Sarkisian focused on Big 12, mindful of SEC move

  • College football reporter.
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
  • Graduate of Northwestern University.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Texas coach Steve Sarkisian is focused on the Big 12 as he attends meetings this week alongside the league’s other nine football coaches. The Big 12, like other leagues holding their spring gatherings, is addressing several major items impacting the future of college sports.

“For us, at the end of the day, we’re in the Big 12,” Sarkisian said. “It’s important to know the direction of the conference and direction of college football and where we are going on a lot of these topics. … We’re in the Big 12, so we need to know the direction of where the conference is going right now.”

But Sarkisian also is mindful of Texas’ upcoming transition to the SEC and what it will take to succeed in a new league. Texas and Oklahoma will remain in the Big 12 until 2025 unless the schools negotiate an earlier exit to the SEC.

Sarkisian spent part of three seasons in the SEC on the Alabama coaching staff under Nick Saban, winning a national title as offensive coordinator in 2020.

Although his time at Alabama will inform him before the SEC move, he said Texas will remain its own distinct program.

“There’s a lot of great aspects of [Alabama] that I think we can take with us, but naturally, we have to do the things I’m comfortable doing and doing it the way that best suits us,” Sarkisian said. “There’s great coaches in the SEC, there’s really good players, there’s big people, there’s fast people. We’ve got to assemble a really good staff, which I think we’ve done. We’ve got to recruit on a really high level, which I think that we’ve shown that we can do. And then ultimately get those players big enough, faster and stronger.”

Sarkisian noted the SEC’s success in last week’s NFL draft, as it led all conferences with 65 selections, 17 more than the Big Ten and 40 more than the Big 12. Texas did not have any players drafted after Sarkisian’s first season as coach, just the second time since 1938 that no Longhorns heard their names called.

Texas doesn’t plan to overhaul its recruiting strategy for the SEC, as Sarkisian said, “I feel like all the teams in the SEC want to recruit Texas.”

“I feel like there’s a fine line there of making sure that we take care of the players that are in our home state,” he added. “We already naturally go into Louisiana; that makes sense for us. We signed a kid from Mississippi this year; we signed a kid from Birmingham, Alabama, this year. So I think there’s some natural progression that way. Are we going to make a living in recruiting Florida and Georgia? Probably not. And this doesn’t mean that we’re not going to recruit California, either.”

Sarkisian said Texas will continue to adapt and evolve with name, image and likeness. Several media outlets reported that Longhorns standout wide receiver Xavier Worthy turned down a sizable NIL offer from another Power 5 program to remain at Texas.

“I understand it, I get it, Xavier Worthy was a heck of a player, a freshman All-American, broke a lot of records,” Sarkisian said. “Of course, people were going to try and use NIL to entice him to go to their school, so you’ve got to proactive when it comes to those things.”

Other than the team’s 5-7 record in 2021, Sarkisian has viewed his time at Texas as positive, especially the start to 2022. He said the climate around the program has been supportive and unified.

“Ultimately, we got to start winning some more games, I’m not naive to that,” he said. “But as far as just people tugging and pulling and moving in different directions, no. I felt like everybody is moving in a positive direction. That was something that I challenged our fan base to do, our donors to do, our administration to do, was trust the fact that you hired me to do a job; let’s get on board and let’s all move in the same direction to make this thing special again.”

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