After Super Bowl Loss, Falcons Hire Steve Sarkisian


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Steve Sarkisian’s January was a whirlwind, and February opens with him on the move again. Sarkisian is headed to Atlanta as the Falcons recover from their loss to Tom Brady’s Patriots and begin retooling for next season.

As a consultant for the University of Alabama football team last season, Sarkisian was thrust into the offensive coordinator role when Lane Kiffin departed for Florida Atlantic. Kiffin’s rapid departure gave Sarkisian less than a week to prepare the premiere program in the country for the biggest game of its season, which Alabama lost to Clemson 34-31.

After coming up short in that one-game stint, “Coach Sark” is heading to Atlanta, where he’ll be calling plays for another runner up: the Falcons, who came within a hair’s breadth of knocking off the Patriots in this year’s Super Bowl. The call came the day after the Super Bowl, as Falcons management scrambled to replace Kyle Shanahan after his departure to San Francisco.

This carousel illustrates the old adage that nothing is certain in coaching except uncertainty, something Sarkisian knows all too well. His last tour of duty as a head coach ended in 2015, when he was dismissed from the University of Southern California, a job that could well have been his until retirement.

However, rumors of his battles with alcoholism constantly swirled during the 2015 season: there was a bizarre incident in which Sarkisian appeared to be intoxicated at a rally for boosters of the USC athletic program, as well as persistent rumors that he was inebriated on the sidelines during games.  Athletic director Pat Haden released Sarkisian after he showed up at practice in no condition to work. 

As he re-enters the spotlight, how will he handle the stress of the NFL’s coaching pressure cooker? In a recent interview with the Seattle Times, Sarkisian insists his treatment isn’t “necessarily in the past…It’s something I have to work on every single day.” As those in recovery know, alcoholism is not a disease that is ever put completely to rest, and Sarkisian is honest with himself about the willpower that will be required of him moving forward:  “This happens to be an issue of mine that I work on daily,” he said. “I’m diligent about that…It’s a piece of me, this disease…But it doesn’t define me. I have a lot more to offer than that.

As the second chance offered by Nick Saban turns into another shot at the limelight, Sarkisian is treading carefully and taking nothing for granted, particularly his continued recovery. “I’m not being negligent in the things I need to do.  That will make me, in the end, a better person.