Steve Sarkisian is reportedly set to interview for Auburn's vacant head coaching position on Sunday. It would be a big opportunity for the 46-year-old, who is currently serving as Alabama's offensive coordinator. While Sarkisian has seemingly turned his career around with the Crimson Tide, hiring him would be an enormous risk for Auburn.
Sarkisian is well-liked and respected throughout college football. He, like Lane Kiffin, were looked at as part of a new wave of young offensive minds when they coached under Pete Carroll at USC in the mid-to-late 2000s. Both men wound up with major head coaching gigs in their mid-30s as a result. Sarkisian went to Washington and attempted to turn around a program that had bottomed out under Ty Willingham. The results were decidedly mixed.
During his five years with the Huskies, Sarkisian posted a 34-29 overall record and went 24-21 in the Pac-10/Pac-12. His best season came in 2013 when Washington went 8-4 and 5-4 in conference. That's not exactly a great resume in five years at a program. Sarkisian did prove he could recruit his tail off and elevated the level of prospect the Huskies competed for. One could easily argue the improvements he made laid the groundwork for Chris Petersen's successful run in Seattle.
After that 2013 season, Sarkisian was hired by USC to replace the departed Kiffin. In his first year he went 9-4 and 6-3 in the Pac-12. His first full recruiting class in 2015 was a monster, led by big names in Adoree' Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster. But his run at USC was stopped short that fall as he was fired after five games when he showed up to a pre-practice meeting while intoxicated. It was later revealed he had been involved in numerous alcohol-related incidents while at Washington.
Sarkisian underwent treatment for alcoholism after his departure from USC. In 2016 he joined Alabama's coaching staff, went on to be the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons from 2017 to 2018, then returned to Alabama in 2019 in the same capacity. He's been very good in that role the past two seasons.
If Sarkisian's substance abuse problems are behind him -- and we have no reason to believe they aren't -- then the only concern for Auburn would his record as a head coach. Gus Malzahn was fired after posting a 68-35 (.660) record at the school over eight seasons. In six-plus seasons coaching in the Pac-10/12, Sarkisian was 46-35 (.568). He just hasn't had a high level of success as a head coach.
Sarkisian can recruit and his offenses are typically very productive. And yes, he's older than he was during his time at Washington and USC, and potentially much more mature. He has also spent three years learning under Nick Saban at Alabama and two years in the NFL as an offensive coordinator since then. Sarkisian is almost certainly not the same guy he was when he was previously as a head coach. All that said, hiring him would be a huge risk for Auburn. The school would be banking on him somehow discovering how to run a successful program at some point in the last few years.
It's also worth noting that if Sarkisian goes from Alabama to rival Auburn, Saban will almost certainly make it his life's mission to bury him. You can bet the Iron Bowl would take on even more significance each year as the teacher would continually want to prove his student made a mistake. The thought of a motivated and focused Saban should terrify Auburn fans.
I personally think Sarkisian deserves another shot at a head coaching gig. He's served his time as an assistant in big spots and proven himself. I just think he's far too big a risk for an Auburn program that just fired a head coach with a better track record than the one it would be hiring.