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Texas coach Sarkisian opens about his vision, recruiting, ice cream at fundraiser luncheon

At Boys and Girls Clubs luncheon, Sarkisian on his advice to his 15-year-old self: ‘Looking back on it, I would remind myself to be brave’

Texas football coach Steve Sarkisian speaks to the Boys and Girls Club in downtown Austin on Thursday, at the Fairmont Hotel.

Kids should get the microphone more often. Most times they ask better questions anyway, especially the inquisitive ones involved with the Austin-area Boys and Girls Clubs.

In a packed ballroom on the seventh floor of the Fairmont Hotel, with about 300 adults looking on Thursday, Steve Sarkisian couldn’t escape.

“What is your favorite ice cream?” one girl asked the Texas football coach.

“This is tough for me, because I feel like I’m going to leave some flavors out,” Sarkisian said. “But if I were to choose one, I would probably choose cookies and cream.”

More:Texas coach Steve Sarkisian lands one commitment, plenty of buzz during big weekend

His other answers Thursday were far more revealing once the lunchtime prattling and cutlery rattling reached a standstill.

If coaching didn’t work out, what was your backup career? In a curious way, Sarkisian’s answer shed light on his unshakeable belief that Texas can once again become a football powerhouse.

“I’m going to admit to this group here,” Sarkisian began. “I was in sales before I became a football coach, and this was in the dot-com boom era. Part of why I figured I would be a decent football coach, I was selling things that didn’t even exist. I was selling vapor. I was selling for a dot-com that didn’t exist and I was kicking ass. It was amazing.”

The gasps when coaches are giving real talk never cease to amaze.

“At that point, I felt if I can sell something that doesn’t exist, surely I can sell a football program and a great university,” he added. “That’s what I probably would have done if I didn’t want to be a coach.”

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And finally, from a high schooler, Sarkisian was asked what he’d tell his 15-year-old self. His message would resonate with a 15-year-old Sark as much as it would with today’s Longhorns.

“Looking back on it, I would remind myself to be brave,” Sarkisian said. “When I was young, and even now I have to remind myself, that I’m cautious at times. Sometimes I think, well, maybe that’s not meant for me. Or, somebody else is better at that than me. I don’t want to go do that.

University of Texas at Austin football coach, Steve Sarkisian. June 16, 2021.

“I look back sometimes now in my youth and even my early career of high school and into college was to be brave and go for it.”

Sarkisian told the crowd — and his three young interrogators — that anything can be achieved “through effort, trying and willingness and putting in the work.” 

There have been some trying times since Sarkisian took over at Texas on Jan. 2. 

For the first time publicly, Sarkisian admitted that he and his wife Loreal both were diagnosed with COVID-19 just one week on the job. “They shut down the entire football floor for a week,” he said. “The first week our players are coming to meet their new head coach, a new coaching staff, and we don't get to see any.”

Then, the brutal winter storm hit, shutting down the entire region for about a week. Eventually, spring practice began but got shut down almost as quickly due to too many positive COVID-19 tests among the players. 

Once spring practice resumed, it was mostly all systems go as the players finished out the semester. Then on May 6, linebacker Jake Ehlinger was found dead. Austin police still have not released a cause of death, and a spokeswoman said the toxicology report has not been completed.

Still, through it all, Sarkisian likes what he sees. “The way we’re coming together,” he said, “I couldn't be more proud of our team.”

The Longhorns are planning to move into the totally renovated Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center on Aug. 2. Sarkisian also told those in attendance that “I’ve got to believe it’s going to be louder in DKR now” with the enclosed south end zone. 

Control what you can control. That’s what coaches always say, right? So Sarkisian is doing just that.  

His sole focus this month is recruiting, since the NCAA opened things back up on June 1 and allowed on-campus visits. Sarkisian said his staff is hosting 45 recruits on official visits this month, another 200-250 unofficial visitors and hosting 10 camps. On official visits, UT is allowed to pay for a recruit’s travel and meals; the parents or athlete must pay for everything on an unofficial visit.

“We had 16 months with no on-campus recruiting getting slammed into 27 days,” Sarkisian told a small group of reporters before the luncheon.

The 2022 recruiting class currently has 11 commitments, and the group ranks seventh nationally, according to 247Sports. Five-star running back Rueben Owens, part of the 2023 class, announced Thursday he was decommitting from UT, though.

More:Rueben Owens, one of the Class of 2023's top running backs, backs away from Texas pledge

Asked to describe last weekend’s huge recruiting push, Sarkisian said, “It was a great vibe. I love to recruit. Recruiting is our lifeline. I joke, but I say this a lot: the plays we run look a lot better when really good guys run them.”

Sarkisian also added, “It’s not just about the physical attributes, I think it’s about digging into the personal character of the kid, the families. Our staff has been fully invested in the recruiting process. Our entire team has. I think they’ve done a great job. Now, it’s a unique scenario.”

Sarkisian did not really address any specifics about the 2021 Longhorns during his keynote luncheon address. No quarterback talk, for example. There’s plenty of time for that at Big 12 media days in mid-July and when preseason practice begins come August.

If anything, Thursday was about Sarkisian putting himself out there in Austin — even though he’s yet to coach a single game in Royal-Memorial Stadium. Getting up on that stage, surrounded by impressionable both young and old, was brave, in a sense.

“From day one, when Loreal and I got to town, we really wanted to be part of the community,” Sarkisian said. “It’s one thing to talk about wanting to do something; it’s another to be about it and take action. 

“This was a great event for us to connect with — connect with the people, connect with the community, connect with the Boys and Girls Club and the youth in the city of Austin,” he added. “We’re honored and humbled that they’re having us and having me come and speak.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.