Sarkisian Joins Shrine HOF, Reflects on Journey

Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian
Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian | Image by Tim Warner/Getty Images

FRISCO — University of Texas head football coach Steve Sarkisian was one of two former college football players inducted into the East-West Shrine Bowl’s Hall of Fame on Wednesday at the Ford Center at the Star.

Sarkisian, a former BYU quarterback in the 1990s, played in the 72nd edition of the college all-star game in 1997 after two years as the Cougars’ signal-caller.

“It’s pretty incredible. Steve [Smith Sr.] and I were talking earlier. We were a couple of junior college kids from Los Angeles,” he said during an on-stage interview. “This wasn’t our path. It wasn’t the easiest just to say, ‘Hey, this is how it’s supposed to go.’ When you find your way on the journey of life, and you find some success, and you find some adversity, and then you keep persevering, and you find your way through to some of the accomplishments. When you have one like this that kind of takes you back a little bit, it reminds you of what you went through to get to where we are today. It’s definitely pretty special.”

The Texas head coach transferred from El Camino College in California and spent two seasons as the starting quarterback at BYU, throwing for over 7,000 yards, becoming the first quarterback to lead his team to 14 wins in a season, and winning the 1997 Cotton Bowl while being named 1997 Western Athletic Conference (WAC) offensive player of the year.

He went on to play in the Canadian Football League (CFL) and turned to coaching once his playing career ended, thanks to a connection he made through the Shrine Bowl and the NFL Draft preparation process.

“I didn’t get drafted. My road, my journey was different,” Sarkisian recalled. “I went and spent three years in the CFL, I started coaching back in junior college, and then I walked into a man’s office at USC to try to become a graduate assistant.”

“His name was Pete Carroll,” Sarkisian continued. “He remembered me from the Shrine Game, and he remembered interviewing me at the combine. I got my foot in the door, and I got an opportunity to work with him for seven years. He’s still a great mentor of mine. So, you don’t know the people you meet along your journey and the impact they can have on the rest of your life.”

Carroll is not the only notable coach to impact Sarkisian’s career. He has been influenced by some of the most elite coaches in the sport, becoming the head coach at Washington, eventually returning to USC as the head coach, and joining Nick Saban’s staff as the offensive coordinator at Alabama before resurrecting the Texas program this season.

“I do think these experiences helped shape me to be the head coach that I am today,” he said as he met with the media after the ceremony. “I’m very appreciative of the opportunities that I got through college and post-college by some of the coaches that have hired me along the way. They helped shape how we go about our business today and my relationship with the players.”

The other Shrine Bowl Hall of Fame inductee was former University of Utah standout and 16-year NFL receiver Steve Smith Sr, who played in the 76th annual Shrine Bowl in 2001 thanks to a late Cowboys legend.

“I was not invited to the Senior Bowl. I was also not invited originally to the Shrine Bowl,” Smith Sr. recounted. “Quincy Morgan, who was a receiver out of Kansas State, decided that he didn’t need to come here, so God rest his soul, Gil Brandt called my agent and said, ‘Hey, does Steve want to play?'”

“… Without that opportunity, I would have never got the opportunity to be seen by some of the other people,” he explained. “I was an alternate, and I took the opportunity to be an alternate to take over the stage. … The East-West Shrine Game, for me, it was my lifeline.”

Future NFL stars and Shrine Bowl Hall of Fame Inductees may be on the field as the 99th annual East-West Shrine Bowl is played at  7 p.m. CT on Thursday at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco.

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