UAB went 5-7 last season.
They lost the CUSA player of the year, senior QB Joe Webb, to graduation, along with their top RB and their best offensive lineman. Webb, a dual threat QB, rushed for an astounding 1427 yards. He alone accounted for just under 73 percent of UAB's offense .
It is tough to replace that kind of production, especially in a make or break year for a coaching staff.
UAB ranked 102nd in scoring defense, allowing 32.33 points per game. They do bring back most of the defense, but how much improvement is it reasonable to expect?
With these facts in mind, UAB fans are more optimistic than confident that coach Neil Callaway will do better next season, and that is probably the driving force behind the viral and frequently rebuked rumour that Bobby Bowden will replace Callaway sometime in the near future.
I think based on the fact that Callaway may be unable to win enough games next year to keep his job—in spite of a very defensible job done by Callaway so far, when you consider the scholarship limitations he inherited—the school, alumni, boosters, and the city of Birmingham really should start quietly considering a plan for life after Callaway.
I think Terry Bowden would be the guy to target, not Bobby Bowden.
The Bowden Rumour
Over the last few months, as rumours surfaced that Bobby Bowden would be forced out at Florida State, there were many reports that Bobby Bowden would become the next coach at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
The rumour seemed crazy. Why would Bowden take a job at an unheralded program that has only been in one bowl game in its entire 19 year history?
Well apparently there is history there. Reportedly, years ago the elder Bowden and Alabama had an extended flirtation. Bowden felt he was going to be offered the Alabama job. Alabama felt they more or less were doing Bowden a favor by allowing him to interview for the position.
Bowden was quitely put off and stayed at FSU.
UAB started up their football program in 1991, tapping Jim Hilyer as their first head coach. Hilyer rang up a 27-12-2 record.
According to the rumor, Hilyer was fired to make way for Bowden, who was going to take the job to give the Crimson Tide a big "up yours"!
That didn't happen either, and UAB was left scrambling, eventually hiring the very forgettable Watson Brown—a coach who had never rang up a record better than 7-4 at any collegiate level.
Per that line of thought, Bobby Bowden, who was born in Birmingham, has long had some regrets on how things worked out for his hometown school and their young program. With his dismissal at FSU, the thought was Bowden would step right in at UAB, bringing his son Tommy in as "coach in waiting".
The whole thing didn't seem to pass the sniff test. Why would Tommy Bowden, who was proven a good but not great coach at BCS School Clemson, take an assistant job at a non-BCS school and wait...five or six years or whatever it takes for Bobby Bowden to accomplish his win total...before assuming command of a sub-BCS program? Sure the guy loves his Dad, but why would his Dad have Tommy effectively put his career on hold for almost 10 years?
It doesn't make sense.
Why would UAB not just hire Tommy directly if he is the coach they ultimately want? Most recruits are 17-years-old and have only been following football on TV actively for the last seven or 10 years. How much better does Bobby Bowden appear to be to them than Tommy Bowden? Remember Tommy won four of the last five "Bowden Bowls".
It doesn't make sense.
UAB's budget is micromanaged by the University of Alabama System Board of Trusties, a board lead by rabid UA crimson blood Paul Bryant Jr., the son of UA's legendary Coach Paul Bryant.
The last time UAB tried to hire a coach, the BOT thwarted their efforts. UAB had agreed to a deal to hire Jimbo Fisher.
University boosters would pay approximately half of Fisher's $600,000 salary. The university would be on the hook for less than half of Fisher's salary. The university's share would have been less than the university had been paying Watson Brown.
The issue was that Alabama was seeking to hire Nick Saban as their head coach, and the thought was that Saban would want to hire Fisher as his offensive coordinator if he took the Alabama job.
So the way the story goes, the BOT rejected the hire of Fisher, as it would cost the university too much, and instead strongly advised the university to hire Georgia's offensive coordinator Callaway.
Callaway was considered a good offensive coordinator, but not an SEC caliber head coach waiting to happen like Fisher. The Callaway hire would hurt Georgia and would likely not hurt Alabama's recruiting.
With few options, UAB hired Callaway.
Let's not bag on Callaway
Do not think that I am cheering for Callaway to get fired. As with any coach who has three disastrous years under his belt, some fans have seen enough . I am never all that gung-ho to fire someone who is doing some things right. I hope he wins and keeps his job.
I do feel for Callaway. He seems like a coach who has some talent and is doing a lot of things right—he just took the wrong job.
UAB fans would like to see Callaway dump his defensive coordinator . We will see next year if Callaway is correct and the the DC is not part of the problem. If the defense isn't substantially better, it could be curtains for the staff.
Callaway has a good feel for offense but was not prepared for the lack of professionalism in the players he inherited from Watson Brown. (I call it like I see it, and I think there was a reason Watson Brown had so many losing seasons. He is a pretty poor collegiate head coach.)
Callaway is a very competent offensive coordinator who at minimum understands the responsibilities and mechanics of being a good collegiate head coach. In that alone he is a major upgrade over Watson Brown and will likely leave a solid base when he eventually leaves.
He may have too much loyalty to his staff, like UNT's Todd Dodge, but it is to be seen if that loyalty is misplaced.
Callaway demanded a lot from his new players and lost a lot of them due to that. Probably more than usual were lost in that regime change.
Callaway is not a guy who knocks recruits off their feet with his name. His resume is good but not great. With all of the problems at UAB, the job really requires a top notch salesman to accentuate the potential over the reality.
Callaway has also had to deal with scholarship limitations due to the program failing to meet NCAA standards. The NCAA has a system called the Academic Progress Rates (APR) which punishes schools that don't do a good job of getting their athletes on track to graduate.
Most NCAA FBS schools are in compliance with APR. UAB is not. While his opponents could give 85 scholarships, UAB could only give 76 in 2008. UAB only had 67 scholarship players on the Roster in UAB's first season under Callaway . It appears that due to hard work by Callaway, the athletic department and the athletes UAB is finally out of the NCAA's doghouse this year .
That should be a major feather in Callaway's cap but likely won't be. Callaway's situation very much paralells what Chuck Long went through at San Diego State. (Long did all the hard work to dig the school out of it's APR program only to get fired over the fact that he didn't win with less talent as well.)
Callaway had done a good job of building a good work ethic and a competitive mentality on his team, but college football is a game of talent. I heard a quote once from a TV announced who said, "80 percent of the time the team with more talent wins in college football." I think there is a lot to that theory.
Callaway has effectively been playing poker with four cards his whole time at UAB.
Plus the general consensus among the fans seems to be that the Athletic Department does a poor job of marketing and promotion, making Callaway and all the coaches at UAB have to work that much harder.
It's sad, and it isn't really all that fair, but job retention in college football is all about winning games. The odds are Callaway will probably not survive at UAB for the same reason Chuck Long didn't at San Diego State—his reveiew will be based upon wins alone and he doesn't have enough of them.
(One hopes that coaches who take jobs at schools with APR problems will demand longer contracts and more expensive buyouts in the future. The odds of surviving long enough to escape scholarship jail just aren't very good otherwise.)
So let's take the uncomfortable steps and talk about a plan of action if Callaway cannot win enough to retain his job next season.
Why Terry instead of Tommy or Bobby Bowden?
There is no reason to assume that the BOT would allow UAB to sign a media show like Bobby Bowden. Bobby would probably want in excess of $1 million, and to get both Bobby as the head coach and Tommy as the Coach in waiting, the university may be looking at $2 million.
The boosters were willing to give $300K and leave the university with $300K to pay each year. Would they be willing to scrape up say $1.7 million? I have a hard time believing that money is floating around.
Tommy Bowden is not far removed from a solid but unspectacular run at a BCS school, Clemson. He may be willing to do a lot to help his dad set the wins record, but does he really want the UAB job? I have a hard time believing he would see UAB as anything more than a stepping stone to another BCS job where he can exorcise the demons of his failures at Clemson.
Additionally, he has worked at the BCS level in the region recently. His price would likely be in the $1 million range at minimum. Again, even if the money could be worked out, I think the BOT would see Tommy Bowden as a threat to steal a player here or there from Alabama.
Terry, on the other hand, is more or less an unknown as a coach to today's collegiate prospect. The BOT may not object to him on that criteria, especially if Terry makes a smart and very public push for the job.
I consider Terry a better coach than Tommy. Tommy went undefeated in Conference USA and struggled in the ACC. Terry went undefeated in the SEC. That is a vastly bigger accomplishment.
Terry won the Bear Bryant, Walter Camp, and Eddie Robinson coach of the year awards for his undefeated season. (To be fair, Tommy did win the C-USA coach of the year for his undefeated season and won coach of the year in the ACC twice for his 6-6 1999 and 9-4 2003 Clemson teams and the FCA coach of the year award for his 8-5 2006 Clemson team.)
I always felt like Terry was the bigger personality. He paid more attention to detail than Tommy or even their dad. He won because he was just that good. I think he is the best coach in the Bowden family at this point.
I think his recent experience at a DII school with its smaller budget is great preparation for maximizing dollars, which he will need to do at UAB. It has also allowed him to make new contacts with high school coaches in the region. Tommy, on the other hand, has experience as a head coach at Tulane as his smallest budget job, and that was over 10 years ago.
Terry took a job at a DII school because his desire to coach was overwhelming and he couldn't land a better job, despite having an undefeated season in the SEC on his record.
Perhaps Terry's long absence from coaching hurt him. Perhaps his infamous interview where he revealed all of the skeletons at Auburn , as he wanted it on record in case anything happened to him, scared away schools with skeletons in their closets. Perhaps Auburn blackballed him.
We really don't know anything beyond the fact that when the high profile Terry announced a desire to return to coaching, the best job he could land was at a DII power.
Unlike Tommy, this might be the best job Terry can get at this point in his career.
Unlike Tommy, I could see Terry making UAB his Florida State.
Why the BOT might allow Terry Bowden to become the fourth head coach of UAB.
Alabama has Nick Saban and a national title. They are in a totally different spot than they were last time. Plus the BOT will likely feel some pressure to do right by UAB this time around after so obviously meddling last time.
Prior to last year, Terry had been out of coaching for 10 years. High school kids might know him from ESPN, but that's it. He might be seen by the powers at Alabama as the least of the Bowden clan in terms of recruiting.
He might be seen as a guy who could only get UAB to seven wins. I think that is a poor evaluation, but I could see Alabama feeling that way.
Terry can't be making more than $200,000 at Northern Alabama. He is coaching because he wants to coach, and that was the best job he could get today. UAB's limited budget might be OK for Terry for the time being. He may be content to let his salary grow with fan support.
And perhaps most importantly it could be a huge poke in the eye to Auburn and its mega-booster Bobby Lowder. The Terry Bowden interview would continue to resurface as long as Bowden was in place at UAB. This could cost Auburn a couple of recruits every year for as long as Lowder is involved.
Paul Bryant Jr. could be sold on it for this reason alone, and I suspect Terry Bowden would be receptive to it as well.
What Terry Bowden brings that Neil Callaway doesn't
I would argue it starts with swagger and skins on the wall, and that will help in recruiting. Callaway may be a very good head coach in time, but it may not happen at UAB. The scholarship limitations have hobbled his start and he may run out of time.
Bowden would be inheriting a team that was at least well managed and would not have that baggage to overcome.
Bowden would be able to recruit at at least a high level for CUSA, and as I said before, talent wins 80 percent of the time.
Finally Bowden has proven he can win as a head coach. Callaway has shown glimpses of competence but hasn't proven that he has that knack for winning.
What needs to occur to make this happen
I would say that Terry should not instigate contact with UAB. It is frankly tacky to publicly beg for another man's job (Don't be a Mike Leach.) and it can earn a coach a lot of enemies.
Wait for UAB to make a decision on Callaway, but be ready to campaign ala Tommy Tuberville and the Texas Tech job if it does happen.
If Terry makes contact and UAB expresses an interest, I think Terry's next step should be blowing the BOT's compensation costs veto out of the water. If Terry announced that if selected for the job he would not take any more compensation from the university than $200,000 per year, that would immediately blow a hole in that objection. UAB would be paying less than any other FBS school for their coach.
(The Boosters can pay Bowden back by paying for public appearances and coaches shows and whatnot. This would also dramatically improve recruiting by getting the affable Bowden out in the public's view.)
If Callaway is released after the 2010 season, UAB would still owe Callaway at least $300,000. UAB would probably also have to pay his assistants at least a pro-rated amount for a few months. If the boosters want a coaching change following the 2010 season instead of the 2011 season, they need to be prepared to pay for that, as well as some money to Bowden each year.
Sadly, it appears there is a good chance things may not work out for Coach Callaway at UAB, but I have been proven wrong before. UAB, UAB Boosters, and the city of Birmingham should have plans for either scenario.