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Kenny Stabler was arrested for DUI last night in Robertsdale. I’ve heard the rumors that Jay Barker would be replacing him as color commentator for Crimson Tide football games, a rumor that Jay Barker has denied on his morning talk radio show, and word’s been that Kenny has been none too happy about that rumor, either.

Well, Kenny’s mistake last night will make it very easy for Alabama to fire him, if in fact that is what they want to do, and make a move for Barker. Before last night, even if they’d wanted much-beloved Barker in the booth, firing Stabler would have been a tough move. As beloved as Jay Barker is, so too is the Snake. But by climbing into that car last night in Robertsdale, Kenny’s almost given permission to Alabama to fire him. If Alabama does fire him, there won’t be any uproar by the fans as there could have been, now the fans will just be waiting with anticipation to hear that Jay Barker will be hired to fill the post.

Not that Kenny Stabler won’t still be much-beloved in the state of Alabama. He always will be, but he’s also dug his own grave, so to speak, by driving under the influence of alcohol.

Long live the Snake. Cheers.

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Paul Finebaum: “I think it’s a biblical thing. Twenty-five years of glory (the number of years Bryant was at Alabama) followed by 25 five years of plagues.”

Allen Barra (in the book “The Last Coach“): “Which means a new golden age should be dawning for the Crimson Tide around 2007.”

This is a great article. I wish I’d written it. Paul Finebaum is the author, and one of the several key points it covers includes one in which he states, quite correctly, that Alabama fans don’t live in the past quite as much as people accuse them (us) of.

I don’t think Alabama fans so much live in the past, as others accuse them of. They simply remember a time when excellence was required and essential. You didn’t hear the excuses and the alibis during Bryant’s times. You heard people talk about expectations of winning it all — not settling for second place. 

I’ve pointed that out before. We love the Bear, but we also love our program. We’re not looking for another Bear Bryant. It would be ridiculous to try: Bear Bryant was a figurehead, an icon, a genuinely Great Man. A lot of people would scoff right now, reading this, believing that such a statement was written by an Alabama fan of Coach Bryant because he was the Alabama coach. But those who do didn’t know Paul Bryant. They didn’t have the opportunity to stand in his presence and feel humbled just because he looked at you. And it’s nothing I can explain here. Paul Bear Bryant will never be duplicated, and we, as Alabama fans, don’t even want him to be. What we’re looking for is another great coach to add to the Alabama dynasty, a tradition that includes a lot of folks not named Bryant: Thomas, Wade, Stallings. These are the University of Alabama’s Four Horsemen, they’ve combined to give Alabama 12 National Championships, and now it’s time to add #13. Welcome to the fold, Nick Saban.

What if Gene Stallings had been hired to follow Bryant instead of Ray Perkins? What if Bobby Bowden had been hired instead of Bill Curry? What if Howard Schnellenberger had emerged from the pack at various times? What if Alabama had hired Frank Beamer instead of Mike DuBose, or an available and willing Steve Spurrier after Shula’s second season? What if Alabama had not been arrogant and played ball with the NCAA in 1995, and what if it had stood firm in the Albert Means case instead of rolling over?

 And there you have it. 25 years of frustration summed up in one series of questions. If any one of those questions had been answered in the past 25 years there might have been a very different story told today. But you can’t subvert destiny, right? The good news is that if Alabama was destined for 25 years of plague, that prophesy was fulfilled last year. Which means we are now on the threshold of a new era: welcome to the advent of Nick Saban.

Finally, the article ends with a comment that’s similar to one I made above, but coming from a Tennessee man it might carry more weight.

On the 25th anniversary of Bryant’s death, Alabama’s program is solid, legitimately looking forward for the first time in a long time.

Is Nick Saban the next Bear Bryant?

Not a chance.

He’s a very good coach, but neither Saban nor anyone else can compare. There was only one Bear Bryant. And that statement rings as true today as it did 25 years ago.

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Here’s a question I’m hearing a lot: I’m an Alabama fan; should I feel slighted that Rodriguez took the Michigan job in ’08 after turning down Bama in ’07?

My answer? No. Alabama should definitely not feel slighted by Rich Rodriguez accepting the Michigan job.

Why? Because of the two primary factors involved:

  • West Virginia had a very good stock of returning talent for ’07 and Rodriguez knew he’d have a decent shot at a national title.
  • For ’08, WVU’s talent stock will be significantly lower, and the likelihood of competing again for the NC will drop significantly.

