UPDATE: Sarkisian has been let go by the Falcons, as expected.
For more than a month now, the Tennessee Volunteers have had a vacancy at their offensive coordinator position. Since Tyson Helton took the head-coaching job at Western Kentucky, there have been several names thrown out as potential replacements to call plays for the Vols. The two hottest names as of late appear to be Oklahoma State OC Mike Yurcich and Atlanta Falcons OC Steve Sarkisian. Multiple reports have Ohio State interested in making Yurcich their next play-caller, as well. Yurcich is a native of Euclid, Ohio, making a horizontal move to the Buckeyes seem more likely than him heading to the SEC.
With the rumors of Sarkisian warming up over the last couple days, the pulse of the Tennessee fan base has been tough to calculate. Peering through “VolTwitter,” there seems to be an even 50/50 split on whether fans think Sarkisian is a good option or not. There are solid points on both sides of the argument, but let me break down a few factors as to why Steve Sarkisian would be a homerun hire for Jeremy Pruitt and the Tennessee Volunteers.
Sarkisian has spent the last two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons where he posted the No. 15 offense in 2017 and the No. 11 offense in 2018. Those rankings may not sound overly impressive from the outside, but if you take a deeper look into the stats you will see its a respectable jump for an offense that lost starting running back Devonta Freeman to a season-ending groin injury after just two games. With Freeman being such a versatile and integral part of the Falcons offense out of the mix, it drastically changed their look. The Falcons are looking for a scape-goat, as well. After being just a play away from winning Super Bowl LI a few short seasons ago, head coach Dan Quinn won’t be that guy. Franchise QB Matt Ryan and star wide receiver Julio Jones aren’t going anywhere either. The only move that makes sense to calm the storm in Atlanta would be to move on from Sarkisian.
Prior to his stint in Atlanta, Sarkisian was a Pac-12 head coach at Washington and USC from 2009-2013 and 2014-2015, respectively. Before taking over at Washington in 2009, Sarkisian was the replacement for Lane Kiffin as USC’s offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008 after Kiffin jumped to the NFL. Under the guidance of Kiffin in 2006, the Trojans averaged 392 yards and 31 points per game. In 2007, Sarkisian’s first season with USC, those statistics jumped to 435 yards and 33 points per game. The following year in 2008, those numbers rose even higher to 455 yards and 38 points per contest.
Sarkisian went on to see mixed results as a head coach, but his ability to generate a high-powered college offense didn't wane. In 2009, his first year at Washington after taking over a 0-12 Huskies team, he helped them improve from 263 yards and 13 points per game to a stellar 376 yards and 26 points per game. Sarkisian did the same for the USC offense once again after returning as the head coach in 2014. In his only full season as the Trojan’s head coach, he would improve the offense from 399 yards and 29 points per game to an impressive 458 yards and 36 points per game.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room, one of the biggest concerns with Sarkisian is his documented off-the-field issues. Issues with alcoholism contributed to his dismissal from the USC program in 2015 and led to a $30 million wrongful termination lawsuit that Sarkisian would eventually lose. With all of that being said, since the various alcohol-related incidents that cost him the job at Southern Cal, Sarkisian has received treatment and kept himself out of trouble the last couple years.
Following the roller-coaster ride at USC, Sarkisian was offered a position at Alabama in September 2016 as an offensive analyst. Upon Lane Kiffin’s departure just days before the Crimson Tide was set to take on Clemson in the National Championship game, Sarkisian was promoted to offensive coordinator. The Crimson Tide would go on to lose that game on a late touchdown by the Tigers but put up 31 points in the losing effort.
Sarkisian has had an up-and-down career as a football coach at both the collegiate and professional level. The offensive-minded coach provides fans with many arguments over why or why not he would be a good option for the Tennessee Volunteers sputtering offense in 2019. I believe Steve Sarkisian would be a homerun hire for the Vols and I will leave you with just a few thoughts to consider:
Sarkisian has improved every collegiate offense that he has taken over from the regime that was there before him. He favors a pro-style offense that falls in line with the style of play 2nd year Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt prefers to run. He also has proven to be a solid recruiter and coached multiple Heisman contenders in Jake Locker and Cody Kessler in past years. At the pro level, Sarkisian has ran an offense on the cusp of being in the top 10. In addition to those accolades, Sarkisian also has experience in the SEC and coaching in a National Championship game. With the well running dry and the OC search having been ongoing for over a month now, Steve Sarkisian could be just what the Tennessee Volunteers need to get their offense back to the top of the Southeastern Conference.