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.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.