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The 'First Lady of Texas football,' Loreal Sarkisian, talks coaching (she did that too), life in Austin and those game day fits

Loreal Sarkisian doesn't really buy into luck. She's not one to carry out any special game day rituals, and you won't catch her rewearing a particular item of clothing each weekend. 

For someone who's become known for elevating the Texas Longhorn game day fit, it wouldn't really work, stylistically speaking. 

Instead, she has approached Longhorn football games, where she cheers on her husband and Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian from the stands, the same way she did track meets when she ran competitively in college and later at the professional level. 

"Never any superstition. The work is put in prior to game day. It's really that simple," Loreal Sarkisian told the American-Statesman in an exclusive interview. "If I didn't put enough money in the bank, then it wasn't going to be as smooth." 

Loreal Sarkisian, wife of University of Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian, watches the team warm up before the game against Texas Tech University at Darrell K. Royal stadium in Austin Sept. 25.

The way she sees it, that sort of matter-of-fact thinking applies to most things. If you want to see results, you have to put the time in. That's true for relationships, as a community member seeking change and looking to give back, as an athlete and, yes, as a coach. 

Being married to one of the highest-paid college football coaches in the country, at a program where it seems everything is staked on making that long-promised return to the top, isn't Loreal Sarkisian's only brush with a coach's mindset.  

At the height of her competitive running career, still recovering from a serious injury that set her back just weeks before she ran in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, she was offered an opportunity she hadn't seen coming. 

"I was still running so well. I had it all before me," said Sarkisian, who first started running at the age of 5. "You really don't think something like this is going to happen the way it did for me. I was still in the middle of my running career and I was asking myself, 'Am I really going to leave this to go coach?'"

She was.

Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian hugs his wife, Loreal, before the Sept. 25 game against Texas Tech.

Sarkisian accepted a coaching position at the University of Southern California in 2013 where she led both men's and women's sprints and hurdles training for three years. At the same time, just a field away, Steve Sarkisian served as the school's head football coach prior to his firing after a struggle with alcoholism and incidents of intoxication on the job.

Although the opportunity was unexpected, Loreal Sarkisian said she always felt somewhat destined for a career in coaching.

"I came from a family of coaches. I grew up with people telling me, 'You're going to be a coach one day,'" Sarkisian said. Her mother, Loretta Smith, a high school track and field coach, guided her through the sport as a young athlete and prepped her for competition at the collegiate level. "For a very long time, everything was just for fun. She didn't try training me hard till high school, which is good because track is a sport you can really get burned out on."

After being recognized as an All-American hurdler at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the Tallahassee native swapped coaches, but kept it in the family. Sarkisian's godfather, Mike Holloway, head track and field coach at the University of Florida, took over her training — but not without a few gentle nudges to consider mastering coaching on the side.

"I shied away from it at first, but eventually I came to my goddad and said, 'You know, when I'm in town and I'm not competing and I'm not training, I want to be a part of the team and learn from you,'" Sarkisian said. "It was more than just me and him being on the track. I had homework. There's a certain level of learning that has to be achieved as you go. He helped prepare me for what was to come."  

When asked why she stepped away from coaching or if she would consider returning to the profession, Sarkisian laughed.

Loreal Sarkisian discusses an outfit being modeled at a fashion styling event  Sept. 24 at Neiman Marcus in the Domain. Loreal Luciana, her personal styling company, offers to style for photo shoots, red carpets, commercials and more.

"Part of the reason why I stopped is it is very difficult for two serious coaches to have a successful relationship and see each other," Sarkisian said. "I've been approached by different universities and professionals. ... I don't decline because I don't want to coach or because I'm disinterested. I understand the time and sacrifice it takes to be with a coach at my husband's level. To know that there's a possibility that I could never see him, I don't know that that would work in a marriage."

She laughed again and then, after pausing added, "Plus, I have a whole business now, too!"

Loreal Luciana is her personal styling company that offers to bring a taste of the signature style she's become known for to photo shoots, red carpets, commercials and more. 

Sarkisian set the standard for the level of fashion-forward game day outfits fans could expect to see at Royal-Memorial Stadium each week, after she donned a black cowboy hat, white-fringed blouse and Western-inspired belt for the Longhorns' season opener in early September. 

"Game day is no different for me than any other day of getting dressed. That is who I am," Sarkisian said. "People are like, 'Oh my God, you're so dressed up!' and I'm like, 'I am?'"

Sarkisian, again citing her mother's influence, said she was taught from a young age to be thoughtful about her appearance and how what you wear can tie back to your self-esteem and feelings of competence.

"That's what I grew up understanding," she said. "You have to present yourself. What would you want people to say about you if you couldn't talk to them? Because the reality is people aren't always going to be able to talk to you to get to know you. How you present yourself speaks for you before you ever do."

Since, for now, a return to coaching is off the table, Sarkisian considers her work as a stylist one of the ways she can contribute as a member of the Austin community after moving to the city earlier this year.

"It's been developing a lot just in the little time I've been here. I'm excited to see that and bring my own extra flair to the city," Sarkisian said. She has previously visited Austin for track meets. "I'm trying to be out and about and just see where I'm living, and everyone has been very welcoming and kind."

While Sarkisian does plan to continue to scout out the city's local boutiques until she lands on a favorite, it's less likely you'll find her on a taco tasting tour.

"I like tacos. I do," Sarkisian said before trailing off. "They're not my go-to. When I find the best taco, that'll really be saying something." 

If Sarkisian's instincts are right, she'll have plenty of time to find a taco that speaks to her. 

"I always said I wanted to move to Texas. I don't really see myself not being a part of this community (in the future). I have grown a huge love for Texas," Sarkisian said. "It's so overwhelming — the love and outpour. You move, and you don't know what to expect. I am just really grateful people have welcomed me with open arms and embraced me and what I am."