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Texas coach Steve Sarkisian led the Longhorns to a long-awaited breakthrough in his third season at the helm. The most successful season in Austin, Texas in well over a decade included 12 wins, the program's first Big 12 title since 2009 and a trip to the College Football Playoff. As Texas prepares for a move to the SEC this summer, the Longhorns appear ready to re-up their commitment to Sarkisian after the highs of 2023.

In an interview with the Austin American-Statesman, Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said he plans to meet with Sarkisian in the coming weeks to discuss a possible raise and contract extension for the Longhorns coach. Sarkisian is 25-14 overall on the Forty Acres, including a 20-7 record over the past two seasons following a 5-7 debut at Texas in 2021.

"We'll sit down in the next couple of weeks and hammer something out," Del Conte told The Statesman. "We'll discuss the season and have a conversation."

Sarkisian is halfway through the six-year contract agreed upon when he was hired by Texas in January 2021, one worth $34.2 million in total value, plus incentives. He earned a $5.6 million base salary for the 2023 season and is due for another $200,000 bump in 2024. Sarkisian made an extra $300,000 from incentives during the 2023 campaign -- $200,000 from winning the Big 12 championship and another $100,000 from the Longhorns' CFP berth. 

CFP run, SEC move working in Sarkisian's favor

Negotiating a contract extension for Sarkisian would appear to be a no-brainer for the Texas brass. In guiding the Longhorns to a conference title in CFP berth, Sarkisian unlocked a version of the program that his two immediate predecessors -- Tom Herman and Charlie Strong -- never achieved. The Longhorns returned to a level of play that mirrored that of the Mack Brown era. Texas won 158 games and a national title under Brown, and while the Longhorns fell short of that ultimate pinnacle in 2023, it was closest the program has come to finally being "back." 

The move to the SEC alone puts pressure on Texas to up Sarkisian's pay. He needs a bump just to put him on par with his new conference counterparts. Seven coaches in the conference make $9 million or more annually.  According to The Statesman, Sarkisian's current salary would rank 14th out of 16 SEC coaches for the 2024 season. As one of the wealthiest athletic departments in all of college sports, Texas has no excuse for Sarkisian to be that low on the list, especially with the extra cash that will now be flowing in thanks to the SEC's lucrative media rights deal with ESPN. 

A cautionary tale in College Station 

For all the reasons above, the smart move for Texas is to lock down Sarkisian sooner rather than later. But just because Sarkisian brought the program a taste of success, doesn't mean the Longhorn brass should abandon all negotiation protocols. More than once in recent years, college football has seen a mega-contract for a coach ultimately lead to buyer's remorse

There might not be any better example than longtime rival Texas A&M, which just swallowed a buyout north of $70 million after firing coach Jimbo Fisher in November. The Aggies initially gave Fisher a 10-year, $75 million contract in late 2017 before an extension in 2021, upping his contract's total value to roughly $95 million. Texas A&M extended Fisher in the wake of a 2020 campaign that was punctuated by an Orange Bowl victory -- far from a league title or CFP appearance. It was also Fisher's third season at the helm. 

After all that, Fisher's former defensive coordinator -- Mike Elko -- is now the man leading the charge in College Station. It's a situation that has unquestionably forced Texas A&M to swallow plenty of its pride.

The last thing Texas wants is to join the 12th Man on the list of athletic departments that have offered short-sighted deals. Don't be surprised if the Longhorns take a balanced approach -- one that boosts Sarkisian's salary significantly, but doesn't completely break the bank -- during negotiations for a revised deal.