Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has been named the Atlanta Falcons’ next coordinator, the team announced Tuesday. Previous OC Kyle Shanahan accepted the San Francisco 49ers head coaching job after Atlanta lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI, for which Shanahan takes a share of the blame.
Sarkisian was named Alabama’s full-time coordinator after the Tide’s victory over Washington in the Peach Bowl semifinal. He took over for Lane Kiffin, who had accepted the head coaching job at FAU. Sark, who joined Alabama’s staff as a consultant at the start of the 2016 season, coached the Tide during their loss to Clemson in the National Championship.
Multiple sources have confirmed to SB Nation that after meetings with Alabama head coach Nick Saban following the Championship, the relationship between Saban and Sarkisian deteriorated amid disagreements in “system philosophy,” per one source. Both parties planned to move on following Signing Day last Wednesday, and Saban was aware of Sarkisian’s contact with the Falcons.
One source described the problems between Sarkisian and Saban as “too similar” to the relationship between Saban and former coordinator Kiffin.
“There was an effort on Saban’s part not to repeat the same problem. This wasn’t going to work out,” a source close to Sarkisian told SB Nation.
Sark’s only NFL experience was in 2004 as the Raiders’ QB coach. His time as USC head coach, one of three times he’s replaced Kiffin, ended due to a battle with alcoholism, for which he entered rehab treatment. The end of Sark’s days at USC weren’t very pretty.
Following the title game loss a month ago, Saban defended Sark’s coaching of the offense, which put up 31 points and 376 yards in the defeat.
I think the players handled it very well. I think we scored 31 points in the game, which I think was pretty good against a pretty good defense that actually shut out Ohio State last week. I think we had some drops. I think we had some tipped balls. I think there was things that we could have done better.
But I thought the preparation was good. I thought the organization was good, and I thought we gave our players a chance in this game to have success. Was it challenging? Yes. Did everyone involved handle it extremely well? Absolutely.
As a coordinator and assistant, Sark’s been part of several elite college offenses.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has a few obvious connections to Sarkisian (both were in Seattle a few years ago, Quinn as the Seahawks DC and Sark as Washington’s head coach, and both have worked as coordinators for Pete Carroll), and the Falcons front office is tight with Alabama head coach Nick Saban, for whatever that might be worth here. Saban and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff both come from the Bill Belichick tree, and Saban’s advice was instrumental in convincing the Falcons to trade up for Julio Jones in 2011.
Quinn says the two-back stuff, play action is consistent with what Sark did at USC, UW, Bama. No big changes, maybe things to add, though— Jeanna (@jeannathomas) February 7, 2017
Essentially, they are adding Sark into existing system. Not incorporating these players into Sark's system.— Jeanna (@jeannathomas) February 7, 2017
Quinn said he pretty much had Sark in mind from last spring knowing Kyle could leave. Didn't mention it to him until it was a possibility.— Jeanna (@jeannathomas) February 7, 2017
Sarkisian inherits the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense, with plenty of both young and veteran talent, and likely a bit less in-game pressure to score than Shanahan faced at times, considering the rapidly improving Atlanta defense. However, it’s also worth noting that both Sark and the Falcons just coughed up championships in which they probably should’ve ran the ball more.
Quinn has evidently had his eye on remaining a spread-friendly team, with Chip Kelly reportedly a top OC target at one point.