-10 draft pick, and Keith Price from an undersized three-star prospect into a three-year starter. On the other hand, he never developed Washington into a team that played particularly well in the trenches, and his inability to recruit some of the best local prospects (Jake Heaps, Josh Garnett, Zach Banner, Max Browne and Myles Jack, to name a few) was a constant source of annoyance for local fans.
Of course, the elephant in the room is his drinking problems, which were well chronicled during his time at USC. Sark and his staff's propensity to hit the bottle and party hard in their free time was something of an open secret in Seattle, though few predicted that it would lead to the depths that he eventually hit in Los Angeles.
Here’s an X’s and O’s look from SB Nation at Sarkisian as he took the USC gig. Here’s a very relevant line:
Hurry-up, no-huddle offenses with packaged concepts are the future for big programs with talent and depth advantages over their opponents. On both sides of the ball, Sarkisian is bringing schemes and tactics that represent where football is today.
Again, we can fully expect that Sarkisian is going to work with some of the same concepts Kyle Shanahan and this offense had so much success with. This will be a fast, dynamic offense. Our own Adam Schultz tells Jeanna Thomas that Sark was in charge of third down playcalling at Alabama and had the offense converting at over a 50% clip, and he’s going to have much more talent to work with in Atlanta. As long as there aren’t drastic changes to this scheme and a major loss of talent, this feels like (at the very least) a solid pickup, but I’ll be reserving real judgement until I see the product on the field, as we all should.
The drinking problems are going to come up over and over again, and the Falcons must feel like they’ve vetted him sufficiently on that front to make the hire. Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic about the hire, and with the pieces the Falcons have on offense, a top ten finish in scoring and yardage seems like a strong possibility even without Kyle Shanahan.
Welcome aboard, Sark!