Falcons assistant Steve Sarkisian speaks publicly of his battle against alcoholism

Steve Sarkisian communicates with Alabama players during the College Football Playoff title game on Jan. 9.
(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

Steve Sarkisian politely sidestepped questions about the subject before he called plays for Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game last month.

The issues that contributed to his dismissal as USC’s coach in 2015, he told reporters, were something to be discussed at another time.

On Thursday, two days after the Atlanta Falcons hired him as offensive coordinator, Sarkisian spoke publicly about his battle with alcoholism for the first time.


“It’s not something that is necessarily in the past,” Sarkisian said during a conference call. “It’s something I have to work on every single day, and I do work on it every single day.

“It’s important to me, and it’s important to who I am as a person. It’s a piece of me, this disease of alcoholism. It’s a piece of me, but it doesn’t define me. I have a lot more to offer than that.”

Sarkisian, 42, has enjoyed something of a career rebirth in the 16 months since his short tenure as USC’s head coach ended amid reports of erratic behavior and alcohol-related issues. Sarkisian filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming that former athletic director Pat Haden fired him instead of allowing him to seek treatment for alcoholism.

“Instead of accommodating Steve Sarkisian’s disability, USC kicked him to the curb,” the lawsuit said.

Sarkisian is seeking $12.6 million that remained on his contract and unspecified damages.

When the lawsuit was filed, Sarkisian had completed “intensive” treatment, the complaint said, and he was sober and ready to return to coaching.

In its response, USC assailed the lawsuit as “full of half truths” and “outright falsehoods.”


An arbitration hearing is scheduled to begin in July.

Sarkisian replaced Kyle Shanahan as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator the day after Shanahan was announced as the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach.

Sarkisian has called plays in only one game since a USC defeat by Washington on Oct. 8, 2015.

Last September, Alabama Coach Nick Saban hired Sarkisian as an offensive analyst. Sarkisian was promoted to offensive coordinator and play-caller for the College Football Playoff championship game against Clemson after Saban parted ways with Lane Kiffin, who had been hired as Florida Atlantic’s coach.

Sarkisian helped guide Alabama to a late fourth-quarter lead before Clemson came back to win in the final seconds.

Now he will be under pressure as he takes over a Falcons offense that led the NFL in scoring and features quarterback Matt Ryan, the NFL’s most valuable player.

He will do so while dealing with alcoholism.

“Everybody has issues they have to deal with, some physical, some mental, whatever it may be,” Sarkisian said. “This happens to be an issue of mine that I work on daily. It’s important to me so I can be the best person, the best father, the best coach I can be. I’m diligent about that.”


Sarkisian served as the Oakland Raiders’ quarterbacks coach in 2004. Falcons Coach Dan Quinn became familiar with Sarkisian when Quinn was defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks under Sarkisian mentor Pete Carroll, and Sarkisian was head coach at the University of Washington.

Sarkisian visited the Falcons last spring during organized-team activity workouts and also during training camp. Sarkisian said Quinn called him Monday, the day after the Patriots defeated the Falcons, 34-28, in overtime in the Super Bowl.

“I couldn’t be more grateful to Coach Saban and everyone at the University of Alabama,” Sarkisian said. “That’s a heck of a football team with some really talented players. But when you get this type of opportunity — to come to a team that just competed in the Super Bowl, with all the talent they have offensively, to work with Dan — that was something I couldn’t pass up.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.


Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein