Nick Saban showed Steve Sarkisian compassion others wouldn't, making Saturday matchup possible

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

Steve Sarkisian was set to join the Alabama football staff, but he had to complete one more interview. He needed to stop by Nick Saban’s house.

More specifically, he needed to have dinner with Saban and his wife, Terry Saban.

“Anytime coach Saban hired somebody on that staff, myself included, he made sure Miss Terry meets you,” Sarkisian told The Tuscaloosa News. “That’s kind of like the final stamp of approval.”

The stamp was received, and Sarkisian soon started as an offensive analyst.  

He spent the 2016 season with Alabama, including a stint as offensive coordinator in the national championship game. Then Sarkisian joined the Atlanta Falcons as offensive coordinator for two seasons before he returned to the Crimson Tide as offensive coordinator in 2019.  

He left Alabama after the 2020 College Football Playoff Championship to take the head coaching job at Texas. This week, Sarkisian will have a chance to face his former team as No. 1 Alabama (1-0) travels to face No. 22 Texas (1-0) on Saturday in Austin, Texas (11 a.m., FOX).

He might not be on the opposite sideline if not for the willingness of the Sabans to take a chance on him.

“They didn’t have to hire me,” Sarkisian said, “knowing what I had been through.”

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Sarkisian was fired in October 2015 from his job as coach of USC after several alcohol-related incidents. That same month, he decided to enter rehabilitation for his issues with alcoholism.

His next football opportunity didn’t arrive until Alabama. Sarkisian joined the Crimson Tide’s staff the following September.

“I think as (the Sabans) got to know me and made that commitment and that willingness to hire me and support me in my own journey, at that point showed me a ton of compassion when others maybe wouldn’t have,” Sarkisian said. “I am forever grateful to them for that.”

Sarkisian had met Saban a few years before. The Texas coach recalled first visiting with Saban in the production trailer on the set of ESPN's "College GameDay" show. Sarkisian had never met the matriarch of Alabama football, though.

Not until that final-stamp-of-approval dinner.

“When you get behind closed doors with he and Miss Terry, they’re two of the most compassionate people I’ve ever been associated with, whether that’s to other coaches, whether that’s to their players, to people they interact with,” Sarkisian said. “I think that has always left a lasting impact on me, the compassion they have for others is inspiring, quite frankly.”