TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If you got a kick out of Nick Saban’s last pick as offensive coordinator at Alabama, get a load of who he’s got coming in next.
Three years ago, he plucked ex-USC coach Lane Kiffin off the scrap heap and installed him as offensive coordinator.
On Friday, he went back to the well once more and nabbed another ex-USC coach in Steve Sarkisian.
The only difference is that this time Saban got a four-month head start, hiring Sarkisian as an offensive analyst in early September. Sarkisian worked side by side with Kiffin, formulating game plans for an offense that averaged 40.5 points per game. Now, when the season ends, he’ll move into Kiffin’s office and pick up where he left off.
This is vintage Nick Saban.
He doesn’t care about optics. He doesn’t pause long to think about headlines or how his decisions will go over on social media. If a coach or player can add value to his program, then they’re worth considering, plain and simple.
We can get caught up all we want with what happened after Kiffin and Sarkisian became head coaches, which boiled down to too many losses and too many off-the-field problems. But what Saban looks at is what got them there in the first place, which is cultivating a well-earned reputation as some of the best offensive minds in college football.
Whatever Kiffin’s standing was before, he worked out beautifully at Alabama. He helped set a slew of school records and had a hand in three consecutive trips to the College Football Playoff. And he did it with three different first-year starting quarterbacks.
The hope is that Sarkisian, who tutored Carson Palmer to the Heisman Trophy at USC and revamped Washington’s offense into one of the best in the Pac-12, will continue that level of success.
In fact, in terms of continuity, Saban couldn’t have done any better than Sarkisian, who got his start under Pete Carroll, just like Kiffin. The offense shouldn’t go through any noticeable changes and, as Saban said, “players are comfortable with people they know.” Sarkisian doesn’t need to get to know freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts’ strengths and weaknesses because he has been analyzing them for months.
With the likes of Hurts, wideout Calvin Ridley and running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, Sarkisian will have plenty of offensive firepower to work with next season. Who knows? If he does well and helps Alabama to a national championship, he could repair his image just like Kiffin did.
Sarkisian will need to stay on the straight and narrow, of course. But it’s not as if his troubles with alcohol are a secret. At least twice on Friday, Saban reminded reporters that he wouldn’t bring anyone into his program that he didn’t have confidence in. If Saban saw anything concerning during Sarkisian’s time as an analyst, he wouldn't have promoted him to coordinator.
While the rest of the world fixates on Sarkisian's past baggage, that's checked at the door with Saban. All he sees is opportunity.
That mindset worked with Kiffin. What’s to say that Sarkisian won’t prove to be worthy of the benefit of the doubt as well?