New Texas coach Steve Sarkisian on school song with racist roots: 'That's our song, and we're fired up to sing it'

Texas hired Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian as its new head coach amid great fanfare.

On his first day on the job Tuesday, he stepped into a minefield.

Texas introduced Sarkisian on Tuesday, a day after he wrapped his duties in Tuscaloosa in Alabama’s national championship game win over Ohio State.

One of the first questions he was asked concerned the Texas school song “The Eyes of Texas,” which was exposed in recent months for its roots in racism.

Sarkisian: ‘We’re going to sing it proudly’

Here’s what Sarkisian had to say when asked about the controversial song:

“I know this much, ‘The Eyes of Texas’ is our school song,” Sarkisian said. “We support that song. We’re going to sing that song, we’re going to sing it proudly.”

He then went on a vague tangent about “any other issues that come up” before circling back to address the school song.

“As it pertains to ‘The Eyes of Texas,’ that’s our song. And we’re fired up to sing it.”

Sarkisian’s full response can be seen at 35:26 below:

Why is the song controversial?

The song was a source of controversy last season amid the nation’s race reckoning in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Texas athletes called for the school to stop playing the song over the summer, citing its racist ties. The song, set to the tune of “I’ve been working on the railroad,” debuted in 1903 at a campus minstrel show featuring white students performing in blackface.

The student band members who wrote it drew inspiration and the song’s title from University president William Prather, who frequently paraphrased Confederate Civil War General Robert E. Lee in proclaiming “Forward, young men and women of the University, the eyes of Texas are upon you.”

Band members stand alongside athletes against song

Members of the Texas marching band stood alongside athletes last season and refused to play the song for the Longhorns’ final two home games. School administrators responded by announcing that the Texas band wouldn’t play at all.

The Longhorns played their final home games without a marching band and with “The Eyes of Texas” blaring over the loudspeakers.

Per Texas dean of the College of Fine Arts Doug Dempster in November:

“There has been no change of status, and the university’s alma mater will continue to be played from loudspeakers at the game, not by the band,” Dempster said, per The Austin American-Statesman. “In-person instruction concludes on Nov. 25, after which UT students are expected to be off campus.

“The band will also not perform at the final home football game the day after Thanksgiving on Nov. 27.”

Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian watches warmups before an NCAA football game against LSU in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Texas has hired Sarkisian as the Longhorns new coach. The move comes just a few hours after Texas announced the firing of Tom Herman after four seasons with no Big 12 championships. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt, File)
Steve Sarkisian joined the UT administration in backing a song with racist roots on his first day on the job. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt, File)

Administration, state officials ignore student body concerns of racism

Dempster’s stance reflected that of school administrators and Texas government officials, who insisted that the song keep playing in spite of protests from the student body, many of whom are Black.

School president Jay Hartzell insisted in October amid the controversy that the song would remain the Texas alma mater. The school’s board of regents — which is appointed entirely by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — stood by Hartzell in an October statement, ignoring the song’s ties to racism:

“The Eyes of Texas has been UT Austin’s official school song for almost 120 years,” chairman Kevin Eltife said in an Oct. 22 statement. “It has been performed at most official events — celebratory or solemn — and sung by proud alumni and students for generations as a common bond of the UT family.

“It is a longstanding symbol of The University’s academic and athletic achievements in its pursuit of excellence.”

Athletic director Chris Del Conte joined the administration’s united front in defending the song’s continued presence in school culture.

“I have had many conversations with our head coaches outlining my expectations that our teams show appreciation for our university, fans, and supporters by standing together as a unified group for ‘The Eyes,’ while we work through this issue,” Del Conte said in October.

And now, it appears that new head coach Sarkisian has also received the memo from above.

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