Norm Chow Says Steve Sarkisian “Would Fit” at Tennessee as OC

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    (Photo via Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    Tennessee has gone a full month without an offensive coordinator on staff. That hasn’t stopped them from getting some high-level talent on the recruiting trail, but the Vols are still without an OC a month after Tyson Helton left to take the head coaching position at Western Kentucky.

    Now that recruiting is in a dead period, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt can focus more on finding his next play-caller. And with the NFL season nearing its conclusion this weekend, many are believing the Vols will pounce once coaching moves are made following the final regular season weekend.

    One name that’s been mentioned multiple times in the Vols’ search for an offensive coordinator has been Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. It’s expected that Sarkisian won’t be retained on staff after this season, and it’s also believed he may be looking to get back into the college ranks after his unsuccessful run in the NFL.

    Will the Vols make the move to bring in Sarkisian as OC? If they do, will he fit in well in Knoxville?

    Sarkisian had multiple off-field incidents during his time as a collegiate head coach, most notably while he was the head coach at USC. He was eventually fired due to multiple alcohol-related incidents where he showed up to team events or team-sponsored events drunk.

    Since then, Sarkisian has sought help and appears to be a recovering alcoholic now. But the question remains: Would he be a good fit at Tennessee even if his off-field issues are taken care of?

    Norm Chow coached in some sort of capacity from 1970 through 2016. He’s coached at BYU, NC State, USC, UCLA, Utah, and Hawaii in college, and he was even the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator from 2005-07. During his time at BYU, he coached Sarkisian while Sarkisian was the starting quarterback for the Cougars in 1995 and 1996. The two reunited at USC while Chow was the OC and Sarkisian was the quarterbacks coach from 2001-03.

    Chow is intimately familiar with Sarkisian, and he believes that as long as he has his off-field issues fixed, he would be a good fit for the Vols.

    “If you have that part (off-field) squared away, you have a chance,” Chow told Vols Wire in an interview. “He is a bright guy and tutored by good people. Football wise he would fit.”

    Sarkisian served as an offensive coordinator at USC in 2007 and 2008 before taking over as Washington’s head coach in 2009. The Trojans averaged 391.8 yards per game and 30.5 points per game in 2006 with Lane Kiffin as their OC before Sarkisian took over the position. In 2007, USC averaged 434.9 yards per game and 32.6 points per game. In 2008, their averages rose to 454.7 yards and 37.5 points.

    Though Sarkisian had mostly mixed results as a head coach, he did help take an anemic offense at Washington and turn them around. Washington was 0-12 in 2008 and averaged just 263.2 yards and 13.2 points per game. When Sarkisian took over as head coach in 2009, those numbers immediately improved to 375.5 yards and 26.1 points per game while also earning a 5-7 record. Washington averaged over 400 yards and 30 points per game in 2011, and Sarkisian’s offense reached its high point in 2013 by averaging 499.3 yards and 37.9 points.

    After taking over as head coach at USC, he helped the Trojans improve in his one full season as head coach (he only coached five games in 2015 before being put on leave then fired). The 2013 USC offense averaged 399.1 yards and 29.7 points per contest. Under Sarkisian in 2014, the Trojans averaged 457.6 yards and 35.8 points.

    Chow knows that the talent level while the two worked together at USC was much higher than it is at Tennessee currently. But he says Sarkisian knows how to evaluate talent, and he knows how to get the ball to his best players.

    “I got him started in the business,” Chow said of their time together at USC. “We had a good time there at USC. There it was who can we get the ball to next with a lot of talented players. When we were at USC, you had to evaluate your talent.”

    Sarkisian left El Camino College after one season as their quarterbacks coach to coach QBs at USC in 2001 with Chow as his OC. In 2001 and 2002, Sarkisian helped mold Carson Palmer into a Heisman Trophy winner, and he coached Matt Leinart in 2003. In 2000, Palmer completed 54.9 percent of his 415 passes for 2,914 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. In Sarkisian’s first year as his position coach, Palmer showed some slight growth, completing 58.6 percent of his 377 pass attempts for 2,717 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.

    The next season, though, Palmer exploded onto the scene in his fifth and final year at USC. He completed 63.2 percent of his 489 passes for 3,942 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.

    Some would argue that even though Matt Leinart won the Heisman in 2004, his best season was actually in 2003. In his lone season with Sarkisian as his quarterbacks coach, Leinart completed 63.4 percent of his 402 passes for 3,556 yards, 38 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. In his Heisman-winning campaign in 2004, Leinart completed 65.3 percent of his 412 pass attempts for 3,322 yards, 33 touchdowns, and six interceptions.

    Sarkisian proved himself to be a quality play-caller and good quarterbacks coach early in his career. But has any of that changed since his failed head coaching tenure at USC and unsuccessful run in the NFL? Norm Chow doesn’t think it has, and he believes Tennessee would be getting a good coach if they elect to hire him.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.