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AUSTIN, Texas — The Nick Saban Rehabilitation Center will conduct about a four-hour infomercial Saturday at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. Star student: Steve Sarkisian.
And Saban’s not going to be wearing one of those horrid, light blue sports coats and having pretend fun with Deion Sanders and the Aflac duck.
Saban will be in full game face as his No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (1-0) will play at Southeastern Conference pledge Texas (1-0), which is expected to join the league by 2025, at noon Saturday on FOX. ESPN’s GameDay is here. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey is here. And Alabama is favored by 20 points.
Saban will shake hands before the game with Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, yet another former Saban assistant-turned-head coach. Saban will then try to improve his record against his pupils to 26-2. He dropped the first two last year, first to Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M just 107 miles from here, then to Kirby Smart and Georgia in the national championship game.
Steve Sarkisian: President Of Saban Fan Club
Sarkisian could be the president of the Saban fan club at the moment. He would get more votes, than say, Fisher. This is because Sarkisian thought he might have been done with college head coaching when he was fired by USC midway through the 2015 for alcoholism issues. His meteoric career was stopped cold at age 42 after getting his first college head coaching job at just 35 at Washington in 2009.
A Los Angeles area native, Sarkisian was signed up to be a college football commentator for FOX in 2016. But Saban, a life-long coach on the defensive side who has always had an eye for who can coach the other, sent Sarkisian a life line. After watching film with him informally over that summer, Saban decided to make Sarkisian an offensive analyst for Alabama in 2016. Sarkisian would start over.
In 2016, Sarkisian would work under Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who had lobbied Saban to hire Sarkisian. Just 41 at the time, Kiffin had been only 32 when he got a head coaching job too early with the Oakland Raiders in 2007.
Kiffin was Saban’s first well-publicized reclamation project. He had been fired early in the 2013 season as USC’s head coach when his team continued a spiral that began the previous season. But Saban liked Kiffin’s offense. And after looking at film with him that December, Saban hired him to be his offensive coordinator for 2014 when Kiffin was struggling to get a job on the level he wanted.
Sarkisian and Kiffin coached offense together and were co-coordinators at USC during the Trojans’ historic run under Coach Pete Carroll from 2001-09 that included the 2003 and ’04 national championships and a berth in the national title game in the 2005 season. Carroll is another defensive specialist who had an eye for budding offensive geniuses.
Saban Helped Kiffin Too
Kiffin’s offense dramatically altered the history of the Alabama program from 2014-16. Before him, Alabama ran a mostly plodding offense with quarterbacks who were more game managers. Not anymore. With Kiffin, Saban won his fourth national title at Alabama in 2015 and first with a state of the art passing offense. Two more have followed with the offenses Kiffin brought, even though he wasn’t there.
Kiffin rode the 2015 national title to another head coaching job at Florida Atlantic – effective at the end of the 2016 season. But Kiffin was not focused according to the Saban Standard leading into Alabama’s College Football Playoff against Washington in the 2016 season, and Saban fired him after the win over Washington. He replaced him with Sarkisian, the analyst. Alabama lost the national title, 35-31, to Clemson, but Saban decided to keep Sarkisian as offensive coordinator.
Only, Sarkisian bolted just a month later to be the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator.
And Saban, who was upset that Sarkisian left him at the coaching altar, still hired him back as offensive coordinator after the Falcons fired him following the 2017 and ’18 seasons. Saban remains friends, too, with Kiffin, who left Florida Atlantic after three seasons and has found success as Ole Miss’ head coach.
So, is this Satan, as Saban has been called throughout his career because of his devilish task master style? Or is this Father Flanagan?
“He gave me a chance when I had a hard time getting an interview, never mind a job,” Sarkisian told Chris Low of ESPN this week. “There were days when I thought, ‘Man, I’m never going to be a head coach again. I’m never going to be an offensive coordinator again. I’m never going to get another job.’ But Coach Saban took a chance on me when I needed somebody to believe in me again.”
My goodness, fit Nick for a white clergy collar now.
Rehab Projects Have Been Mutually Beneficial
Yes, Saban took a gamble on both Kiffin and Sarkisian. But he knew they could coach offense, and each helped him win a national title. So, it wasn’t all Father Flanagan.
But it hasn’t always been what Saban could get out of the situation. In 2003 while LSU’s coach, Saban hired Mike Collins, who had recently lost his job as the Louisiana-Monroe head coach after an alleged drunk driving incident when he drove his truck into a tree. There weren’t analysts at the time, so Saban made Collins an intern in strength and conditioning. After a year, Saban promoted Collins to linebackers coach for the 2004 season.
Saban probably didn’t learn any defense from Collins. He didn’t really need an intern for the strength coach. But he helped turn Collins’ career around. Collins went on to coach again as an assistant at Northwestern State, McNeese State, Louisiana-Monroe and is now and assistant at Neville High in Monroe.
Sarkisian believes sincerely he would not be coaching against Saban on Saturday had Saban not ended Sarkisian’s television career six years ago. And surely, there were other offensive coaches out there without personal issues that could have been successful under Saban.
“I’ve said this numerous times,” Sarkisian said. “I would not be the head coach at Texas if it weren’t for Nick Saban.”