Bohls: Texas' Sarkisian did his homework, honed in on the best, not most familiar
- Sarkisian said assembling a staff was like "putting a jigsaw puzzle together."
- Sark didn't know half of his new assistants very well, but heeded Nick Saban's advice.
- Too many Texas head coaches have been doomed by questionable staffs.
Steve Sarkisian is very much his own man.
That much is obvious now, if it wasn’t already.
It became clearer Friday when Sark unveiled his new coaching staff at Texas and revealed he didn’t just roll through his cellphone contacts and bring in all his friends.
Heck, he didn’t even know all that well five of the nine he's just hired.
And that’s a compliment, not a red flag.
“It wasn’t necessarily about hiring people that I knew or that I was close to,” Sarkisian said. “It was about trying to assemble the best staff I could hire. We really did a good job of putting the jigsaw puzzle together.”
Didn’t really know Stan Drayton or Andre Coleman, the two holdovers from the previous regime, but Sark admitted he admired them from afar. Didn’t know well his new safeties coach, Blake Gideon, the four-year Longhorns starting safety, but had heard buddy Lane Kiffin rave about his bright future.
Wasn’t on a first-name basis with Washington defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski but was impressed with what he did know and respects the hell out of him. Wasn’t close to Terry Joseph either, but really liked what he saw from the Notre Dame secondary coach when they played the Irish in the CFP semis.
Oh, Sark was well aware of all of them and their reputations in the coaching community, and he did extensive research. But he wasn’t locked in to his best friends.
As Nick Saban taught him, “you hire the best people.” Amen to that.
And no one does that better than Saban, who has turned over his entire staff since 2017 and still just won a national championship. He changes assistants the way others do socks, but mostly because they get hired away, as Sark has, adding three off Saban’s staff, not counting himself.
Hiring a staff is a tricky deal. “Intricate process,” Sark called it, and he’s right.
These are the coaches who do the legwork for the staff, who meet the principals and the English teachers and guidance counselors and high school coaches and mommas and daddies and uncles and aunts. They’re the ones who form the closest relationships with their position players on campus, the ones to whom players can vent and on whose shoulders they can cry. They’re the lifeblood of a program, right after the players.
In short, they can make or break a head coach.
Too many Longhorns head coaches doomed their chances almost from the outset when they relied too much on loyalty to their pals in the business and cheated themselves out of possibly better candidates for the job.
Hiring your buddies never is a smart thing.
Tom Herman did it when he came from Houston and brought along most of his assistants, whom he jettisoned en masse three years later. Too few had Power Five stops on their résumés. A year ago, he fired seven of 10 from his staff, including both of his coordinators, and he paid the price when the pandemic cost them spring practice and summer bonding and continuity.
Chris Ash was a blockbuster hire to run the defense, and Mike Yurcich was fine on the offensive side, which is one reason he worked at Ohio State before Herman plucked him out of Columbus and at Penn State afterward. The man can coach. But that combination only lasted one brief year and couldn’t save Herman.
Charlie Strong also had his share of misfires but was denied the chance to hire Chad Morris and NFL guys because of Steve Patterson’s fiscal austerity. Chris Del Conte isn’t holding Sark back as Patterson did Strong.
Strong also wanted Longhorns connections by hiring former Texas wideout Les Koenning Jr. from Mississippi State and retaining running back coach Bruce Chambers in large part upon Mack Brown’s recommendation for his Dallas recruiting roots. Both were gone in a year, but Strong lasted just three seasons. Mack famously lured here some of the best names in college football. Greg Davis, for all the boos he enlisted at Royal-Memorial Stadium, was one of Texas' best coordinators ever, even if fans want to forget that his 2005 offense, led by Vince Young, averaged 50 points a game.
Brown also hired one great defensive mind after another, from Greg Robinson to Will Muschamp to Gene Chizik, along with Duane Akina, maybe the best secondary coach this school has ever had. Even Manny Diaz was a quality coach. He just ran into Taysom Hill too often for his own good.
Sark, on the other hand, killed it with a veteran defensive coordinator in the sharp but humble Kwaitkowski, a star who has excelled at Washington and has been “a thorn in my side over about the past decade every time we butted heads with him.”
There’s no more important hire for an offensive-minded head coach like Sark — who will call his own plays — than his defensive boss, and Kwit checks a lot of boxes.
A Texas head coach also needs a connection within the UT family and inside Texas high school coaching circles. And Drayton, Coleman, Gideon, special teams coordinator Jeff Banks (14 seasons at Texas A&M, UTEP) and defensive line coach Bo Davis (a Mack man and one-time Galena Park North Shore assistant) more than accomplish that.
In the end, Sark got his man. Whether he knew him or not.