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Kragthorpe: Steve Sarkisian's role creates BYU angle in title game

First Published      Last Updated Jan 09 2017 09:18 am

Former quarterback Steve Sarkisian did not come to Provo last summer when selected members of BYU's 1996 football team were featured during the school's annual media day in a 20-year anniversary program.

He was maintaining a low profile while out of coaching.

He's in the spotlight Monday night. About 15 months after being fired as USC's coach in the middle of the 2015 season and entering alcohol rehabilitation, Sarkisian will be calling Alabama's offensive plays vs. Clemson in the national championship game. The timing makes him the first of LaVell Edwards' former BYU players to have a prominent coaching role in a football game since the legendary coach's funeral services this past weekend, and it creates a local angle for the title matchup.



Sarkisian quarterbacked the Cougars to a 14-1 record in his senior season of '96, including a win over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl.

Now imagine if Cottonwood High School graduate Cooper Bateman is needed as Alabama's backup quarterback. Bateman intends to play elsewhere next season as a graduate transfer, but he has stayed with the Crimson Tide through the College Football Playoff and is the team's holder for place-kicks. Last January, he became the first Utahn to appear in a championship game in the BCS or CFP eras, but he didn't take a snap as a quarterback.

Regardless of whether Bateman's role is expanded Monday if something happens to starter Jalen Hurts, Sarkisian will be front and center. His story already was remarkable, with his promotion as Alabama's offensive coordinator next season after Lane Kiffin took Florida Atlantic's head coaching position. The timetable was accelerated last week when Alabama coach Nick Saban announced that Kiffin would not be involved in the title game and Sarkisian would be calling the plays.

Sarkisian joined the staff in August as an offensive analyst, with NCAA rules not allowing such staff members to interact with the players during practice. But he has been involved closely with Kiffin in creating game plans and, judging by his responses during a hour of interviews at media day Saturday, it sounds like he's ready to take on the job Monday night.

Sarkisian will be on the sideline, having called plays from that position as the coach at Washington and USC. He also noted how BYU play-caller/quarterback coach Norm Chow moved from the press box to the sideline after their first game together, a 1995 loss to Air Force, so they could communicate better between series. Sarkisian believes he can help Hurts that way.

Sarkisian, 42, hopes to become a head coach again, but he's focusing right now on an Alabama job that is starting sooner than he anticipated. The Tide's offense didn't perform especially well in a 24-7 semifinal win over Washington, with the defense pretty much taking care of everything. But considering Alabama had to score in the 40s last year to beat Clemson in the championship game, Sarkisian may need to do some of the best work of his career Monday on a big stage.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

 

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