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Texas Athletic Director Calls for Unity, Defends Sarkisian

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Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian (center) and his players sing 'The Eyes of Texas' following their win. | Image from DMN

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Following a heartbreaking 57-56 overtime loss at home to Kansas, questions about Texas Longhorns first-year football coach Steve Sarkisian’s job security are justified. Kansas entered the game with zero wins and had not won a Big 12 game on the road since 2008.

To make matters worse, Texas lost starting RB Bijan Robinson to a season-ending injury in the game.    

The Longhorns have now lost five straight games for the first time since the 1956 season when they finished 1-9. Texas’ record stands at 4-6, so they must now win their final two games against West Virginia and Kansas State to become eligible for a bowl game.     

There were higher expectations at the beginning of the year. Texas entered the season ranked 21st in the Associated Press preseason rankings. Fans expected more success with Sarkisian being hired away from the University of Alabama, where he was the offensive coordinator for the 2020 national champions.     

The failure to meet the high expectations and the loss to Kansas led fans to split on whether coach Sarkisian was the right hire. Articles were even written calling Sarkisian’s firing inevitable.     

On Tuesday, Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte doused those rumors in his weekly address. He wrote more than 700 words defending Sarkisian and calling for unity in the fan base. He noted that the team must move forward and that now was not the time for fans “to splinter or pull apart in any way.”

He acknowledged that everyone was highly disappointed in the loss to Kansas but that “there are better days ahead.” and that his athletic department is “providing every ounce of support we can muster to help redirect our program.”    

Del Conte’s address makes it seem very likely that the university will not fire Sarkisian after one year in charge.     

Del Conte affirmed that he is confident that Sarkisian will turn the Texas football team into a winner. “Coach Sark is building a culture, and he has a tremendous group of coaches who are proven and have a wealth of experience.” He wrote, “they have all succeeded at the highest level. They will help us do that here, too.”     

Del Conte pointed to several matters that were out of coach Sarkisian’s control affecting results. He noted that many players had left the program from the 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes.    

Del Conte stated that “52% of players from the 2018 class” and “46% from the 2019 class” are no longer on the roster. They either have transferred, been forced to retire due to medical issues or left early for the NFL.     

“That’s nearly half of the student-athletes from two classes that were ranked as the third-best in the nation and should be making up the juniors and seniors on our roster today,” Del Conte wrote. “That’s a lot of attrition to manage.”    

He also revealed that a flu outbreak kept 25 players out of practice last week leading up to the Kansas game and acknowledged that the injury to RB Bijan Robinson would only make it more challenging for coach Sarkisian.     

The offense relied heavily upon Robinson as he had rushed for 1,127 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on the year.    

“This isn’t to cast any blame or make excuses; it’s just factual that we have some real depth issues,” Del Conte wrote.    

Sarkisian is in the first year of a six-year guaranteed contract that’s worth about $34 million. If fired, Texas would have to buy out the rest of his and his coaching staff’s contracts. A recent report by ESPN found that Texas is already paying $21.4 million in dead money to coaches that the athletic department no longer employs.  

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