Steve Sarkisian arrived in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday as the Texas Longhorns’ new head coach fresh off winning a national championship with Alabama on Monday night.
In his introductory news conference, Sarkisian made it clear he expects nothing less from the Longhorns on his watch.
“I came here to win championships,” Sarkisian said. “That’s the goal. We’re here to chase greatness, to win championships. That’s why I’m here. That’s what’s going to drive us every single day.”
And he isn’t preaching patience, either.
“I don’t think it’s going to take us as long as many might think,” he said. “We’ve got a talented young roster. I think we’re going to hire a tremendous coaching staff. And we’re going to continue to recruit the best players in the state of Texas.
“This work will be all gas and no brakes,” he said. “We will lay down on the hammer and go get it.”
The day after serving as offensive coordinator in Alabama’s 52-24 win over Ohio State, Sarkisian was introduced following statements by Kevin P. Eltife, chairman of the UT system board of regents, Texas president Jay Hartzell and athletic director Chris Del Conte.
“I am so proud that you are our head football coach,” Del Conte said. “I cannot wait to see what you do. If there’s any indication from what happened last night, come on!”
Del Conte said the three administrators served as the search committee and that in one of their earliest discussions, Eltife said, “How about that boy Sark?” Both Del Conte and Hartzell followed by saying he was high on their list, too.
“Probably the first time I sat there, walked out of that meeting going, ‘Holy cow,'” Del Conte said. “We actually agree. We had our guy.”
Sarkisian, 46, is their guy because he was arguably the hottest coaching candidate in the country after coaching record-setting Crimson Tide offenses. This season’s averaged 48.5 points per game and featured the Heisman Trophy winner in receiver DeVonta Smith, another Heisman finalist in quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris, who finished fifth in the voting.
A former BYU quarterback under LaVell Edwards, Sarkisian also was an assistant to Pete Carroll at USC during the Trojans’ historic run, as well as an NFL assistant with the Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons.
But as a head coach at Washington and USC, Sarkisian went 46-35, and was fired at USC after he struggled with addiction to alcohol and painkillers.
He spoke Monday about what he has learned since then and what it means to get another shot as a head coach.
“When you go through adversity in life, in the end, you have perseverance,” Sarkisian said. “You have real-life examples of what perseverance looks like and then you’re willing to share those with young men. My job ultimately with these guys is to just show them a better way, to show them a way where they can continue to grow. Because they need the guidance. They need the leadership.”
Sarkisian is Texas’ third coach since Mack Brown resigned in 2013. The Longhorns have the history, tradition and resources to be among the sport’s elite, but have struggled to return to that spot. Tom Herman went 32-18 in four seasons and was fired after going 7-3 this season with losses to Oklahoma, TCU and Iowa State.
This season also was marked by controversy around the postgame singing of the “Eyes of Texas,” after players said it had a racist past, noting it was first performed in a minstrel show in Austin. Sarkisian said he did not expect it to remain an issue.
“As it pertains to the ‘Eyes of Texas,’ that’s our song, and we’re fired up to sing it,” he said, after earlier speaking of trying to bring UT fans back together.
“When you talk about Texas and the University of Texas, this is not something you can do alone,” Sarkisian said. “We need a unified Longhorn nation. It’s going to take all of us collectively, working in it, working in the same direction to achieve the goals that clearly we want to achieve.”
And while he’s a California native whose Texas experience consists mainly of playing in a Cotton Bowl as a BYU player, he said he got the message pretty quickly.
“I know not to go thumbs-up and it’s Hook ‘Em,” Sarkisian said, in reference to Texas A&M’s “Gig ‘Em” sign. “I know that much, so let’s start with that. And I know it’s Texas first before the other schools, so those two things jumped out at me today.”
He didn’t escape the traditional “welcome to the rivalry” question, either, being asked whether he would be in favor of resuming the annual UT-A&M matchup.
“I would love to play that game,” Sarkisian said. “I think it’d be great for the state of Texas. I would look forward to it.”
Sarkisian had an unusual vantage point to the last Longhorns national championship. In the 2006 Rose Bowl, Sarkisian was watching from the USC sideline as Longhorns QB Vince Young scored with 19 seconds remaining to lead Texas to a 41-38 victory and end the Trojans’ dynasty.
“I can remember … being on the opposite sidelines and watching him run that ball in the end zone and watching those stands and the burnt orange and white,” he said. “The Hook ‘Ems. I mean all of the rich history and tradition that was there that day. And now here I am today standing before these men and women, and all of and all the state of Texas and this great university. As the head football coach. That is very humbling. And it’s an honor.”