Before the fall of 2015, then-USC football coach Steve Sarkisian probably didn’t think he had much in common with New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia.
Suddenly, when Sabathia announced he was leaving the Yankees to enter rehab for an alcohol problem, Sarkisian saw someone fighting the same battle.
Sarkisian was in the midst of a shocking battle with alcohol in his final days as USC coach. Sarkisian, now the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator, saw an ESPN commentary on Sabathia taking a leave from the Yankees in October 2015. Sarkisian was fired by the school that same month. It changed his life, Sarkisian said.
“I thought to myself, ‘Whoa, here’s somebody who is like me, who is in a very high-profile position in sports – ace pitcher of the New York Yankees – and was being relatively commended or almost celebrated for going to do what he did,'” Sarkisian told reporters, via ESPN’s Vaughn McClure.
“I knew I needed to [go]. I didn’t know how to go about it. But that thing gave me a feeling of, ‘There’s a like person that is going to do this. I know I need to do it. Now how, what, when.’ So I made the decision to go do it. It’s been the best decision of my life.”
Sarkisian and Sabathia have both rebounded well. Sabathia had a 6-2 record for the Yankees this season entering Wednesday’s games. Sarkisian was on Alabama’s staff last season, then ended up taking over for Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta when Shanahan left to be the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach.
Sarkisian said he’s still in a treatment program, and told reporters he is “in a great place.” He has been viewed as a talented head coach for a long time, and his alcoholism could have derailed that. At age 43, in charge of a Falcons offense that was the best in the NFL last season, he has a great chance to keep moving forward in his career.
And had it not been for Sabathia opening up about his own issues, maybe Sarkisian wouldn’t have confronted his.
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