Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian made a public appearance in Mobile last week at L’Arche’s 25th annual Football Preview Dinner. As best I can tell, the planet didn’t fall off its axis, tourists entering the George Wallace Tunnel didn’t suddenly learn how to drive and the midday June heat around Mobile didn’t become bearable. There were also no Alabama state secrets shared that might lead to the Tide losing to Duke to open the season.
In other words, there’s no reason why Sarkisian or other Alabama assistant football coaches couldn’t make similar appearances around the state.
But that doesn’t fit with Nick Saban’s “one voice” policy when it comes to Alabama football. For the record, it defies Southeastern Conference rules for offensive and defensive coordinators to not be made regularly available to the media during the season. But the conference office has long since made it clear it has no desire or backbone to enforce that rule.
For those of us in Mobile, there is actually a great side effect to this. It means the L’Arche dinner every year is a rare chance to hear from some of the top assistant coaches for the Tide. There have been some memorable appearances in the recent past, including offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, before he was playfully accused of shirtlessly riding a shark and then turned that faux controversy into a blowout that eventually led to his firing as head coach at Florida.
Then, last year, Scott Cochran gave a performance that was exactly what everyone expected from the high-energy, constantly screaming strength and conditioning coach. If you remember, this time last year there was something of a quarterback controversy at Alabama, with Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa both vying for the job.
My job at the L’Arche dinner every year is to talk to the headliners on stage and nudge them toward the topics people come to hear about. As I spoke to Cochran before his turn on stage, he said, “Don’t ask me who the starting quarterback in going to be. I’m not answering that.” I told him he didn’t have to answer, but I was going to ask anyway, which led to this opening exchange to start the appearance on stage:
Me: “Who’s going to be the starting quarterback at Alabama this year?”
Cochran (screaming): “I told you that if you asked me that I was going to headbutt you!”
Me: “Why so angry?”
Cochran (now smiling): “Because you knew you were going to make me mad.” From there, Cochran delivered exactly what fans came to hear.
There was no such outburst — playful or otherwise — from Sarkisian last week. In fact, I’ve never met a high-profile coach who was easier to like or comfortable to be around.
It was to be expected that Sarkisian would be comfortable in a public setting. After being a star quarterback at Brigham Young, he went on to be the head coach at Washington and Southern Cal.
Sarkisian has spent the last two seasons as offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons after his one game as Alabama’s offensive co- ordinator following the 2016 season. It’s a dubious record, and not exactly fair because of extenuating circumstances, but Alabama was 16-0 immediately before Sarkisian became offensive coordinator and 27-1 immediately after he was offensive coordinator. But during that one game when Sarkisian left his role as an analyst to call plays, the Tide lost 35-31 to Clemson. Of course, the quality of the opponent had a lot to do with that, as did the fact Sarkisian was thrown into the role when Lane Kiffin abruptly left.
During his visit to Mobile, Sarkisian was both informative and entertaining.
“I think Coach Saban is a tremendous football coach, obviously that goes without saying. He doesn’t need my endorsement for that,” Sarkisian said. “He’s very detail- oriented, he’s very organized. There’s a reason behind everything that we do. I appreciate that. I operate that way. I like having structure, I like knowing what the plan is for the day. We’re extremely efficient when we work. But more importantly, he’s a really good man. I think sometimes that gets missed in this — the compassion that he has for his players and his coaches, the desire he has for all of them to have success. It was a pretty easy decision to come back and work for him again.
I still have a lot of room to grow as a coach, and when you can get around somebody like Coach Saban to work under, to learn from, it’s a hard opportunity to pass up.”
After spending just a little time around Sarkisian, it’s safe to say that he has earned some fans in Mobile. Now, if he’ll just Run the Bawl everyone will be happy.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station. Follow him on Twitter @Kennedy_Randy
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