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The Dotted Line: Previous recruiting success bodes well for Steve Sarkisian at Texas

At Texas, Steve Sarkisian will need to concentrate on keeping the elite talent within the state. But the California native and former USC and Washington coach surely will continue mining the West Coast for recruits, too.

Steve Sarkisian, hired as Texas' third football coach since Mack Brown left in 2013, is charged with returning the Longhorns to the success that has not been attained since Brown's departure.

This will be Sarkisian's third head coaching job. He was hired by Washington late in 2008 and then by USC after the 2013 season. To win big at Texas, Sarkisian will have to close the state's borders to talent poaching programs such as Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma and LSU.

Sarkisian has enjoyed recruiting success at previous stops, but mostly at USC. Washington is a hard place to recruit to; the state doesn’t produce many elite players, so it's up to the coaching staff to roam the West Coast for prospects. The Huskies' recruiting class ranked 19th in the nation and fifth in the Pac-12 the year before Sarkisian arrived.

His transitional class in 2009 ranked 75th in the nation and last in the conference.

New Texas coach Steve Sarkisian knows he has to close the recruiting borders to solidify his own recruiting efforts in the state. Elite national programs such as Ohio State and Alabama have been plucking the state's top prospects.

Sarkisian signed three full classes at Washington. His 2010 class was 19th in the country and fourth in the conference. The 2011 and 2012 classes ranked 24th in the nation and fifth in the Pac-12. For reference, Washington’s 2020 class ranked 17th in the nation and second in the conference. 

Sarkisian is a West Coast native, and his return to USC as the head coach unleashed his recruiting potential. The Trojans signed the 13th-best class in the country and the second-best in the Pac-12 in 2013. His transition class at USC was the 2014 cycle, and it ranked 10th nationally and first in the conference.

The 2014 class signed by Sarkisian included cornerback Adoreé Jackson and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Nineteen of the 23 players in that group were from California. There was one Texan: Houston Lamar cornerback John Plattenburg. 

Sarkisian planted his flag as an elite recruiter in 2015 when that USC class ranked second in the country and first in the conference. 

The 2015 class consisted of four five-star prospects and six players who ranked inside the national top 50, including running back Ronald Jones II. Jones, a Texas native, now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sam Darnold was also in that 2015 class. Nineteen of the 26 enrollees hailed from California. Jones and Cedar Hill running back Aca’Cedric Ware were the only Texans. 

The first goal for Sarkisian is to win football games. The next is to attract the top players in recruiting. And he wants to concentrate on keeping Texans at home. 

"We cannot let the top talent in the state of Texas leave the state of Texas," Sarkisian said Jan. 2 in his first meeting with Texas media after his hiring as the next coach of the Longhorns. 

But that doesn’t mean Texas will only recruit Texans. Tom Herman was a Californian and kept a pipeline open to the West Coast, even if most of those players never panned out in burnt orange. The Longhorns signed two Californians in 2018, including quarterback Cam Rising, who ended up transferring to Utah.

Texas' 2019 class had four Californians, including wide receiver Bru McCoy and linebacker De’Gabriel Floyd. McCoy transferred back to USC after the spring, and Floyd was forced to give up football because of stenosis in the spine. 

Sarkisian won’t stop recruiting California. He didn’t as the offensive coordinator at Alabama. He joined Nick Saban’s staff as an analyst before the start of the 2016 season. Lane Kiffin, who ironically preceded Sarkisian as head coach at USC, was the offensive coordinator there until he took the head coaching position at Florida Atlantic after the regular season.

Sarkisian once again replaced Kiffin, this time as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. He’d spend the 2017 and 2018 seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons before heading back to Alabama to be the offensive coordinator for the past two seasons.  

The Crimson Tide didn’t sign a player from the West Coast in 2019. That changed in 2020 when Sarkisian pulled in five-star quarterback Bryce Young, who was the top-ranked quarterback recruit in the country. Young, a 5-foot-11, 183-pound dual threat, could follow Sarkisian to Austin if he doesn’t like the outlook for his Alabama career. 

Sarkisian was hired because of his ability to coach offense. Even his Falcons teams in the NFL were ranked in the top 10 overall. His latest Alabama offense resulted in three Heisman Trophy nominations, including the winner. To sustain a winning program at Texas, he’ll also need to recruit the state and the nation. Sarkisian did that in his short stint at USC.

Doing it in Austin would result in Texas climbing back into national prominence.