So, your football team has just hired Steve Sarkisian to become the new offensive coordinator for a unit that turned in one of the best seasons in NFL history.
You’re probably thinking, “Wait, you mean that guy who also blew a fourth-quarter lead in a championship game? Why’d we get that guy?”
You aren’t wrong to think that the hire might be a bit on the nose, but Sarkisian brings a lot to the table for this Falcons offense. He’s much more than the coach who lost one game as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.
For starters, it appears that Dan Quinn knows what type of offense he wants his teams to run. Sarkisian’s schemes are similar to those Kyle Shanahan employed, in that they utilize a variety of outside zone runs and play-action passes.
Sarkisian can also vary his running approach and implement power looks into his offense, as he did on this Bo Scarbrough touchdown against Clemson in the national championship game.
Behind a pulling guard and a lead-blocking tight end, Scarbrough bounced the play to the outside and outran the defense for a 25-yard touchdown.
Both Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin like to use the jet sweep as a wrinkle in their offense. Naturally, Taylor Gabriel comes to mind as a player the Falcons could utilize in this capacity. Jet sweeps aren’t nearly as common in the NFL as they are in college, but that’s something Sarkisian has experience with.
On Scarbrough’s second touchdown run, Sarkisian used motion to set his tight end up across the formation where he could then cross the formation and seal the backside. Alabama’s line did a great job of blocking at the point of attack, and the result was a 37-yard touchdown run.
Sarkisian also knows the subtleties of setting up plays for later in the game. Early against Clemson, the Crimson Tide threw multiple screen passes out of the same look before faking that play and finding O.J. Howard wide open for a 68-yard touchdown.
Previous coaching success
Sarkisian’s coaching success has been overshadowed by his personal battle with alcohol, but he was one of the hottest young coaches before his career became derailed.
In 2001, Sarkisian was hired as an offensive assistant at USC under offensive coordinator Norm Chow and head coach Pete Carroll. He served as the Trojans’ quarterbacks coach from 2002-03 before accepting the same position with the Oakland Raiders in 2004.
Sarkisian then returned to USC with an assistant head coach title in 2005 and became the team’s offensive coordinator in 2007. In Sarkisian’s two seasons as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator, USC averaged over 35 points per game.
In December of 2008, Sarkisian was announced as the Washington Huskies’ next head coach, inheriting a team that went 0-12 the year prior. Washington finished 5-7 in Sarkisian’s first season, including a 16-13 upset of No. 3 USC. He would then lead the Huskies to seven-win seasons from 2010-12 and an eight-win season in 2013, before accepting the head job at USC.
The Trojans went 9-4 in Sarkisian’s first season, the most wins by a first-year head coach in school history, and averaged 35.8 points per game.
Sarkisian’s personal problems eventually cost him his job at USC, but he is adamant about his sobriety now and says he’s reevaluated his life.
Comfort with Quinn
Although the two have never coached on the same staff, Sarkisian and Quinn have plenty of connections. Most notably, the two were key assistants for former USC and current Seattle coach Pete Carroll. Nick Saban is also a prominent connection for the two coaches.
When rumors began to circulate that Chip Kelly was a serious candidate for the Falcons’ offensive coordinator position, many worried that his controlling ego would cause problems in the locker room and with the coaching staff.
Sarkisian won’t bring these potential problems with him. He and Quinn have had some of the same mentors and similar career paths. After his humbling bout with alcohol, Sarkisian should be refocused and eager to help this talented team.
Overall, this is a hire that few, if any, were expecting. Quinn has proven that he’s deserving of our trust, however, and Sarkisian is a competent coach who can bring the most out of this offense.
Quinn brought in the engineer for one of the best offenses in NFL history, and it’s unlikely that he’s going to veer too far off that path with this hire.