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In virtual fashion, new Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian is shaking the right hands and meeting the right people prior to the start of team activities under his purview. In those recent conversations held over Zoom with members of the alumni and fan base, Sarkisian explained the areas requiring immediate focus during his first spring as the Longhorns head coach.
His first stated priority was learning more about the players he’s tasked with maximizing.
“First of all, I want to learn the roster,” Sarkisian said in a Zoom on Tuesday. “I know them from afar. I know the names. I know what some of the game tape looks like. I really want to learn our team. I think that I talked about the relationship building, the culture building is another key component in this process.”
Sarkisian met virtually with the players later that evening, but prior to the first official introduction he had a sense of the locker room’s mindset. He said he believed the team was “hungry,” and wanted to be great. “They’re trying to figure out how to get that done, and that’s our job to lead them,” Sarkisian said.
Relationship building has been mentioned several times by Sarkisian in his short time as head coach. Authenticity is another oft-mentioned quality. A focus on those aspects is wise considering some of the self-inflicted relationship building problems that hamstrung the prior Texas coaching staff. Sarkisian hopes those qualities assist him in gaining buy-in from a team he believes can compete at a high level quickly.
“I firmly believe it’s not going to take us as long as maybe some of the outsiders think,” Sarkisian said. “I think we’ve got a good, young roster to work with. I think we’re going to recruit really well. At the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to win those close games in the end, which clearly has snake bitten this program here a little bit the last couple of years.”
Sarkisian and his staff will seek to know not just the people they are coaching, but also their physical capabilities. On the call, Sarkisian said his strength and conditioning coach Torre Becton would have plenty of time for his off-season program to build a foundation prior to the beginning of spring practices on March 23. The two-month program includes what Sarkisian called a “little bit of a shift philosophically.”
“This is a velocity-based training program that really measures not necessarily so much how much you can lift, but how fast you can move the weight from an explosiveness standpoint, then clearly from a speed standpoint on the field,” Sarkisian said.
March 23 will begin a five-week spring football program with three practices per week. The non-practice days will be used for film study and install, something Texas and most other FBS programs lost last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The second stated immediate focus for Sarkisian was teaching football. He expressed the need for teaching the new schemes on offense, defense, and special teams, and emphasized putting players in a position to be successful.
Putting players in a position to be successful is often construed as putting a “X” in the right spot against an opposing “O.” To Sarkisian, its more than just lines on the chalkboard. It involves making sure the right person for the task is that “X.”
“I say that because one guy may be playing a safety position that might be a better fit in our system at linebacker, or a defensive tackle might be a better fit at defensive end, or we might have a tight end who hasn’t played a whole lot that fits really good to our system,” Sarkisian said. “To do that, we have to allow the players a chance to be successful and put them in a position to do that. We want to maximize our roster. We want to find a role for everybody on our roster to help us win and help us go accomplish what we want to accomplish.”
The almost-complete coaching staff will help him in those roles. Sarkisian used a favorite phrase of football coaches, saying he assembled the “best coaching staff in America.” He described how every member of his staff needed to be able to recruit and develop.
He mentioned he brought much of the Alabama offensive staff with him, including “an exceptional offensive line coach and great recruiter” in Texas offensive coordinator Kyle Flood. He looked outside of Tuscaloosa for his defensive staff, led by former Washington assistant Pete Kwiatkowski.
Sarkisian said Kwiatkowski has been “a thorn in my side for probably about the last 10 years.” He also sang the praises of Blake Gideon, Bo Davis, Andre Coleman, Stan Drayton, Jeff Banks, Terry Joseph, and AJ Milwee, the rest of his on-field staff. He noted that in addition to recruiting and development ability, he hired assistants that had a good level of camaraderie. “I think a staff that works well together works well with its players,” Sarkisian said.
The spring is important for every single program, but it is even more so for a coach entering his first season at a new school. There is plenty of work ahead of Sarkisian and his staff in the coming spring to accomplish these short-term goals.
It is a spring he is ready to begin.
“This is a great opportunity,” Sarkisian said. “It’s clearly a great challenge. There’s high expectations and high goals here, but that’s what you embrace. You have to go for it. You have to be willing to chase greatness. You have to put yourself in position to compete and win championships. That’s what we’ll do.”