After the dust began to settle from the Falcons’ traumatic 34-28 overtime loss in Super Bowl, Falcons coach Dan Quinn was back on the job Monday. First big phone call: legendary Alabama coach Nick Saban Topic: Steve Sarkisian.
It fell together quickly. With Saban’s blessing, the Falcons quickly agreed to terms with Sarkisian on Tuesday to become their offensive coordinator, replacing Kyle Shanahan.
“I had a good conversation with Nick,” Quinn said. “Nick’s such a pro, in terms of my respect for him and knowing this is something I approached Nick about … before I reached out to Sarkisian. He said he understood what you have to do for your organization and, in typical Nick fashion, nailed it as a complete pro. I’m fortunate that we have that good of a relationship that I was able to communicate with him about it.”
Quinn was a defensive line coach with the Miami Dolphins on Saban’s staff in 2005-06. Sarkisian also previously worked for Pete Carroll, another Quinn mentor.
It is a system-fit. Hiring Sarkisian, 42, will allow the Falcons to continue running their version of the West Coast offense with its outside-zone rushing attack.
Sarkisian, who served as Alabama’s offensive coordinator for one game — the national championship loss to Clemson — shares offensive philosophy with Shanahan, who left the Falcons the day before to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Sarkisian was previously head coach at Washington and USC, where he left amid alcohol-related problems in 2015.
“No. 1, we went through the process to check and make sure that everything would align with our organization in terms of culture and values,” Quinn said. “Honestly, he’s done a fantastic job. There were zero hesitation, zero limitations in getting into our approach today. All players, all coaches, you want to make sure the background is correct. We went through that process with him.”
He is short on NFL experience. Sarkisian was the quarterback coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2004, but has never called play in the league. Norv Turner was the head coach and Jimmy Raye was the offensive coordinator for the Raiders that season.
But Quinn believes he’ll become a fine NFL play-caller.
“Well, as a play-caller, I felt like, No. 1, what an aggressive play-caller he’s been through the years (in college),” Quinn said. “He has a real familiarity with the wide-zone scheme, the play action and the keepers. That’s such a big part of what we do. … Two of the guys I respect most in our profession, with Pete Carroll and Nick Saban, and being a part of their programs, I know what he stands for as a coach.”
Quinn also studied Sarkisian’s history.
“Most of his background has been what we’ve done in terms of the two-back stuff and the play action so that’s kind of where he grew up, running that both at USC, Washington, back at USC, and now at Alabama,” Quinn said. “I’d say that he would be more familiar in the style that we’ve done. The play action, the keepers and the quick game that we do, it’d be more familiar with that.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan also chimed in his approval.
“Matt has real trust and belief in our system and in our program,” Quinn said. “Man, that was cool to hear from a player telling you that.”
In December, Sarkisian filed a $30 million lawsuit against USC, citing 14 different grounds including wrongful termination, breach of contract and discrimination on the basis of a disability. The case has since been into private arbitration. He had $12.6 million remaining on his contract.
Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant knows him well, having played for Sarkisian at Washington.
“That’s my guy,” Trufant said. “I went through a lot with Sark during my college days. I was in his first recruiting class.
“He came to my house and recruited. He’s a dope guy, a very strong guy, a leader. Very passionate about the game. He definitely could get the job done.”
Sarkisian was 34-29 in five seasons at Washington before being hired by USC in 2013 and went 12-6.
Before the College Football Playoff championship game last month, Alabama coach Nick Saban promoted Sarkisian, who had joined the program in September as a consultant, to replace offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Sarkisian played quarterback at Brigham Young and played professionally with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League.
One of his first duties will be addressing Falcons his quarterback coach. The Los Angeles Rams are expected to hire current QB coach Matt LaFleur as their offensive coordinator.
The Falcons were prolific in Shanahan’s scheme, leading the NFL in scoring with 540 points. He was named the league’s assistant coach of the year while helping Ryan become the league’s MVP.
The offense also broke franchise records in total yards per game (415.8) and yards per play (6.7).
Shanahan spoke to the team Monday before leaving for San Francisco.
“It was just a privilege for him, just being a part of the brotherhood that we created,” All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones said. “He learned a lot from us and we learned a lot for him. It was difficult for him to leave but at the end of the day, he had to do what was best for him and his family.”
Jones believes the players will be willing to adjust to Sarkisian.
“It’s football,” Jones said. “It’s like week to week, there are different game plans. We have to learn new material every week. He’ll come and we’ll get it done. We are talented on the offensive side of the ball, to pick up new things and get the ball rolling.”