Steve Sarkisian blended in easily as the procession of scouts, coaches and reporters made their way through the broad hallways of the sprawling Indiana Convention Center, only some of the day’s work at the scouting combine done.
Sarkisian, fired as USC’s coach in 2015 amid reports of erratic behavior and alcohol-related issues, was hired in January as the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator after spending last season working for Nick Saban at Alabama.
Sarkisian, dressed in black from head to toe, appeared fit and sounded upbeat.
“It’s an awesome opportunity,” he said of the Falcons’ job, adding, “one that I’m just embracing and enjoying.”
While Falcons Coach Dan Quinn and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff held news conferences Wednesday, Sarkisian was part of the Falcons’ contingent working in the background.
Sarkisian, 42, commanded headlines two years ago when he was fired by USC. He filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming that former Athletic Director Pat Haden fired him instead of allowing him to seek treatment for alcoholism.
Sarkisian is seeking $12.6 million that remained on his contract and unspecified damages. An arbitration hearing is scheduled to begin in July.
Sarkisian last month spoke publicly for the first time about his battle with alcoholism, saying during a conference call that it did not define him and was “something I have to work on every single day, and I do work on it every single day.”
On Wednesday night, midway through the weeklong combine, he said he was doing well.
“I’m in a great place,” he said. “Like I said, I put in a lot of work and continue to and will continue to.
“But this is where I’m supposed to be, and this is what I’m doing. … And I’m doing it and loving doing it, which is what’s really cool about it.”
Quinn hired Sarkisian to replace Kyle Shanahan, the new San Francisco 49ers coach who left the Falcons after their crushing Super Bowl defeat by the Patriots.
Sarkisian had met Quinn in 2009 when Sarkisian was head coach at Washington and Quinn was the defensive line coach on Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks staff. Sarkisian, at the invitation of Quinn, visited the Falcons last spring during organized-team activities and also during training camp.
“Through the years, he’s somebody that I personally connected with, and I thought we’d make a good fit together,” Quinn said.
Sarkisian, the Oakland Raiders’ quarterbacks coach in 2004, has attended previous combines. The biggest change, he said, was in the way player interviews are conducted with position coaches.
“That 10- to 15-minute period, it’s almost, for lack of a better term, speed dating when you just try to get to know the guys a little bit about their personality and background so you can put a face to the film of what they’re doing,” he said.
In the aftermath of his tenure at USC, the speed of Sarkisian’s career rebirth might surprise some.
But not Carroll, who hired Sarkisian as an assistant at USC in 2001.
“He’s done a tremendous amount of work,” Carroll said Thursday, “and he’s on his way to proving the great value that he has.”
Sarkisian is eager to do that.
“I feel like when you put in a lot of work and you do the things that are necessary to do for yourself, that things happen and opportunities come and you make the most of the ones that are in front of you,” he said. “It was hard to leave Alabama. That was a great opportunity with Coach Saban, and they were tremendous to me.
“But this is another amazing opportunity, and I felt like it was the right thing to do. And now I’m living in the moment and doing this job.”