Steve Sarkisian trek from Alabama built pipeline to aid Texas rebuild

Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas — Steve Sarkisian left his job as an Alabama assistant to be the head coach at Texas in January 2021 and quickly blazed a 735-mile trail from Tuscaloosa to Austin for others to follow.

The core of his offensive coaching staff made the trek and a handful of players looking for fresh starts or more playing time have been trickling in ever since. Sarkisian has three top assistants who were on the Alabama sideline when the Crimson Tide won the 2020 national championship.

Is he building Alabama West? The early returns – a 5-7 season in 2021 – have so far been rather un-Bama like.

Sarkisian and the Longhorns (1-0) have a chance to make a statement. The No. 1 Crimson Tide (1-0) play on the road against their future SEC opponent, which is hoping the success Sarkisian experienced in Tuscaloosa can finally rub off in Austin.

Sarkisian often credits Alabama’s Nick Saban as a major force in restoring his coaching career after he was fired at Southern California midway into the 2015 season and went into alcohol rehabilitation treatment.

Working under Saban first as an analyst in 2016 and then returning as Alabama offensive coordinator in 2019 and 2020 allowed Sarkisian an insider’s view of what Saban demands from his staff, as well as what he could demand from himself.

Sarkisian has said quite frankly that Saban saved his career.

“I owe so much to him, and I will never, ever forget that he and Ms. Terry have been tremendous in my life and my wife’s life and what they’ve done for us on and off the field, I owe them a great deal,” Sarkisian said at Big 12 media days in July.

The praise continued this week as Sarkisian prepared to face his former mentor for the first time from the opposite sideline.

“We could be up here for hours talking about things that I learned from him … and what he’s done for guys like myself,” Sarkisian said, also recalling the sting of Saban’s rebukes when something went wrong.

“If he’s yelling at you, you probably didn’t reach a level of expectation. When you can meet his expectations, you are doing something right.” Sarkisian said. “I loved my time with him.”

And when it was time to build his own staff, Sarkisian wanted assistants forged from the same fire that shaped him.

Texas offensive line coach Kyle Flood, special teams and tight ends coach Jeff Banks and quarterbacks coach A.J. Milwee all followed Sarkisian from Alabama to join his rebuild.

This group of coaches left a program that won eight Southeastern Conference championships in the 13 years since Texas last won the Big 12. Alabama has won six national titles since 2009.

Their first season in Austin produced the program’s first six-game losing streak in 65 years. “Patience” was the word around campus.

Saban this week praised his former assistant and has called Sarkisian one of the finest coaches he’s ever had on his staff.

“I think he’s a very bright guy, very well organized,” Saban said. “He did an outstanding job when he was here.”

Saban shrugged off a suggestion that having so many former Alabama staffers at Texas would give the Longhorns an advantage in drawing up their game plan.

“We’ve seemed to play several teams now that kind of know us, but you act like we don’t know them,” Saban said. “So just because somebody knows you when they play you, doesn’t mean they’re going to beat you.”

Saban is 25-2 against former assistants. Both losses came last season, to Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M and Kirby Smart‘s Georgia Bulldogs in the national championship game.

Texas has three former Alabama players on the roster this season. All were once highly-coveted recruits out of high school and Texas has proven an attractive landing spot, although none has made a major impact yet.

Tailback Keilan Robinson may be the fastest player on the team, but he’s third on the depth chart behind preseason All-American Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson. His biggest contributions so far have come on special teams, with a blocked punt last season and blocked punt return for a touchdown last week against ULM.

Texas expected to have to impact players from Alabama this season: tight end Jahleel Billingsley and wide receiver Agiye Hall.

Billingsley caught 17 passes and three touchdowns last season, but he’s serving a six-game NCAA suspension for an undisclosed violation that Sarkisian said occurred while at Alabama.

Hall was one of the top receiver recruits in the country but caught just four passes last season as a freshman and was suspended by Saban in April. After a quick transfer to Texas, he was expected to be a feature player in the Texas passing game, but he ran into more trouble when he was arrested for misdemeanor criminal mischief and was suspended for the first game.

Hall has been cleared to play this week. but it’s unclear how much time he’ll see against his former team.

“It’s great to have him back and going with us and having him be part of our program,” Sarkisian said. “Proud of the work that he did to get himself back.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.