Monday, February 19, 2018
Sports

After USC fall, sobriety a daily battle, says new Falcons coordinator Sarkisian

ATLANTA — Since an embarrassing downfall at Southern Cal, Steve Sarkisian has caught plenty of breaks in his professional life.

He called plays for Nick Saban and Alabama in this year's college football national championship game in Tampa.

Now he has an opportunity to run the Atlanta Falcons' offense, inheriting a high-scoring team that made it to the Super Bowl behind MVP quarterback Matt Ryan.

But Sarkisian's personal demons are something he must keep a handle on every day.

During a conference call Thursday introducing the Falcons' new offensive coordinator, Sarkisian talked openly about the alcoholism that cost him his last head coaching job in 2015. Sarkisian, 42, sought treatment and continues to be involved in a program.

"It's not something that is necessarily in the past," he said. "It's something I have to work on every single day, and I do work on it every single day. It's important to me, and it's important to who I am as a person. It's a piece of me, this disease of alcoholism. It's a piece of me, but it doesn't define me. I have a lot more to offer than that."

Sarkisian was fired by the Trojans in 2015, five games into his second season, after athletic director Pat Haden said the coach showed up for practice in no shape to work, on the heels of a bizarre display in which he appeared to be intoxicated during a rally with USC boosters.

Sarkisian sued USC for $30 million, alleging the school breached his contract and discriminated against him on the basis of a disability when it fired him. The lawsuit described Sarkisian's descent into alcohol dependency, citing the extraordinary stress of the USC job combined with his wife, Stephanie, filing for divorce in 2015 after 19 years of marriage.

USC said much of what was in the suit was "patently untrue" and that Sarkisian "repeatedly denied to university officials that he had a problem with alcohol."

The suit was moved to binding arbitration last year. The arbitration proceeding is scheduled to start in July.

Sarkisian spent nearly a year out of football before being hired by Saban as an offensive analyst last season. When offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin took the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic in December, Sarkisian was picked as his successor. He wound up getting a head start on the job when Alabama parted with Kiffin a week before the Jan. 9 national championship game against Clemson.

The Tide lost 34-31 on a touchdown pass with one second remaining.

Sarkisian said he was looking forward to his first full season as the Tide's coordinator, but his outlook changed when Falcons coach Dan Quinn called Monday, the day after Atlanta's Super Bowl loss to New England.

With coordinator Kyle Shanahan moving on to become San Francisco's head coach, Sarkisian got an offer to work with Ryan, All-Pro receiver Julio Jones, 1,000-yard rusher Devonta Freeman and an offense that averaged nearly 34 points a game this season.

"When you get this type of opportunity — to come to a team that just competed in the Super Bowl, with all the talent they have offensively, to work with Dan — that was something I couldn't pass up," Sarkisian said.

"All in all, I think there is a good mesh and a good correlation of things I've done to what they've really been doing the last two years. It really should make for a good transition."

The Falcons are confident that Sarkisian has his personal life in order. He's not taking anything for granted.

"I'm not being negligent in the things I need to do," Sarkisian said. "That will make me, in the end, a better person."

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