It is true that every time I post something about Steve Sarkisian on this site, traffic doubles. Commenters come out of the woodwork to insert their opinion that either a) Coach Sark saved the Washington program from the abyss or b) did nothing more than establish a culture of mediocrity with players who were far more talented than ever accomplished.
I promise that the point of this article isn't to provide click-bait for the mother ship to rejoice over. There is a point to cover, though it might take me a while to get there.
It cannot be debated that Sark owns a significant part in the fabric of this program. Now that he has been officially announced as the new offensive coordinator at Alabama, this is as good a time as ever to reflect upon the life and times of our former coach.
From a football perspective, this announcement is about as surprising as poop in baby diapers. The departure of Lane Kiffin to the football purgatory that is Florida Atlantic left an opening on the Alabama staff. Nick Saban, who more resembles a feudalistic, medieval monarch more so than just about any other living, breathing American, filled that opening by hiring what the typical ‘Bama fan sees as Kif 2.0.
In reality, this is a much more shrewd move. Sark has many of the same attributes that Kiffin possesses. He’ll be a sharp recruiter for a head coach that doesn't like to dirty his hands with that sausage-making. He’ll be a relatable coach who knows how to relate to millennial players in a way that old-school Saban will not. He’ll also be an innovative play-caller who will recognize the talents of his personnel and leverage those in his system.
But he is different than Kiffin in many respects. The most obvious is that he has rock-bottomed to a level that Kiffin has yet to go. The conditions surrounding his dismissal from USC - in particular the multiple incidents of public intoxicaction and the pursuant reports of very questionable behaviors involving women, booze and expense account abuse during his time at UW - were devastating to both his personal life and his professional aspirations. He was not hireable at any level and he lost his friends, his professional network and his family. Only a Nick Saban (or maybe a Bill Belichick?) has the gravitas required to reclaim a man like that and, by all accounts, Sark has started putting the pieces back together. I’d argue that he is a more serious and humbled coach at this stage of his life than is Lane Kiffin.
On the field, Sark is both a better tactician and a more versatile offensive coach. Husky fans have seen evidence of this in many forms. In his first game against LSU in 2009, Sark surprised everybody by putting up nearly 500 yards of offense on the #11 LSU Tigers and their vaunted SEC defense. In 2011, Sark demonstrated his versatility by switching to an innovative brand of up-tempo, rhythm offense that was rooted in pro-style concepts. That offense broke Husky records in overall productivity (at least until this year). Sark’s recruiting prowess and charisma is also a factor. While at UW, he delivered some of the better offensive talent the program had ever seen such as Chris Polk, Bishop Sankey and John Ross.
Nick Saban took a trip to the local scrap heap and found himself a serious upgrade for his ‘Bama offense. That he did so just in time for his Peach Bowl matchup with the team that Sark himself picked up from that same scrap heap is a development dripping with football irony.
Whether or not he is calling the plays, Sark will help Alabama. He’s a good offensive coach who has the respect and attention of his players. He has also had the opportunity to prepare an offensive game plan against a Chris Petersen defense three times in his career - even managing to win one of those matchups (while taking a second as close to a win as you could get). That experience is like gold to Saban and the rest of the staff.
I don't really know if Sark will ever again have the trust of a college president or NFL billionaire to get back into a head coach’s seat. I'm not sure that he even desires that at this stage of his life. But I do know that this once-broken man has found his way back. As an offensive coordinator, he is back on familiar ground with his footing underneath him. Protected by Saban, he will have room to grow and to demonstrate publicly his maturity. With the cache of ‘Bama, the conditions are ripe to succeed.
Welcome back, Sark.