Business of Alabama Football Is Still Alive And Well
"I was told that Alabama football would be out of business in two years" - Former Alabama running back Santonio Beard repeating comments made to him by Tennessee coaches after his commitment to the Crimson Tide.
As time wound down that Thursday night in Pasadena and the celebrating began among the faithful of the Crimson Tide, I watched from the comfort of my home with my wife and two of my sons.
After a round of hugs and high fives we settled back down to watch Nick Saban accept the championship trophy from the chairman of the BCS committee. As Saban lifted the crystal ball above his head with his team surrounding him, my mind began to wander back over what had been a painful and trying decade for Alabama football.
First you had the apparent marital infidelities of Mike Dubose and Mike Price and the betrayal of his team by Dennis Franchione. Throw in Dubose's failing mental state as the 2000 season wore on and the four year malaise that was Mike Shula's time as Head Coach and it was easy to see part of why the Tide struggled over that time period.
There was no doubt that Alabama was guilty of certain infractions regarding NCAA recruiting guidelines. It was only through the use of secret witnesses though that the NCAA was able to trump up enough charges to justify the harsh sanctions they imposed prior to the 2002 season.
The infractions included heavy scholarship reductions and a two-year bowl ban.
The secret witnesses used by the NCAA included members of the Tennessee coaching staff including Head Coach Phil Fulmer. Another secret witness was self proclaimed recruiting analyst Tom Culpepper. Culpepper was still smarting from being beat out of the job of recruiting coordinator at Alabama by Ronnie Cottrell.
So you have an opposing coach and a individual with an axe to grind with the Alabama football program. Neither individual could be considered impartial and both had plenty to gain from seeing the Tide program put on probation.
Despite the sanctions, the coaches preceeding Saban the past ten years still managed to have some on-the-field success. Dubose won an SEC championship with a 10-3 record in 1999. The Crimson Tide went into it's next season ranked as high as third in the country in pre-season polls. After suffering through a crushing 3-9 season Dubose tumultuous career as Head Coach at Alabama was over.
The 2002 season, Dennis Franchione's second at the Capstone, saw the Crimson Tide once again win 10 ball games. It was during that season, however, that rumors begain to spread that Franchione was looking around for a head coaching job elsewhere. Shortly after ending the season with a win in Hawaii, Franchione was announced the new Head Coach at Texas A&M.
His excuse was the heavy sanctions levied on Alabama by the NCAA following the 2001 season. Because of the sanctions and bowl ineligibility certain upperclassman were eligible to transfer without penalty to other programs. Franchione asked them not to though encouraging them to "Hold the Rope" and help the program get through this rough time.
It was the epitome of hypocrisy though as Franchione had no intention himself of staying and seeing the Tide through sanctions.
After a brutal coaching search where the Tide were turned down several times by it's top candidates, Washington State coach Mike Price was hired to be the next Head Coach. Price was eager to take on the job and seemed unafraid of the sanctions facing the program. He was also considered a safe bet to run a clean house.
Price never lasted long enough to coach a game at Alabama after being caught in a Florida panhandle motel with two local strippers. The ladies, the room, and a large amount of alcohol were purchased using a University credit card. It wasn't long after the story broke before Price had been relieved of his coaching duties.
With just a few months remaining till the start of the 2003 season, the Tide was in dire need of a new Head Coach. Those in charge of making the hire felt that after twice going outside the Alabama family with poor results, that this hire needed to be made from someone with 'Bama connections. The candidate should be someone who could be counted on to run a clean program while providing it the stability it so badly needed coming out of probation.
Ultimately Mike Shula and Sly Croom, both former players at Alabama, were interviewed, with Shula being named Head Coach. After going 10-16 in his first two seasons at Alabama, Shula like Franchione and Dubose before him, racked up a season with double digit wins. The Tide went 11-2 in it's 2005 season and many began to wonder if Alabama had begun to turn the corner, back to respectability as a program.
The next season though once again saw the Tide end up with a losing record. After Alabama finished the 2006 season with a final record of 6-7, Shula was fired amid a lot of media uproar. Many felt that he should have been given at least the final season on his contract.
Athletic Director Mal Moore however had seen enough. He also had a good idea of who the perfect candidate to fill the job was.
The next month was filled with many rumors in the press and many more on the Internet. It also included at least one offer to another coach which fortunately for the Tide was eventually rejected. One constant though was the Tide's interest in Miami Dolphins Head Coach Nick Saban.
It was only after the Dolphins had finished their 2006 season that Alabama AD Mal Moore was able to meet with Saban and offer him the Head Coaching position at Alabama.
Alabama fans were overjoyed when the announcement was made that Saban had indeed agreed to take over the Alabama football program. They were so overjoyed that over a hundred thousand fans flooded the Capstone just a few months later for the annual A-Day spring football game. Over 10,000 were turned away from entering Bryant Denny Stadium by the County Fire Marshall.
Saban's first season saw slight improvement from the previous year with the Tide going 7-6. That off season though Alabama signed the No.1 recruiting class in the country. The class brought so much talented new blood to the Crimson Tide roster that Alabama surprised everyone the following season and challenged for a National Championship in just Saban's second season at the helm.
Once again the Tide signed the No.1 class in the nation in the off season. The added talent provided the depth necessary for the Tide to make it's 2009 National Championship run capped off by the 37-21 victory of Texas in Pasadena. It was National Title No.13 for the Crimson Tide.
It had been a dark decade for the Alabama family but those who sought to see the program brought to it's knee's or to see it permanently shut down had ultimately failed miserably.
After going 26-2 in it's last two seasons the Tide program seems primed for a run reminiscent of those in it's storied past. Crimson Tide fans can rejoice at their latest title while dreaming of once again dominating rivals Tennessee and Auburn and racking up titles at both the conference and national level.
It would seem safe to say that Alabama is back to the business of being considered a favorite year in and year out to challenge for national titles, and there doesn't seem to be anything the likes of Phil Fulmer, Rich Johannigmeir, Tom Culpepper and Roy Kramer can do about it.
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