Monday, December 11, 2006

"Alabamaitis", revisited

In 2004, while Florida was undergoing the search for a new head coach, I wrote a piece called "Alabamaitis". Essentially, the point of the piece was for Florida fans to be careful - schools with unreasonable fan expectations, especially those that have a legendary coach in their past, often end up total disasters.

My point at the time was the difficulty any coach would have at Florida in Spurrier’s shadow, and I used the Alabama program as an example of what could occur.

Parts of that piece seem very relevant now. So, reprinted below –

There have been numerous “legends” in college football – men whose personalities dominated the programs they coached. Names such as Bryant, Stagg, Warner, Hayes and, yes, even Paterno, Holtz and Bowden.

And Stephen Orr Spurrier.

Now, the record of the men who follow “The Man” has been less than enviable. Take the case of Alabama. Bear Bryant died in 1983, to be followed by hapless Ray Perkins, who coached the Crimson Tide to a 32-15-1 record over 4 seasons, with no SEC Championships. Perkins was replaced in 1987 by Bill Curry, who by 1989 had returned the Tide to a note of glory, with a 10-1 regular season and an SEC title. If you would think that would be enough, you would be wrong. Curry, you see, was not a prodigy of the Bear, and thus in the eyes of the Alabama faithful, unworthy (the one loss was to Auburn, which did not help). Thus, the unloved Curry was fired, being perhaps the only 10 win, SEC Champ to meet such a fate ever. Even though Alabama fans couldn’t have Bryant back, they wanted the next best thing, one of his pupils.

Which they got in Gene Stallings. A Bryant mentored coach, Stallings (hired at the relatively ripe old age of 55) led the Tide to real glory, winning the national championship in 1992. He also led them to real trouble, and NCAA sanctions, including the forfeiture of all wins in 1993. By 1997, Stallings was out.

The past 7 years have witnessed a coaching carousel at ‘Bama (including the highly embarrassing Mike Price incident), with the current coach’s most prominent resume item being quarterback’s coach for the Miami Dolphins. Alabama, finally realizing that neither Bryant nor any of his pupils are likely to return to coach for them, apparently feels only comfortable settling for a former Tide player as coach. And so the beat goes on.

In light of the troubling history of parochialism at Alabama, what coach in his right mind would have taken the job? The answer was clearly – none. The primary two candidates for the current job were Shula and Sylvester Croom (who, unsurprisingly, also played for Alabama). This is Alabama, one of the most storied programs in college football, down to a choice between two former players at the top of no one’s list. Alabamaitis was born.

While the rest of the original piece compared a similar possible fate for Florida, we are seeing the fruits of “Alabamaitis” in the coaching search at Alabama right now.

Alabama is a cautionary tale for every high profile college program. For instance, I would not want to be the first coach to follow Bowden at FSU. And it doesn’t have to be only the shadow of a legend that could cause problems – as we are seeing at Miami right now, it is the shadow of 5 national titles that is darkening the coaching position at that program.

Meyer, to his infinite credit, has brought Florida a SEC Championship, and a chance at the BCS Title, in his second year.

How close Florida was to catching “Alabamaitis” is thankfully forgotten – for now.


Anonymous said...

Tell me they did't go hire another Yankee like Urban Meyer, the SEC is being coached by white northern carpetbaggers. I'm tired of it.

Henry Gomez said...

Well he's from West Virgina.