Steve Sarkisian’s journey to the NFL was not a neat, tidy one. He didn’t jump from the head coaching gig at USC to the major leagues, as you’d expect. The chief reason for that, bluntly, was alcoholism.
We in sports media, like fans, are not good at talking about real world issues. Sark’s alcoholism will always be framed in the redemption narrative that’s so familiar in sports, but that narrative doesn’t really do justice to what he went through, or the fact that ones doesn’t train for a year and get over alcoholism. It’s a challenge Sark will live with the rest of his life.
The AJC’s Jeff Schultz, who wrote movingly of his son’s struggles with substance abuse, is the perfect man to write about Sark. He comes away with a very favorable impression of the new offensive coordinator.
There’s a striking anecdote at the beginning of this piece where Sarkisian has a “moment of awakening,” and it’s not the cliche of hitting bottom on a drunken bender. Thankfully.
His awakening was a TV show. He was sitting at his home in California one Sunday night in October 2015, a few nights after his USC football team lost to Washington. He was trying to unwind, processing the struggles of his professional and personal life, when “SportsCenter” came on the screen. Soon, there was anchor Scott Van Pelt, editorializing on New York Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia’s decision to check himself into treatment for alcoholism on the eve of the American League playoffs.
“He got commended and celebrated for recognizing his problems,” Sarkisian said Wednesday. “That sat with me. Here’s this guy getting ready to pitch in the playoffs, ace of the New York Yankees, and it was OK. I was dealing with the same thing, but I didn’t know if it would be OK. He was a like-person in a similar situation. Ultimately, that’s what gave me the confidence to do what I did. It gave me purpose. That was my moment.”
If Sarkisian is going to be great for the Falcons—and he certainly could be—he’ll need to be sober, humble, and work his ass off. It’s hard to read the piece linked above without thinking that he understands that, and he understands that being plucked from calling plays for one game at Alabama to the NFL is an opportunity that may only come once. Dan Quinn believes in him, and Sarkisian is willing to work. That should be enough.
Read the piece in full and understand Sarkisian a little better. We hope this journey, however winding, takes him to still greater places.