The Atlanta Falcons’ choice of former Southern Cal coach Steve Sarkisian as their new offensive coordinator Monday seemed to be a little out of left field at first blush.
Almost all of Sarkisian’s background is as a college coach, most recently as Nick Saban’s play-caller for the national championship loss to Clemson when Lane Kiffin was told to go ahead and be on his way to Florida Atlantic.
Sarkisian’s sole NFL experience was as the Oakland Raiders’ quarterbacks coach in 2004 under Norv Turner, whose downfield passing attack bears little resemblance to the timing-based system run by former Falcons OC and new 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.
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But Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Sarkisian’s offenses at Southern Cal and Washington, where he had a combined 46-35 record in seven seasons as a head coach, were similiar to Atlanta’s scheme.
“He has a real familiarity for the wide zone scheme, the play-action, the keepers. That’s a big part of what we do,” Quinn told reporters in Atlanta on Monday. “Two of the guys I respect most in this profession, Pete (Carroll) and Nick (Saban) and being a part of both their programs, I know what he stands for as a coach.”
Quinn also mentioned Sarkisian’s aggressiveness as a play-caller, interesting because Shanahan’s go-for-broke mentality at the end of Super Bowl 51 played a big part in the Falcons’ collapse against New England.
So what does Sarkisian’s hire mean for the Panthers and the rest of the NFC South?
It’s tough to say, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be as successful as Shanahan (despite Shanahan’s decision to pass twice rather than play for a put-away field goal against the Patriots).
Atlanta has a ton of offensive playmakers still under contract. Whether the coach known as “Sark” can keep the Falcons’ high-flying offense rolling will be a big storyline in Atlanta – with ripple effects in Charlotte, Tampa, New Orleans and elsewhere.