It was surprising news when the Atlanta Falcons announced the hiring of Steve Sarkisian to replace Kyle Shanahan. While Shanahan designed a record-breaking offense, Sarkisian was only briefly in the NFL almost 15 years ago. How badly should this offense regress?
Pete Prisco of CBS Sports wondered the same thing, and wrote a beautiful profile on Atlanta’s new play caller. The result? I’m pumped about the new offensive coordinator. It’s easy to say the right things in the offseason, but it sounds like Sarkisian embodies Quinn’s brotherhood mantra.
We know plenty about Sarkisian, which is usually summed up by his college coaching experience, and of course, his public firing from one of the biggest football programs in America due to alcohol. He’s been open about it, and seems to be in a much better state of mind than when he was coaching USC.
Sarkisian looks healthy. He's trimmer and appears to be of clear mind and he genuinely seems happy and at peace where he is personally and as a coach. Both are major challenges.
The hire looks like a Quinn decision, as the two have reportedly been close for years.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn has known Sarkisian for a long time. They got to really know each other when Sarkisian was coach at Washington and Quinn worked on the Seattle Seahawks staff. It's a relationship that continued as both soared up the coaching ranks. When Sarkisian's career went bad, leading to his public firing at USC, Quinn kept in touch. Sarkisian spent a year away from coaching, but made it a point to visit with other coaches and teams, including spending time with the Falcons last year during camp. Quinn and the Falcons did a thorough vetting of Sarkisian before offering him the job to replace Shanahan in February.
Quinn knows what he is getting with Sarkisian, and I think it is going to result in an improvement with team chemistry. It may be easy to forget about Shanahan’s troublesome first season in Atlanta, but I don’t expect a repeat of that.
Sarkisian and Ryan have already hit it off as coach-coordinator. And make no mistake about it: The offense won't be changing much.The terminology will stay the same, although there will be tweaks in some areas, but not the run game, which is a zone-based scheme.
What does Prisco think about his potential fit in Atlanta?
There are those who have their doubts whether he can do it. Shanahan was considered a brilliant offensive mind, and he is that. But he had his troubles too. Arrogance led to his botching the end of the Super Bowl, calling pass plays in situations where runs would have ended with the Falcons hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Shanahan can grate on the players too. Ryan has never publicly chafed at the way Shanahan handled him in his two years, but others around the team have said the relationship had issues at times. They worked through it, but Sarkisian appears to be a much better fit with Ryan from a personality standpoint.
Shanahan’s first year started strong, but ended with player complaints, player-only meetings, and an anemic offense that couldn’t put up points against anyone. It was terrible to watch, but things obviously improved in year two.
Can Sarkisian pickup where Shanahan improved?
Those who doubt that the offense can be the same -- and there are many in the media who wonder -- are off base. It's just football, and Sarkisian is a bright, smart offensive mind with a veteran MVP quarterback to make the thing work.
The Falcons will be just fine on offense -- maybe better. After all, I don't think Sarkisian would throw a pass late in a Super Bowl after a big play put your team in range of what would have been the likely game-clinching field goal like Shanahan did.
I don’t want to downplay Shanahan’s ability to draw up plays. Sarkisian still has plenty to prove. However, they are running the same scheme. The offensive players should remain the same, if not improve with the replacement of Chris Chester, the emergence of Taylor Gabriel, and another year of development from Tevin Coleman and Austin Hooper. Sarkisian has reportedly been more open with listening to players about what works and what doesn’t. Additionally, the offense may not be asked to do as much if the defense continues to improve as expected.
It’s entirely possible the offense doesn’t miss a beat, and some play-calling issues actually improve. After reading this piece on Sarkisian, I’m onboard with expecting another great offensive performance this year.