Basically, the time was not right for a job change in ’07, but it couldn’t have been better for ’08.
 
Additionally, Alabama in ’07 would have been a rebuilding project. Rodriguez likely looked at the two situations in hand (WVU or Bama for the ’07 season) in terms of what the hires could mean in a few years, rather than at their immediate benefits. When he was offered the Bama gig, he had a lot of stock as a head coach, but no National Championship. Looking at the talent pool at both schools, the chance of winning a NC at WVU was pretty good, but at Bama it was not. Realistically, the only situation for Rich Rodriguez in ’07 that might have improved his situation was with an Alabama-caliber school which was also in a position to compete for a National Championship. Alabama, clearly, was not. This little factor would effectively narrow the potential schools to: USC, Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan and the like, none of which were on the table at the time.

Championships being the primary motivation for any coach, it’s easy to see why he would remain at a school with inferior facilities for lower pay for another year or two. He realized his shot was happening at WVU, while accepting the Bama gig would have meant rebuilding the team, a prospect that is altogether likely due to the many benefits of coaching at a school like Alabama, but for immediate gratification as well as what a potential NC would mean for his future, it made sense to stay put.

Supposing he had taken the Bama job, the chances of his team being ranked #2 in the country going into the last week of the season would have been practically nil. He would have been stuck in the same 6-6 (or similar) season Saban has been stuck in, collecting talent and building for the future. As it is though, he had his shot and, though he failed, it could do nothing to his stock as a proven head football coach because based on his schedule alone he was virtually guaranteed a winning season. Combine that with the potential for a NC and it was a no-brainer.

Now, fast forward to ’08 and look at the motivating factors: Your star running back is gone next year and your talent stock is declining. You’re facing a potential rebuilding year regardless if you stay at WVU, and word has it your relationship with the WVU AD is strained. Plus, the promises made by WVU to keep him from leaving for Alabama have yet to even get a sniff at becoming reality. Time, clearly, was right for leaving. Since he stayed at WVU for that one extra season, taking his shot at the title and finishing the year ranked in the top ten if not top five, you knew someone was going to come calling. That someone just happened to be Michigan, who have a lot of talent in place, so rebuilding won’t be nearly as significant a project as it would have been at Bama in ’07 or WVU in ’08.

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Mike Shula was a good recruiter, by all accounts. In four seasons at the Crimson Tide he recruited 24 four and five star Rivals ranked players. In less than one year, Nick Saban has recruited 27.

There’s been a lot of recent activity on campus lately, with recruits eagerly adding their names to the swelling ranks of the Tide’s ’08 class. Why? Because Nick Saban has sold the idea that Alabama will be winners soon, and the recruits are buying in.

The latest commitment, River Ridge (LA) cornerback Robby Green, a four-star recruit himself, had this to say about his commitment:

 “I know he’s expecting a national championship. The class we’re bringing in this year, we’re going to work hard to try to meet that ultimate goal. Coach Saban wants to win the national championship and win the SEC championship, which we’re going to bring to the table.”

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Sly Croom is doing good things at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have beaten Alabama twice in consecutive years, and this year added cross-state rival Ole Miss, Kentucky and Auburn to its list of wins, finishing with a satisfying 7-win season plus a bowl trip. Eight wins in Starkville? Yes, and with the QB problems they’re having, that’s quite an accomplishment.

And this upward trend of success the ‘Dogs are enjoying prompts the question: What if Alabama had hired Croom instead of Shula? After the Mike Price fiasco, already late in the year and suffering from the shock and awe penalties of the sanctimonious NCAA, the coaching pickings were slim. A proven head coach was out of the question during that time of year. And what it came down to was a choice between Sly Croom and Mike Shula. Croom was an Alabama product and champion as a player and as a coach, with lessons in coaching from Bear Bryant himself. Shula was a Bama product, son of Don Shula, and had great hair. As coaches, both were in the NFL at the time, Croom coaching the running backs in Chicago and Shula the QB coach for Miami.  

Ultimately the choice came down to who had the best hair. No, I don’t believe it was a black/white thing, but I’ll grant you it would have made vast inroads if Croom had’ve been hired. It’s one thing for MSU to hire a black coach, but for Alabama, with all its pride and tradition, it would have made a statement for the whole south, to the entire country. In the end, though, they hired the prettier Shula, and damn the championship rings on Croom’s fingers. Shula looked more like a head football coach, didn’t he? Surely if he went into a recruit’s home the parents couldn’t resist his boyish charm, those eyes, that smile, that hair! Oh, if only hindsight were 50/50! (in the words of Pat Dye).

