’Bama’s offense been very, very good to Sarkisian, and vice versa

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Alabama assistant coach Steve Sarkisian work from the sidelines during the Rose Bowl against Notre Dame Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. (Ron Jenkins/AP)
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Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Alabama assistant coach Steve Sarkisian work from the sidelines during the Rose Bowl against Notre Dame Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. (Ron Jenkins/AP)

Credit: AP

Steve Sarkisian’s last day in offensive coordinating Eden arrives Monday. Once more before taking his rebuilt career to Texas, he will grab the joystick of the Alabama offense and play for a national championship.

Think of a great favor the Falcons did firing Sark as their OC at the close of 2018. Sure, he was just one of a series of fall guys for a problem that lived higher up the franchise food chain. And he was stripped of the opportunity of working with the likes of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. But the Falcons were only holding him back.

He was unemployed but briefly before Alabama brought the vagabond coach back to Tuscaloosa and the central time zone, one of three he’s worked in during his mere 46 years. It was a clear promotion from his previous gig.

Alabama gave him the tools to fully rehab a career that was sidetracked by alcoholism while head coaching at Washington and Southern Cal (2009-15). Alabama helped save him. It was the net when he fell, Nick Saban brought him in as an offensive “analyst” in 2016. And this season, after working with a core of skill players that is the poker equivalent of a royal flush, after winning the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant, Sarkisian was in position to land the Texas job and complete his difficult trek back to head coaching.

The power of this Alabama offense is so good that it’s restorative. You think any of that happens if Sarkisian had still been with the Falcons this year?

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Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and quarterback Matt Ryan confer on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, Sept 23, 2018, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and quarterback Matt Ryan confer on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, Sept 23, 2018, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
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Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and quarterback Matt Ryan confer on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, Sept 23, 2018, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

As fine as the Texas opportunity might be, you wonder if Sarkisian will ever have it as good as he will Monday night.

He goes into that game deploying the Heisman winner in receiver DeVonta Smith and his Heisman finalist quarterback Mac Jones. Honestly, this offense has four Heisman-quality players. For also at Sarkisian’s disposal is running back Najee Harris, who rushed for 178 yards in the SEC Championship and scored five times in that one against Florida by land and air. Receiver Jaylen Waddle, perhaps the most dynamic of them all but out with a broken ankle since late October, has been practicing with the team. He’s unlikely to contribute, but even the discussion about him returning is almost unfair.

That team on the other side of the national championship game has its formidable skill guys, too. Obviously, you can’t spell Ohio State without the O.

But the assemblage at Alabama is an embarrassment of riches. The kind of wealth that could create a problem when it comes time to ration out the touchdowns. So much talent can come with a corresponding supply of ego. Only one set of hands can claim one ball at any one time.

This is where Sarkisian, who worked with Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart and LenDale White at USC as an assistant and sampled Tua Tagovailoa and Jerry Jeudy at Alabama just a season ago, might begin marking this offense as most enjoyable.

“When plays come in game, there’s not much, um, I don’t want to call it complaining, but I know some people deal with that,” Sarkisian said early in the week.

“Our kids really understand why we are doing what we’re doing, and I think that’s a tribute to all the coaches on the offensive staff of really conveying the game plan to our players so that they understand what we’re trying to do.

“I think when you can get a team that is mature like ours on offense right now that can think at that level and understand a game plan at that level, you really don’t deal with ‘you feel like you have to get somebody the ball.’ It happens organically. It happens naturally in our system.”

Even “held to” 31 points in the semifinal by Notre Dame, its lowest scoring game of the season, the Tide offense has been a constant in the otherwise ever-changing landscape of sports in 2020. And entering 2021, it remains the most compelling reason to watch a championship game.

Caption
Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) gets a fist bump from quarterback Mac Jones (10) after his first quarter TD catch during SEC Championship against Florida Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) gets a fist bump from quarterback Mac Jones (10) after his first quarter TD catch during SEC Championship against Florida Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) gets a fist bump from quarterback Mac Jones (10) after his first quarter TD catch during SEC Championship against Florida Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Locally, Monday may bring back some painful flashbacks. Against Georgia in October, the full force of Alabama’s offense was on display. Waddle’s 90-yard touchdown reception touched off the Tide’s second-half rally. Smith had 11 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Harris ran for 152 yards. Jones threw for 417.

Even at the risk of being reminded of all that, Monday is must-see for even Georgia fans, if only to appreciate a work of art completed partially at their expense. It’s not LSU-in-2019 beautiful. But close enough.

You don’t have to share the sentiments of the ‘Bama QB, Jones: “I really love this team. I’ve had a chance to play on four great teams at Alabama, but I think this one is really special.”

Just enjoy a stroll while you can in Sarkisian’s Eden.

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