Time is precious for football coaches. Not just within the 60 minute bounds of a game, but also during a seven-day week and a 365-day year. Each moment a coach gets with his team is best put toward something productive.
Sometimes, that includes passing along a gameplan for a rivalry game with high stakes. Sometimes that’s recruiting five-star prospects who are the best at their position nationally. But there are times when off-the-field matters take precedence, especially when it comes to building a culture.
Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian has often been asked about culture. It’s something he’s attributed the Longhorns’ 10-1 start and national championship contention to often this season. But there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity for Sarkisian to really define what he means by culture.
Until Monday. Below is a video of Sarkisian’s response, plus every word he provided with the answer.
“I think the first thing about culture, culture is organic,” Sarkisian said. “It is not a sign up in your building. It’s not a T-shirt you wear. It’s not breaking the team down and saying ‘culture on three.’ I think culture is organic. It manifests itself with the relationships you build. I think there’s things that we talk to in our culture that are of the utmost importance. Commitment is really important to our culture. Discipline is really important to our culture. Accountability is very important to our culture. Mental and physical toughness are very important to our culture. Love is very important to our culture. Vulnerability is very important to our culture. Transparency is really important to our culture.
“That’s just to name a few. But I can’t just say those things. We have to live those things and then we have to have teachable moments along the way to celebrate the guys that are doing those things, point out when maybe we’re not and how can we fix it, and how do we correlate that? Because who you are some of the time is who you are all of the time. If you want to be a disciplined football team when you take the field each weekend, you have to be disciplined when you’re off the field. How are we in school? How are we in community service? All of it all adds up to that becomes your culture because that is who you are and that’s how we go about everyday life.”
“For example, when we have a team meeting and that meeting breaks, I had the same few guys that early on who would make sure the team room was clean — there was no Gatorade bottles, there was no tape, there was no trash. A couple of those guys names were Roschon Johnson and Bijan Robinson. Well, that elevated to when those guys were gone, the running back room was the one that cleaned up the team room. To now, when we break a team meeting, everybody looks around. It has grown from two guys to more. When we go to the movies on Friday nights before a ballgame if we have a night game, everybody chirps ‘pick up your trash.’ I know those sound like little things, but in the end those are really big things to me because that means that’s the way we’re thinking all of the time.
“If we’re doing those little things, that’s why I say to celebrate the small victories. I really celebrate that stuff because I think those actions and that behavior leads to the big victories; leads to 1st and goal on the five and your defense has got to get four stops; leads to 3rd and 12 backed up on the road and you convert a first down. I think it leads to those guys counting on one another, relying on one another because they’re doing the right things on a daily basis. We’re not perfect and I don’t expect our guys to be perfect.
“If they can be coachable on and off the field and they can learn from one another, then we will continue to grow and our culture will continue to grow. It takes being vulnerable. It takes being transparent with one another. I takes getting to know one another so you can have empathy for what a guy is going through not just on the field, but off the field, where he came from, what’s going on in his life, and we have to share those things.
“In the summer, we do a lot of culture work every Wednesday morning. Now Friday night, I do a culture exercise. That’s the last thing we do before we go get on the bus, whether it’s to go to the hotel or to go get on the plane. We invest a lot in that. I think that obviously, to me, it’s paid dividends. Culture beats talent if your culture is really strong. Culture and talent together is a pretty powerful force, and that’s something we tried to create here.”
Win and in
Amidst all the successes for the Longhorns this year, Sarkisian’s team has not yet clinched a spot in the Big 12 Championship game. However, unlike last season where Texas had to rely on Kansas to defeat Kansas State, something the Jayhawks couldn’t accomplish, the Horns will be playing a 13th game with the Big 12 title on the line if they defeat Texas Tech in game No. 12.
The progress from last season is something Sarkisian emphasized on Monday.
“We learned our lesson a year ago,” Sarkisian said. “We put ourselves in position a year ago to where we had to win Friday night against Baylor, and we were able to do that. But then, our fate was in somebody else’s hands on Saturday. It didn’t work out so well for us. We didn’t get into the championship game. This year, leave no doubt. This is on us. We control our own destiny. Let’s go handle our business the way we know how to do it.”
Brett Yormark and the Longhorns
“Coach (Joey McGuire), I’m not going to put any pressure on you, but I’m going to be in Austin on Thanksgiving. And you better take care of business like you did right here in Lubbock last year.” – Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark on August 23.
Texas has made it clear it knows the remaining members and leaders in the Big 12 aren’t the biggest fans of the Longhorns ahead of their move to the SEC. Brett Yormark’s comments in August were just another sign of it.
Sarkisian was asked about Yormark’s plan to be in attendance and if he had to smooth anything over with Yormark.
“There was nothing to smooth over,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian downplayed the comments, saying his team needed to play well and that it didn’t matter whether the Longhorns had a Big 12 patch or a Southeastern Conference patch on their uniform. For Sarkisian, he’s trying to minimize external factors as much as possible.
“Whether the commissioner is rooting against our players or not, or we’re in the SEC or the Big 12, our guys just want to play good football and they want to win,” he said.
It’s just more noise he doesn’t want his team to worry about. However, Sarkisian said he has spoken with Yormark — who saw the Longhorns top the Cyclones in Ames — and is excited to put on a good performance for him.
“He’ll be here Friday, and I’m hopeful we put on a heck of a show for him,” Sarkisian said. “He’s the commissioner of our conference, and I’m hopeful that when he watches us play he’s proud of the way that we play in representing the Big 12 because that’s the conference we’re in right now.”