For all the pressure that some, including myself, feel is on Neal Brown this season to show signs of a climb, the pressure surrounding Texas’ head coach Steve Sarkisian is all that and so much more. Sarkisian and Texas need the win more than Brown and West Virginia even do.
Part of why I argued Brown should be on a bit of a hot seat entering this season, and that heat needed turned up after the loss to Kansas, is he’s in year 4. It may seem like not that much time, but year 4 is a pivotal for any head coach at a major conference program. You have had time to experience players you recruited, you should have your system well in place and you should be established within the fabric of the school. By year 4, a losing record and a lacking of big wins can be good reason for fans and media to be question your future.
But not in the middle of only your second season, right? Well, when you’re the head coach of the University of Texas, 16 games can be enough for people to start initing the pitchforks.
Even after a win over Virginia Tech and ensuring the Black Diamond Trophy would stay in Morgantown into perpetuity, Brown will still need to finish this season strong dispute a tough schedule to quiet his doubters.
The same can be said for Sarkisian, who unlike Brown, is entering this Saturday’s game between West Virginia and Texas coming off a loss, a loss many are labeling as a “bad” one to Texas Tech in overtime. It was after Texas entered that game ranked and riding high with a one-point loss to Nick Saban and Alabama as their only defeat of the young season. And while moral victories don’t really exist, certainly not in Texas, losing a close game to Alabama isn’t anything anyone is going to spend too much time criticizing.
Sarkisian has a 7-9 record so far in the middle of his second season as leader of the Long Horns. He posted a 5-7 mark, failing to reach bowl game status, in his first year on the job last season. Not good, especially when you take into account it’s at Texas, a program with expectations of being a national contender and a program with resources and finances on part with any program in the country.
And let’s not forget the added urgency of beginning a transition into the gauntlet that is the SEC. The money will be more plentiful in the SEC, and conference realignment is of course about money, but the schedule will also get much tougher. Sarkisian’s attempt at knocking off his mentor and beating the man who he claims helped rescue his career following a failed tenure at USC, another elite program that’s underachieved over the last decade or so, and a brief stop in the NFL with the Falcons, will become an annual event.
How long will a “moral” win be acceptable for Texas? All of this points to one thing – Sarkisian needs to start winning to keep his job.
When evaluating a head coach, people often also look to the state of the program before that coach arrived in town. It’s why some gave Brown a pass for a couple seasons at WVU. The Mountaineers had lost three consecutive bowl games under Dana Holgorsen. WVU was winning games at times and was 8-4 in Holgorsen’s final season, but the view was that a divorce was needed for both sides and the program was floundering, meaning a long way from the Orange Bowl title won in Holgorsen’s first season in charge. It’s also necessary to realize the expectations at West Virginia and those at Texas are not the same.
Sarkisian took over a Texas team that just won 4 straight bowl games under Tom Herman, and the overlying theme of his tenure was that it was not good enough at Texas. Is that unreasonable? Maybe, but we are talking about Texas, fair or not. Oddly enough, year 2 was Herman’s crowning achievement at Texas. It sparked the moment people now use to make fun of the program when quarterback Sam Ehlinger professed, “we’re baaaaaack!” on stage following a win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. If we are talking about being “back” to glory as a true contender for a national championship, like the one Mac Brown and Vince Young delivered or even an appearance in the title game like Colt McCoy led Texas to a few years later, then Texas hasn’t close to making Ehlinger right. With that said, Herman’s tenure blows Sarkisian’s out of the water right now. Texas was 7-6, 10-4, 8-5 and then 7-3 with 4 bowl wins under Sarkisian’s predecessor.
So going from Herman’s tenure not being good enough, to then a dip under Sarkisian has elicited Texas fans to let out a “here we go again” as a reaction to the Texas Tech loss and blowing a game to an underdog conference rival. A loss to an unranked WVU team, whose big win was against an unranked Virginia Tech team most feel is pretty average at best, would turn up the heat so high on Sarkisian that it could be unbearable already.
Neal Brown does need the win. Neal Brown does need more “big” wins, and a win over a at least previously ranked Texas team would be one to argue. Neal Brown and WVU need to win because the schedule gets tougher the next week with Baylor visiting campus for another Thursday night showdown. But Steve Sarkisian absolutely MUST win. He needs the win even more. A loss would be far worse for him. The pressure is on Texas on Saturday.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm and the game will be broadcast nationally on FS1.