It's understandable to be skeptical. After more than a decade of expectations that have largely gone unmet, it's only reasonable to assume that the new head coach of the Texas Longhorns, Steve Sarkisian, will follow in the footsteps of his predecessors.
The news alone will take a bit of time to process. In the aftermath of the College Football Playoff semifinals—a day that saw Sarkisian help lift Alabama to a national championship appearance as the team's offensive coordinator—the 46-year-old was abruptly named the head coach at a school with seemingly endless resources.
It is bold. Surprising. Expensive. And although it'll be met with strong, mixed opinions, it has a chance to be exactly what a program still trying to find itself needs at precisely the right time.
"This is a unique and compelling opportunity to lead this storied program to the next level, competing once again amongst the best in college football," Sarkisian said in a statement released by the school.
Tom Herman, after being told a few weeks ago he would still be at Texas in 2021, is no longer the coach of the Longhorns. Instead, he will reportedly collect a $15 million buyout after Texas announced it was making a change at head coach. If his coaching staff is also let go, it could cost Texas $24 million to again reboot its football program.
Texas, despite the occasional signs of being back, isn't back. In the past 11 years, the Longhorns have won double-digit games just one time. For some perspective, Syracuse has the same number of 10-win seasons during that time. Arkansas has done it twice.
For a program as resource-rich as the Longhorns are—the kind of resource-rich that can make a move like this possible—these results are simply unacceptable.
Along the way, there have been moments. In fact, Herman's perfect 4-0 mark in bowl games has inspired optimism for the future each offseason. Even this year, after Texas thoroughly dominated Colorado with young players showing flashes on offense, we slowly started creeping down the same rabbit hole.
The decision to fire Herman came as a surprise. Not because of his resume and a 22-13 conference record in Austin, a record that speaks volumes to the program's inability to regain its status as one of the Big 12's premier programs. Instead, after pursuing Urban Meyer late in the year, it felt like Herman was likely to get one more crack solely because another candidate didn't emerge.
But that is not the case now. And once the national championship is played on January 11, Sarkisian, who will lead Alabama's offense during that game, will be asked to do what Herman and Charlie Strong could not.
The journey to Texas, of course, is one filled with incredible highs and challenging, public lows for Sarkisian. The former head coach at Washington and USC, Sarkisian was fired by the Trojans in 2015 following a series of events related to alcohol use.
After entering rehab, Sarkisian resurfaced at Alabama, first as an analyst and then the team's offensive coordinator. He spent time in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons as offensive coordinator before returning to Alabama in the same role.
This season, Sarkisian was named the winner of the Broyles Award, given to the best assistant coach in college football.
In Sarkisian, Texas will inherit one of the best, most creative offensive play-callers in the sport. While having an arsenal of gifted players has unquestionably aided Sarkisian's efforts these past few seasons at Alabama, his work has been extraordinary nonetheless. In back-to-back seasons, the Crimson Tide have the nation's No. 2 scoring offense.
Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment over those two seasons is the way he transformed quarterback Mac Jones into a Heisman finalist in a matter of 14 months. Texas had some success with Sam Ehlinger under center, but Sarkisian's presence should provide an immediate jolt to the position and the offense.
Quarterback Casey Thompson, who came in for the injured Ehlinger during the team's bowl game and responded with an electric performance, could be a fascinating player to watch in 2021. As will freshman Bijan Robinson, the team's star running back, who blossomed during the second half of 2020.
Where Sarkisian could have his greatest impact in the coming months, however, is recruiting. While he was able to develop Jones into one of the sport's elite QBs, Sarkisian also recruited and landed 5-star QB Bryce Young. The California native is widely considered the future of the program.
"Sark was definitely a catalyst," Craig Young, Bryce's father, told Bleacher Report earlier this year.
For Texas, this part is vital. Having to compete with Texas A&M, the SEC and beyond, landing the state's elite talent was an issue for Herman in recent years. And given the unknown surrounding his future, Sarkisian will have to hit the ground running.
Having just produced three of the top five Heisman finishers on offense at Alabama, it would not be shocking to see Sarkisian land an elite class in short order when he arrives. This part has always come naturally for him no matter where he coached, and the vision will likely be extremely appealing for many in the months ahead.
In 2021, these are ingredients to prolonged success. Offense and recruiting. It's where the Longhorns' primary competition, Oklahoma, has thrived under Lincoln Riley. It's where a program like Texas, with so many benefits, could thrive under the proper guidance.
He's not Urban Meyer. And given his history and fallout at USC, it's understandable why some will not completely embrace this hire. But Sarkisian seems, thankfully, to be in a good place emotionally and physically. And while it is only natural to obsess over the biggest names in the sport—a path Texas has traveled plenty of times before—the Longhorns have hired someone that other coaches in the conference will fear.
It will still take time. Sarkisian won't inherit DeVonta Smith or Najee Harris or perhaps the best offensive line in college football. Texas, while not devoid of excellent football players, will still be a work in progress. But Sarkisian will provide a spark, and the impact could be immediate.
What happens next, of course, remains to be seen. For Herman and Charlie Strong, success was not sustainable. When they were hired, there was optimism that they would be the ones to bring Texas "back."
More than a decade later, and Texas is still searching. The Longhorns will turn to a coach who has undergone his own football and personal rebirth over the past 10 years, a coach with the traits to lead a major college football program in 2021 and beyond.
It was not the move we expected nor one we saw coming, and perhaps that's exactly what this program needs.