CFB Writer: You Can’t Blame Steve Sarkisian

Well, that didn’t last long.

After calling plays for Nick Saban for one game, Steve Sarkisian is out at Alabama. The 42-year-old has been named the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. 

“He had just been named offensive coordinator,” CBS Sports college football writer Jerry Hinnen said in disbelief on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “I’m not exactly sure about all the ins and outs of (his) contract (at Alabama), but he had been named the permanent offensive coordinator. He took over for the Clemson game. That was the only game he actually called plays for for the Tide, but that was his job.”

Now it isn’t.

“I think Saban knew from the moment he brought Sarkisian in that he was going to be the replacement for Lane Kiffin, probably sooner rather than later,” Hinnen said. “But I guess if you’re Sarkisian, maybe he had a good look up front at what it’s like to be Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator, which is not a low-stress job. This is not a low-maintenance position to be Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator. I guess he figured, ‘I’ve got a chance to go coach Matt Ryan and maybe get in a Super Bowl or two myself,’ and I guess he decided to take it. It seems out of the blue from here, but the fact that this happened immediately after the Super Bowl, I have to think that this was set up already with Dan Quinn, set up with Sarkisian. I think Nick Saban probably has a plan in place for what he’s going to do now that Sarkisian has flown the coop.”

It’s also possible that Saban and Sarkisian didn’t have a great personal relationship and were already clashing about the offense.

“I think that’s certainly a possibility,” Hinnen said. “I’m not sure Nick Saban likes anybody. He is the ultimate ‘What can you do for me?’ kind of guy, and I don’t think he’s easy to work for. There are probably some guys who do fit with that mindset, who have fit on his staff, but he’s got some guys on that staff (that have been there a long time). There are guys (for whom) it works to be in that environment, and I think there are guys where it doesn’t. 

“I think offensive coordinator is the position on that staff that gets the bulk of Saban’s ire when things are not going well,” Hinnen continued. “We saw it with Kiffin. Saban has a short fuse. We’re all aware of that. That’s sort of the part of the team – the offensive play-calling, the game-planning – that he kind of has to trust to somebody else, and when it’s not up to par, as it was with Kiffin from time to time when Kiffin decided (to) throw the ball around (and not hand the ball to a) five-star tank (at running back), Saban could get a little testy.”

Indeed, Saban took Kiffin to the woodshed repeatedly in recent seasons, often blowing up on him on the sideline for all of the world to see. 

Sarkisian saw it, too.

“Whether it was necessarily a personality clash or whether it’s just kind of business as usual being the offensive coordinator at Alabama, I wouldn’t 100 percent say either way,” Hinnen said. “But again, I can’t blame Steve Sarkisian. If you’ve got an opportunity like going to the NFL, calling plays for one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL under one of the best head coaches in the NFL in Dan Quinn, I don’t think anybody’s going to blame him for jumping ship.”

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