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Texas dumps Tom Herman, hires Alabama coordinator Steve Sarkisian in career reboot

University of Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, 46, will be the University of Texas' next head football coach after Tom Herman was fired Saturday. Sarkisian will help coach in the College Football Playoff national championship game on Jan. 11, then join the Longhorns.

University of Texas head football coach Tom Herman was fired Saturday morning after four years with the school, and the Longhorns' new coach, University of Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, was announced before dinner time.

It was a head-snapping day of school-issued press releases, but one that ultimately ended with Sarkisian, 46, becoming the 31st head coach in UT history.

“I have to say, a lot of emotions but all the good ones,” Sarkisian said in a late afternoon Zoom call with reporters. “I’m excited, I’m pumped, I’m honored, I’m humbled to be named the head coach of the University of Texas.”

Sarkisian has a 46-35 record in six seasons as a head coach at Washington and USC. He was fired midway through his second season at USC in 2015 when reports broke that he had shown up drunk to a team meeting. He later sued USC for wrongful termination but lost in court.

Sarkisian has been rebuilding his career with the Crimson Tide. He will help coach No. 1 Alabama against No. 3 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff national championship game Jan. 11 and then join the Longhorns. The deal was completed hours after Alabama beat Notre Dame in the CFP semifinals Friday.

The hiring also completes a circle in Sarkisian’s football journey. He was the quarterbacks coach at USC when the 2005 Longhorns beat the Trojans in the Rose Bowl for the national championship.

“We all want Texas to be back,” Sarkisian said. “We all believe Texas should be back. But the reality is you have to put in the work.”

Alabama head coach Nick Saban, right, hired former USC coach Steve Sarkisian, left, as an offensive analyst in the 2016 season and then promoted him to offensive coordinator for the 2017 College Football Playoff national championship game.

Everything about the coaching situation — UT's flirtation with former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, followed by a lukewarm statement Dec. 12 supporting Herman and now the Sarkisian hiring — is decidedly un-Texas. The simple fact that UT System Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife’s name was in the press release signaled this decision was driven from the top. 

“We are excited to have Steve Sarkisian join us and lead the next chapter of our football program,” Eltife said in a statement.

Ultimately, UT regents would have to sign off on changing coaches anyway. Herman still has three years remaining on a contract with $15 million in guaranteed money. UT officials must pay an additional $10 million to buy out Herman’s assistant coaches, although it’s possible Sarkisian might keep some.

UT Athletics is totally self-sufficient. All athletic department revenue is generated through ticket sales, TV sponsorships and private donations. Details of Sarkisian’s contract were not immediately available.

Rounding up all that money to buy out Herman’s contract might sound difficult. But UT athletic director Chris Del Conte and UT President Jay Hartzell were constantly pounded by boosters who, for whatever reason, simply didn’t like Herman.

Herman could not be reached for comment Saturday after UT’s first statement about his firing was released around 10:30 a.m. “Chris has recommended to the university president, Jay Hartzell, that UT make a coaching change to get us on track to achieving our ambitious goals,” it read in part.

“Sometimes you get to where you want something different,” a source close to Herman told the American-Statesman. “I really think that’s what this is about.”

UT coach Tom Herman went 32-18 in four seasons with the Longhorns, but had just a 9-10 record against ranked teams and was 1-4 against rival Oklahoma.

Herman's record

Herman was 32-18 in four seasons at Texas, including a 4-0 record in bowl games. However, he never came close to reaching the amazing highs UT fans hoped for when he was hired away from the University of Houston after the 2016 season. 

UT played in one Big 12 championship game during Herman’s four years. He also was 9-10 against teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. Herman’s teams were 1-4 against rival Oklahoma.

Herman obsessed about playing everyone via personnel rotations, almost to the detriment of the team. Nothing epitomized that more than the three-man running back rotation this season. When freshman Bijan Robinson exploded in the final two games for 443 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns, fans wondered why Herman hadn't played him more all season long.

But it was Herman’s off-field behavior that perhaps truly enraged fans, boosters and even school administrators.

Herman mocked the Missouri quarterback at the end of the 2017 Texas Bowl. He ran onto the field looking to fight Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy in Stillwater in 2018. TV cameras caught him head-butting defensive end Malcolm Roach before the Baylor game in 2019.

The most striking moment came when Herman was caught giving two middle fingers to a Longhorn Network camera mounted inside the coaching staff’s meeting room — on national signing day in 2019. Herman later said he was just telling a story about some Oklahoma fan, but few bought that explanation. 

Still, Del Conte had issued a statement Dec. 12 that said flatly: “Tom Herman is our coach.” He later clarified to media outlets that the statement meant for the 2021 season. 

Del Conte couldn’t lure Meyer out of the Fox TV studio; the retired coach said he wasn’t pursuing a coaching job for medical reasons. No other choice moved the needle like Meyer, so Del Conte figured his best bet was to stand pat with Herman.

Clearly, something changed. Or perhaps someone wrote a check or issued a directive that changed Del Conte’s mind for him. Herman was operating under the assumption he would remain the coach, a source close to Herman said. Del Conte told Herman about the change Saturday morning.

Sarkisian's past

National reporters are rooting for Sarkisian and his story about getting a second chance. The Seattle Times unearthed receipts where Sarkisian was reimbursed $1,023 for alcohol-related purchases in 2012 and 2013. The Los Angeles Times later discovered reimbursements for $1,118 over six school-related trips from 2010-13. 

The Trojans were 12-6 under Sarkisian when he was put on indefinite leave at USC. Sarkisian would later check into alcohol rehabilitation as he worked for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. “We all go through things in life,” Sarkisian told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2017. “We all have things to deal with. This is an issue I work on daily.”

Sarkisian’s name was connected to the Colorado job, but he ultimately chose to go back to Alabama after leaving the Falcons. Alabama coach Nick Saban first hired Sarkisian to be a low-paid analyst in 2016, and he was promoted to offensive coordinator for the 2017 CFP national championship game. 

“When you’ve gone through what I’ve gone through in the public eye, I don’t want to say you’re humbled, but you are,” Sarkisian said. “I’m proud of the work that I’ve done. But I will say when you battle what I battle, you have to work on it every day."

Now, he’s has a new task ahead of him in lifting the Texas program back to the national stage.