How long do you have to listen to Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian explain how to build culture?
Sarkisian thinks he might need a semester to teach a class, but settled for spending five minutes during his Monday press conference providing a long explanation.
Steve Sarkisian deserves more recognition for the job he’s done at #Texas. His response to @AnwarRichardson’s question about creating an “organic” culture is well worth the 5-minute listen. #HookEm @KVUE pic.twitter.com/mmDnX8zSVh— Tyler Feldman (@TylerFeldmanTV) November 20, 2023
The first lesson on Sarkisian’s syllabus as a relationship-based head coach is that culture is organic.
“It’s not a sign up in your building. It’s not a t-shirt you wear. It’s not breaking the team down and saying, ‘Hey, culture on three.’ I think culture is organic, right? It manifests itself with the relationships that you build.”
Culture also involves a number of buzz words — commitment, discipline, accountability, love, vulnerability, mental and physical toughness.
“I can’t just say those things. We have to live those things and then we have to have teachable moments along the way, A) to celebrate the guys that are doing those things, B) to point out when maybe we’re not and then how can we fix it? And then how do we correlate that because who you are some of the time is who you are all of the time.”
For Sarkisian, the core of discipline on the field is discipline off the field. In the classroom, in community service, in the football complex, those acts all create culture.
In the early part of the Sarkisian era, running backs Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson helped create culture by consistently serving as the players who ensured the team rooms were cleaned up after meetings, a culture now extended to the entire team on Friday movie nights before a game or any other team they’re gathered.
“I know those sound like little thing, 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 — 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.”
In moments like Kansas State’s first and goal in overtime from the Texas 5-yard line when the Longhorns needed four stops and got them all in a resounding victory or the 3rd and 12 from the Texas 13-yard line against TCU when Quinn Ewers hit AD Mitchell on a 35-yard pass to clinch that victory in Fort Worth, all those small culture moments add up to big cultural growth in the recurring situations during a long season that separate bad teams from decent teams and good teams from great teams and great teams from national champions.
It’s in moments like a fifth-year wide receiver who has battled through injuries and a high-level NFL prospect running themselves ragged to turn an interception into a game-changing forced fumble and recovery.
It’s in moments like two elite defensive tackles who weren’t crowned as five-star prospects during the recruiting process walking out to midfield before a crucial road game in the dark to let an overly talkative opponent know what they looked like before letting their elite play say more than their words could in victory.
“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, but 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, but it takes being vulnerable, it takes being transparent with one another, it takes getting to know one another so that you can have some some empathy for what a guy is going through, not just on the field and where he came from, but what’s going on in his life.”
In the summer, that means culture work every Wednesday morning. During the season, it’s Sarkisian leading a culture exercise before the team gets on the bus or a plane or heads to a hotel in Austin.
“We invest a lot in that and and I think that obviously to me it’s paying dividends because I think culture beats talent — if your culture is really strong, culture and talent together is a pretty powerful force and that’s something that we’ve tried to we tried to create here.”