Falcons' Steve Sarkisian discusses alcoholism: 'It's an ugly disease I don't wish upon anybody'

It’s not really possible for Steve Sarkisian to hide his history. His relatively brief tenure at Southern California ended in 2015, after he took a leave of absence and then was fired; reports of alcohol-fueled incidents at both USC and Washington, his previous stint, followed.

And he’s not hiding from it.

Sarkisian, now the offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons, spoke to The MMQB’s Jonathan Jones during training camp for a story that was published online on Wednesday.

Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian says it would be “so fulfilling” to help another individual struggling with alcoholism. (AP)

“There were parts of it that were frustrating. Things get said about you, some true some not true,” Sarkisian said of the days following his firing by USC. “The biggest point I got to was, control what you can control. And I can’t control what other people think, say, do. I can control what I do, how I act, the attitude I have every day and how I want to attack and approach each day. Then people’s opinions are up to them after that.

“I feel like at times I’m fortunate that it is public, that I can help other people, that I can offer my story, that I don’t feel like I don’t have to keep it hidden. This is who I am, and we all have things that we go through in life that we grow from. And we either turn those things into a positive or they can continue to get worse. I feel like I’m in a place where I’ve learned from my history and I’m a better person today because of it.”

Sarkisian won’t discuss his treatment publicly, and he can’t discuss other aspects, like his lawsuit against USC, which is in confidential arbitration. When it comes to talking to media, if it feels too personal to him to discuss, he won’t.

But he says enough, and it helps him; and Sarkisian hopes it helps others too.

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Less than a year after he was fired by the Trojans, Sarkisian was auditioning for a role with Fox Sports. He visited training camps, both NCAA and NFL, including Atlanta’s, and the desire to return to the sideline came with it. Sarkisian took a job as an analyst at Alabama, but finished the season as the Tide’s offensive coordinator in the national championship game.

When Kyle Shanahan left the Falcons to take the head coaching job in San Francisco, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn began vetting Sarkisian. When he spoke to two of Sarkisian’s former bosses, Nick Saban and Pete Carroll, it wasn’t about the man’s football acumen, but his character.

And Sarkisian was up front with Quinn, which helped.

“His transparency made me feel at ease, where I didn’t want to dance around it,” Quinn said. “He said, ‘Dan, honestly let’s talk about it.’ And it actually helped him knowing he can help other people.”

Sarkisian said he talks about his alcoholism because he thinks it’s important.

“It’s an ugly disease that I don’t wish upon anybody. But I know there are others out there who struggle with it, that are trying to figure out what to do with it and how to deal with it,” he said. “If I can be a guy who helps someone in a way, gosh, that would be so fulfilling.”

 

Sarkisian hasn’t made any major changes to the Atlanta offense he inherited since arriving – why would he? – and players have been complimentary of his approach, with Devonta Freeman calling him a “players’ coach.”

The 43-year old believes a large part of being a good communicator is listening, and also acknowledges that Falcons players, unlike his players at previous stops (Sarkisian’s first NFL job, with the Raiders, lasted just one year), are professionals.

Both Sarkisian and his new players recognize that he’s still learning each player’s strengths and weaknesses, but told Jones he feels good doing what’s best for himself.

“For me, to get to this point has been really comforting,” he says. “I feel good in knowing the things that I’m doing, whether personally or professionally, are what are best for Steve Sarkisian. And in turn the best version of Steve Sarkisian is what is best for the Atlanta Falcons and these players and Dan Quinn and Arthur [Blank] and Thomas [Dimitroff]. I feel good about that approach.”