In the following years Shula would have some successes as head coach, including a 10-win season and SEC crown, and I’m sure his gentle good looks won him the hearts of many a recruits’ dear mother. But in retrospect, looking at the complete package, who looks the most like a head football coach? Shula, who is now the QB coach for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, or Sly Croom, who has coached up a team of blue-collar no names into a 7-win season. Croom walks the sidelines with a scowl on his face, with a furrowed brow, and points and shouts. While Shula, when he was at Bama, stared with an often-dazed expression, and was routinely slow in making the wrong decision.

Sure, it’s easy to get on the Croom bandwagon when he’s winning, and I do remember last year, when the only thing he had to hang his hat on was a win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa. And I’m grateful for the job Mike Shula did; he took a tough job at a school still reeling, still with red butt cheeks from the NCAA’s almighty whooping stick. But Croom, who may not have boyish good looks, does have the classic coach’s stalk when he’s on the sideline, and he’s got rings, people. Championship rings on his fingers, won at the University of Alabama. Rings that I’ll bet shine brighter than Mike Shula’s baby blues ever did.

So in hindsight, maybe it’s possible Witt chose the pretty boy for the wrong reasons. Maybe he should have opted for the grizzled workhorse who is now building a reputation as a coach who not only demands excellence, but will not accept anything less. If he can win seven games at MSU, how many could he have won at Alabama?

Of course, if Croom had been hired and if had had success then Nick Saban would likely be somewhere else right now and all the excitement surrounding the program would be… what?

Few can match Saban as a recruiter, that much is certain. And as a coach he’s got few peers. But he’s not an Alabama product, and that’s his one big detrimental factor. One which, with Alabama fans, will be very easy to overlook if and when he brings home a championship. And it’s true that ‘hiring inside the family’ has bitten Alabama on the butt more times in recent years than the NCAA has. Saban is a gruff man, not personable at all, they say. The media despises him and most other college football fans in the country do, too. But we adore him, we’ve welcomed him, with all his faults, because he brings a foundation to build upon, he brings success, and he has won championships.

For Coach Croom, if he had been hired and not had success, the firestorm would not have been pretty. There’s certainly a faction of fans who would begrudge the decision of hiring a black man, although I believe it’s a small faction, and dwindling. But if Coach Croom took the podium with those rings on his fingers, few could have kept from being dazzled. He’s a product of Alabama and a Bear Bryant Man, a good man, for all accounts.

What happens if Saban bolts, which is been predicted by virtually everyone who isn’t an Alabama fan? What if Coach Saban sees the looming, potential LSU vacancy as a preferable job and grabs it up? For me, I believe Coach Croom would finally deserve the shot at Alabama. I hope him all the success in the world at MSU, excluding of course the one Saturday every year when they play Alabama. I’m not hoping for Saban to leave–God, no–I’m looking forward to this potential #1 recruiting class and I’m looking forward to everything that I think he can do at Alabama. But if he bolts, there’s a Bryant man waiting in the wing, if he’d still have us.

I believe he would.

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Has Nick Saban lost this team? The better question might be “Did he ever have them in the first place?” It’s been rumored far and wide that some few of the players hadn’t bought into Saban or his system, and it’s entirely possible that those few scrubs–among them some of the senior leadership of the team–could have infected other players, too, if not the whole team.

This team, recruited by the grandmotherly Mike Shula, has at all reports never had much asked of them. Punishment has been almost unheard of and the players have been pampered and mothered in ways few other teams would allow. Enter Nick Saban, a disciplinarian with a temper and very little patience, and the kettle has gone straight from simmer to boil.

But if Mike Shula was grandmotherly, then Saban must be the warden or the drill sergeant. Saban is demanding. He requires players to conform to his structured methods, using a proven plan that produces winners. We know enough of Nick Saban to believe he will not coddle the players–or coaches, for that matter. We know he strives to cultivate a championship mentality first and foremost. But what can be done if the inherited players find themselves so entrenched in their comfort zone that they refuse to step outside of it? You end up with a 6-6 record, ending a long season with a 4-game losing streak including one loss to the Most Hated Rival, and you see a coach at press conferences who seems at a loss for what to do.

And what can be done? At Alabama, standing in the shadow of Bear Bryant, you might only have to look as high as his statue at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and remember the hard lessons learned when he inherited a similar situation at Texas A&M. Go back to the Junction. Find out who wants to play and who doesn’t.

