Sark Arslanian, who recruited some of the greatest players in school history and restored a winning a winning tradition at CSU after years of struggle, has died at his home in St. George, Utah. He was 92.
Arslanian compiled a record of 45-47-4 in his 8-plus seasons from 1973-81, including a 9-2-1 mark in 1977 when the Rams narrowly missed winning the Western Athletic Conference title.
“We mourn the passing of Sark Arslanian and offer our sincere condolences to his family,” said Joe Parker, CSU’s director of athletics. “He was a loyal Ram who served our institution admirably as head football coach and authored one of the most successful seasons in school history in 1977.”
Border War success
During his tenure as head coach at CSU, Arslanian defeated Wyoming five times and his 1977 team received votes in the AP Top 25 poll. After four winning seasons, including a 6-4-1 mark in 1980, his CSU coaching tenure ended Oct. 20, 1981.
Tom Ehlers, CSU’s director of football operations, was recruited by Arslanian and played for him in his first two seasons as a Ram.
“I am saddened, but I am also reminded of Coach’s passion for football, life, friends and family,” Ehlers said. “He was always so kind to me, and so happy to talk about all the players and games from his time here. He changed my life by bringing me to Colorado State in 1980, and he changed the lives of many others throughout the years. He was such a great coach and an even better person.”
Among the players recruited by Arslanian and his staff were twins Mike and Mark Bell. Mike, a defensive end, was the second player take in the 1978 NFL draft, while Mark, a tight end, played several years in the NFL.
Arslanian, always known as a players’ coach, also recruited Al “Bubba” Baker, who was the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year in 1978, linebackers Keith King and Kevin McLain, receiver Mark R. “Tinker” Bell, running backs Alvin Lewis and Ron Harris, and many others. Other notable Rams who played for Arslanian are current Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell, former CSU athletics director and Fort Collins business leader Mark Driscoll, former CSU athletics director Jack Graham and current Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.
In all, 31 Rams who played for Arslanian were selected in the NFL draft.
Arslanian produced four winning seasons, including three in a row from 1975-77. It was the first time CSU has registered three consecutive winning seasons since 1950-52.
His 1980 team, with former CSU head coach Steve Fairchild at quarterback, finished 6-4-1 and fell just short of winning a WAC title.
Arslanian was fired the following season when his team opened the season 0-6; the Rams lost their final six games under interim coach Chester Caddas to become the first 0-12 team in NCAA history, just one season removed from conference title contention.
Coach and showman
Known for his go-for-broke, innovative coaching style, Arslanian raised eyebrows when the Rams hosted nationally ranked Wyoming in 1978. The Rams were nowhere to be found during pregame warmups before running to the field via the steps in the student section at Hughes Stadium. The move fired up the huge crowd but also helped ignite a pregame brawl between the Border War rivals.
Arslanian, who ranks fourth on CSU’s all-time coaching wins list, was invited to help CSU celebrate the final season at Hughes this fall but a broken hip and failing health forced him to cancel his appearance.
Arslanian is a member of the Athletics Hall of Fame at Weber State, where he coached from 1965-72 and was the winningest coach in school history when he departed for CSU, with a record of 50-26-2. He also is a member of the Dixie State Athletic Hall of Fame, the Utah Sports Hall of Fame, the Pop Warner National Hall of Fame and the All American Football Foundation honor roll.
Born Sarkis Arslanian on Feb. 4, 1924, in Fresno, Calif., he was preceded in death by his wife, Verlyn. The couple had six children, including sons Dave and Paul, who followed their father into football coaching careers of their own.
Funeral services are pending.