The Ocho

A home away from home for the college football fan who's tired of the talking heads not knowing what they're talking about.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Alabama Coaching Conundrum

So, once again, the brain trust in Tuscaloosa is looking for a new coach (the fifth one in as many years), and have already been spurned by Rich Rodriguez of West Virginia. Now whether it was WVU's ability to must a decent counter-offer, or the tears shed by his wife at the thought of leaving cosmopolitan Morgantown for Tuscaloosa, or the absolute disregard Bama has for its coaches is hard to say. But here are some reasons why Bama has built the bed its currently lying in, and why I'll be surprised if any good coach in anything approaching a good situation will uproot to pace the fields at Bryant Denny Stadium:

1. The treatment of Mike Shula
Was Shula a great coach? No, though he certainly was the son of one. But he didn't deserve to be fired after this 6-6 season. Why, you might ask? Well, I'll tell you. Shula had been coaching since 2003, and prior to this season, had compiled a 20-17 record. When Shula took over for Mike Price (more on him later), Alabama was on NCAA probation. That same probation ended, well, gee whiz, it HASN'T ended yet. In fact, it will end next year. Now, not everyone can pull a Terry Bowden and rattle off the first (before 2004) undefeated season in the history of their school. But to have been a coach entirely during a probation, have a 10 win season, and be over .500 at the end of those 4 seasons should have been good enough. It wasn't, and due to losing 4 in a row to Auburn (who have gone 8-5, 13-0, 9-3, and 10-2 those seasons), he's gone, and any new coach should be leery about jumping into the mix.

2. Dennis Franchione's jump to A&M
What happened that a move to Texas A&M, even with looming probation, was more attractive than staying in Tuscaloosa? I guess it was Alabama fans and boosters. 7-5 and 10-3 in his two years there, Franchione probably would've been able to continue winning, even with the limitations. He's been able to cobble together a mostly successful team, in a Texas recruiting field where he ranks at least fourth (behind OU, UT, and LSU), and possible behind Texas Tech and TCU in recent years, as the most attractive destination for Texas high school players. Meanwhile, in Alabama, aside from the few who have a love affair with some other state's schools, the number one (depending on family affiliation) is always going to be Auburn or Alabama. Trust me, no high schooler in the state decides he'd rather play for Troy or UAB - if it's a Bama family, Bama is the target. Whether it was just a preference for Texas, or whether it was the pressure cooker (and completely unreasonable expectations for the past 25 years) at Bama, Coach Fran chose A&M, much to the delight of Auburn fans year in and year out.

3. Mike Dubose: You can bang 'em, as long as you win
Let's face facts: Dubose faced a sexual harassment situation in 1999, but kept his job because he went 10-3 and beat Auburn. He lost his job the next year due to a 3-8 season, not morality issues. All his dalliances did was get Mike Price fired for his evening with the stripper before he coached a single down.

4. The Rival Problem (or the Cooper Conundrum)
John Cooper got fired from Ohio State for not beating Michigan. Lloyd Carr is under fire in some quarters for not being able to beat Ohio State, and Mack Brown was under a lot of fire until 2005 for his problems with OU. So, as we can see, a coach with an impeccable record at a school not hamstrung by multiple years of probation can face problems when he can't beat the rivals. Now take Bama, which is still on probation, and definitely playing second fiddle to Auburn since the Stallings era, and imagine the difficulty in trying to build a program back to what it's been while facing a desire for immediate success. A new chef isn't going to turn ground check into Kobe beef - what do you expect, Bama fans?

5. Instant Gratification
Tom Osborne coached for 21 years at Nebraska before winning a NC. Joe Paterno coached for 16 at PSU before his first. Bobby Bowden coached for 16 years at FSU before getting one. Lou Holtz had a 19 year career before winning the big one at ND. The Bear had been at Bama for only 4 years before winning one, but he'd been a head coach for 16 years altogether at that point. Let's look at Bama's post-Bear coaches to see why, just maybe, the lack of patience may be working against them:
Ray Perkins: 4 years at Bama, 0 years total prior
Bill Curry: 3 years at Bama, 7 years total prior (winning record at Bama, just couldn't beat pesky Auburn)
Gene Stallings: 7 years at Bama, 7 years total prior (and oh, there were some major NCAA problems during Stallings era)
Mike Dubose: 4 years at Bama, 0 years total prior
Dennis Franchione: 2 years at Bama, 11 years total prior
Mike Price: 2 minutes at Bama (never coached a game, so experience doesn't really matter)
Mike Shula: 4 years at Bama, 0 years total prior

Amazing how the guys who had prior experience had winning records as coaches at Bama. Even Shula did well compared to Perkins or Dubose, but Curry and Shula, while having overall winning records, couldn't beat the Tigers.

So Bama, enjoy your situation - let's see what other rising coach you can wear out in the next three-four years. Don't be surprised if there aren't many takers. But hey, Miami's already hired a coach, so maybe Bernie Kosar is still available . . .