Bear only won a single game that first season at A&M, but he stated numerous times throughout his life that it was his best team ever. And why? Because the players that were left after the Junction were the ones he knew would never quit. When arriving at Athens for a game against Georgia, Bear Bryant was asked by Atlanta newspaperman Harry Mehre where the rest of his team was.

“This is the rest of my team,” Bryant replied.

“Well, uh, why didn’t you bring more guys?”

“Because these are the only ones who want to play.”

Nick Saban has a tried-and-true method for building a championship team. But in this case, he might do well to follow the example set by Bryant, go back to the Junction, and find out who wants to play football and who doesn’t.

The season was lost after the Mississippi State game anyway. It would have made a profound statement if he had dismissed half the team after that loss. It would have met with some criticism, sure, but it would have left no doubt as to who exactly was in charge of the team, whereas now there’s this lingering speculation that maybe this team is lost to him.

Attrition will take care of him in the long run. He’ll get the players in there who want to play for him and the ones who don’t will move on, but gradually. His recruiting class is looking very good according to Rivals and may well end up the best class in the nation. But those players will take time to develop enough to overtake the upperclassmen in skill. Unless the non-conformists are weeded out in one fell swoop.

It’s time to make a statement.

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“We”
By Matt Mitchell

The team I support is my team. I root for them, cheer for them, I feel pain when they lose, I feel glee when they win. They are my team, I am their fan. They require my support to compete, financially and they need the enthusiasm I provide. They have a home-field advantage because of me, because of what I bring to the table. I hate their opponents more than they do sometimes. I wear my team’s colors. I purchase their memorabilia and authorized merchandise. I study their history. Do I love them? Yes. I do. They are my team. So why is it that some people have a problem with me referring to my team using possessive pronouns? As when, during a game, the team is losing I might be heard to say “We need to score more points!” I’ve heard people say (Doug Gottlieb, who played basketball with Oklahoma State and says that it’s a pet peeve of his to hear fans refer to their team possessively) that I can’t claim the possessive because I’m not on the team, I’m not a coach or a player, so I have no right to the possessive pronoun use, that I should stick with ‘they’ and ‘them.’ But there’s a problem with that thinking: If I stop cheering possessively I’ll lose some of the passion that I have for my team. It’s much more difficult for me to urge ‘them’ to score than it is for me to urge ‘us’ to score. By contrast, I can watch a game that I have no emotional interest in and pick a team and support that team, hoping they win, cheering when/if they do. But it’s a detached enthusiasm; I have nothing vested in a win or a loss. But when it’s my team… by removing my possessive passion you’re removing part of the passion that all fans have for the game and the team, thereby shooting yourself in your own foot.

Now look, I don’t call the head coach “My coach” and I don’t pretend to be a member of the team or coaching staff. But I feel a kinship with the players and coaches of my team. And while they may not be “my” coaches or players they certainly are our coaches and our players. I am a little bit envious of them, a little in awe of them, and when the time comes I do not sit on my hands, I stand up and cheer and I wear my team’s colors with pride. When I use possessive pronouns when I cheer/root/pull for my team, then I am in my own way emotionally involved, and I am actively channeling every bit of emotion I have toward you, to lift you up, to raise you above, to empower you, the team and the players, to succeed. If you don’t think that’s valuable, then I’ll stop, but I warn you, it’s going to be difficult for me to be emotionally supportive of a team who I comment during the game: “Man those guys need to score some points,” because I lose the emotional investment I’ve made for the team. Is that the kind of detachment you want from me as a fan? If it is, then you must be the type of person who wants a cathedral-type setting at football and basketball games, where all the onlookers keep quiet and watch, discussing the play of each team.

Football ain’t tennis, and it ain’t golf. Football is football, and if you want the fans to be detached then you are willing to also say goodbye to that precious commodity known as home field advantage, because the fans, and all their incalculably supportive glee, are ON YOUR SIDE, and they want to win as bad as you do, which is exactly why they cheer for you the way they do.

In closing I’ll just say that I’m not a fair-weather fan. I don’t only support the team during the good seasons. I’m an Alabama fan, I have been since the day I was born, when Paul Bryant was alive and well and still had a few more National Championships to win. But we’ve had plenty of down years lately, and I’ve weathered them all. And after we lose a game, I don’t chastise them then, either, because I win with you and I lose with you. You are my team.

Here’s hoping we beat the hell out of Ole Miss this weekend. ROLL TIDE!!!

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