Canadian Football League

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Former Canadian Football League QB enjoying coaching

It's not supposed to happen like this. In five years Steve Sarkisian has gone from graduate assistant to assistant head coach — at USC, no less. Sarkisian, all of 31 years old, is helping to guide the unbeaten Trojans to possibly their third consecutive national championship. If this guy were a stock, you would mortgage the house to buy 100 shares. Can you say fast track? Nine years ago, he was BYU's starting quarterback.

Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
At practice with quarterback Matt Leinart, right, USC assistant coach Steve Sarkisian, a former BYU QB great, at left, has jumped up the coaching ladder quickly. Seven years ago, he was the Saskatchewan Roughriders' starting quarterback. Six years ago, he began his coaching career, at a junior college. Five years ago, he was a graduate assistant at USC. Four years ago, he got his first full-time Division 1 coaching job. Last winter, he was named assistant head coach at USC. Pete Carroll, the USC head coach, labored as an unpaid graduate assistant for four years, compared to one for Sarkisian. "It's happened extremely fast," says Sarkisian. "What's odd is that I'm not trying to make it go fast. I'm really not. I'm not out searching for jobs, trying to get promotions and titles." But the promotions and job titles have fallen into his lap anyway. The Oakland Raiders, San Diego State and USC have all coming calling, even if he does lack much in the way of a resume. Sarkisian is probably the most underrated BYU quarterback ever. His name is rarely mentioned when BYU greats are mentioned, and yet by the time he completed his two seasons as the starter he ranked third in NCAA history in pass efficiency. He led the nation in pass efficiency as a senior in 1996, and the Cougars posted a 14-1 record and beat Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. He didn't get much more than a sniff from the NFL. He played three years for the CFL's Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. He was a starter in 1999 and threw 16 touchdown passes, then quit. "I probably could have kept going, but I wanted to do some different things, and I knew I liked coaching," he says. He took a job in the computer business while also coaching quarterbacks for his alma mater, El Camino Community College. A year later, he served as a grad assistant at USC under his former BYU offensive coordinator, Norm Chow. After the season, San Diego State hired Sarkisian as a full-time, paid assistant. Two months later, Carroll lured Sarkisian back to USC to serve as quarterback coach, and he wound up tutoring Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer in 2002.

In 2004, the Oakland Raiders hired Sarkisian to coach their quarterbacks. When Chow left USC for the NFL last winter, Carroll again brought back Sarkisian, this time with the title of assistant head coach and quarterback coach. You know you're doing well when USC brings you back — twice. Carroll later told the L.A. Times that Sarkisian "knew the day he left (for the Raiders) that I wanted to get him back . . . I think the world of this guy." He turned the offense over to Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin, who is only 30 himself. To an outsider, it looked like he had given the keys to a new Porsche to a pair of teenagers. "Most G.A.s at Division I schools have to go to a Division II school for their first job or at least a small Division I, but not a school like USC," Kiffin told the Times. "Pete doesn't care about those things." Kiffin calls the plays from the press box, with input from Sarkisian on the sideline. They both studied at the knee of Chow and find themselves thinking the same thing just as the other one is saying it. "We were both around Norm a lot," says Sarkisian. "To see how he game-planned, to hear how he called the game. If one of us forgot something, the other will remember." Sarkisian says he observes closely how Carroll handles players, media and problems off and on the field. "Ultimately, I'd love to be a head coach, but as I said I'm in no rush," he says. "I've still got a lot to learn. I'm not trying to take this too fast. I'm trying to enjoy the experiences now. Why this is happening this fast, I don't know."


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