AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas was tired of waiting for Tom Herman to deliver a Big 12 title and turn the Longhorns back into national championship contenders.
Next up: Steve Sarkisian, the architect of the Alabama Crimson Tide’s offense and its tsunami of points this season.
Texas fired Herman on Saturday after four winning seasons, then hours later announced it was giving the job to the Alabama offensive coordinator.
It’s a quick move Texas expects will deliver quick results. The Longhorns are not known to be a patient bunch.
“I think there’s championship talent on this team. Clearly, there’s work to be done or a change wouldn’t be made,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian leads a Crimson Tide offense that has pummeled opponents and produced two Heisman Trophy finalists in quarterback Mac Jones and receiver DeVonta Smith heading into the Jan. 11 College Football Playoff championship game against Ohio State. He recently won the Broyles Award given to college football’s top assistant coach.
He’s also been around. At 46, Sarkisian has previous head coaching stints at Washington and Southern California. He’s been Alabama’s offensive coordinator under Nick Saban since 2019, and has experience as an NFL assistant.
Sarkisian will remain with Alabama for the championship game.
“Coach Saban wants to win a national championship, so he didn’t push me out the door,” Sarkisian said.
Texas wants Sarkisian to not just win — Herman did that with a 32-18 record and four bowl victories — but to knock rival Oklahoma off the top of the Big 12 while also making sure recruiting in their home state doesn’t get swamped by Texas A&M’s rise in the Southeastern Conference.
He will be Texas’ fourth head coach since the program’s last Big 12 championship in 2009. Since then, Texas has fired Mack Brown — the only coach to lead the program to a national championship (2005) in 50 years — Charlie Strong and Herman. Of note, Sarkisian was a USC assistant when Texas beat the Trojans for the national championship in the epic 2006 Rose Bowl.
“It’s amazing to think here we are 15 years removed from me standing on the opposite sideline of Vince Young running into the end zone at the Rose Bowl, (to) me being the head coach at Texas,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian was 46-35 overall at Washington and USC, but was fired midway through his second season with the Trojans 2015 and went into alcohol rehabilitation treatment. He later lost a $30 million breach of contract and disability discrimination lawsuit against USC that alleged the school fired him instead of allowing him to seek treatment.
Sarkisian said he’s grown as a person since then and is ready to step back into the spotlight at Texas.
“I’m proud of the work that I’ve done (in treatment). But I will say when you battle what I battle, you have to work on it every day,” he said.
Texas did not immediately release contract terms for Sarkisian. Herman still had three years left on a guaranteed contract set to pay him more than $6 million per year. Texas is on the hook for more than $20 million in buyouts for Herman and his staff.
Texas fired Herman just three weeks after athletic director Chris Del Conte said he would remain the coach. In a new statement Saturday, Del Conte said he’d since decided it was time for a change.
Texas President Jay Hartzell said Texas first began talks with Sarkisian a “couple of weeks” earlier and that a deal was reached Saturday morning.
“I can’t wait to see what the team accomplishes under his leadership,” Hartzell said.
Herman’s best season was 2018, the only time he got the Longhorns to the Big 12 title game. They finished that season with a dominating win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl that prompted quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s now-infamous “We’re ba-aack!” statement to a national television audience.
Texas instead sunk back to the middle of the pack in the Big 12. The Longhorns reached as high as No. 8 early in the pandemic-stricken 2020 season before quickly fading. They were, in effect, eliminated from the Big 12 title game with a 23-20 home loss to Iowa State with two games left.
Frustrated by the stagnation, Texas also saw ominous signs in recruiting. Several of the state’s top players signed elsewhere or backed off commitments last month.
Herman, 45, had seemed like the can’t-miss coach to return Texas to glory when he was hired after two successful seasons at Houston. Yet there were moments that suggested he just wasn’t ready for a job as big as Texas and struggled to grow into it.
He taunted the Missouri quarterback in the waning minutes of a Texas Bowl win in 2017. He had a fiery confrontation with Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy after a tough road loss. In 2019, he head-butted his own players before a game, then flipped a double-barreled obscene hand gesture toward television cameras during live broadcast of national signing day.
And 2020 challenged him in ways that had nothing to do with football.
When protests erupted nationally erupted after the death of George Floyd, Herman joined his players in a march from campus to the state Capitol in a demonstration against police brutality and and racial injustice.
Herman then faced intense criticism from fans, and pressure from the administration, when the players didn’t join the traditional postgame singing of “The Eyes of Texas” school song for several games in protest over racist elements of the song’s past.