Over the past few days I have given a lot of thought to the "roller coaster ride" that is/has been the Alabama Crimson Tide since Gene Stallings departed in 1996.
No one can deny that the stability he offered the program is far greater than any sporadic success that has been gained after his departure, even if Stallings was not your favorite.
That stability is beginning to take form again under the reign of Nick Saban. However, there is much work left to do before anyone can even think of Alabama football in the terms of yesteryear’s success and unwavering strength.
Patience and hard work will prove fruitful if the effort is put forth by everyone.
In the meantime, one has to begin to wonder when this roller coaster ride will finally come to an end, and when the true fun will begin with that which at times seems so long lost: consistent winning!
These thoughts have prompted me to revisit, as cruel and unbearable as it may be, the ups and downs of the Crimson Tide since the 1996 season ended.
Bear with me: It’s a bit lengthy, but then again, we all have to remember the patience thing.
1996: Gene Stallings announces retirement, replacement is named in the form of Mike Dubose = down/unknown
1997: Bama opens the season with a 3-1 record, only to finish 4-7 (2-6 SEC), including a homecoming loss to Louisiana Tech, 27-0 shutout at home against LSU, and a one-point loss to Auburn, not to mention dropping their last four games = way down from 10-3 record of 1996
1998: The Tide start the season 2-2 but improve to a 7-5 (4-4 SEC) record, including Mike Dubose’s first win over Auburn = up
Pre-1999: Rumors leak that Dubose had an affair with his secretary = down
1999: Despite losing to LA Tech by one point in the third game of the season, Bama turns the season and Dubose’s career around. They knock off No. 3 Florida in the Swamp, finish the season 10-3 (8-1 SEC), beat Florida for the second time that year for the SEC Championship, and give Dubose a 2-1 record over Auburn. Dubose was still 0-3 against Tennessee and lost to Michigan to give him a 0-2 bowl record. Still this = up, way up!
2000: Predicted to have a great season, Bama completely falls flat on its face, and the season is a disaster following the opening game loss to UCLA in Pasadena. The Crimson Tide lose their fifth straight to Tennessee, lose homecoming once again under Dubose’s reign, this time to Central Florida, and finish the season 3-8 (3-5 SEC) = down, way down!
Post-2000 Season: Dubose fired, Dennis Franchione hired = up (or so it seemed). Bama nearly received the death penalty from the NCAA stemming from violations during Dubose’s tenure = down, one of the saddest times in Bama history!
2001: Franchione takes the Tide back up the ladder with a 7-5 record (4-4 SEC), including a complete demolition of Auburn, 31-7. This would be the last time to date Bama has beaten Auburn. A bowl win added at the end makes this season = up
2002: Franchione is able to get the monkey off the Tide’s back with a crushing win over Tennessee. Strange events took place in the Iron Bowl which had many people scratching their heads. Despite that loss to Auburn, a 10-3 record (6-2 SEC) = up, some of the highest of highs
Post-2002: Franchione leaves T-Town for Texas A&M, Mike Price is hired = down, confused. Before Price takes his first steps into coaching a game, he is fired amid a strip club incident = down, humiliating. Mike Shula is then hired to take the ropes with little to no time to prepare for the season = down/unknown
2003: There is a flashback to the Dubose years with a 4-9 (2-6 SEC) record = down, way down
2004: Improvements to a 6-6 (3-5 SEC) record help Shula secure his job for one more year = up, a little
2005: Shula is surrounded with talent, and it shows. A 10-2 (6-2 SEC) record has fans going crazy. Add in a win over Tennessee, and you have a great year = up, way up again
2006: The wheels once again fall off. Despite opening the season 3-0, the Tide are forced to crawl to the finish, having a 6-7 (2-6 SEC) record, with Shula being fired and a bowl loss to top it off. Going 0-4 against both Auburn and LSU, and 1-3 against Tennessee just didn’t help his case = so far down
Pre-2007: January 3 is the day of a new beginning with the hiring of Nick Saban = up!
2007: Saban attempts to keep spirits level-headed as the season opens 3-0 with a dramatic, first time in years comeback win over Arkansas. There were bumps in the road with two straight losses, but a 6-2 start and devastating win over Tennessee had spirits soaring once again.
The Tide then dropped four consecutive games, including a loss to Louisiana-Monroe, before winning its bowl game against Colorado to finish the year 7-6 (4-4 SEC) = up? This wasn’t up by much, and the losses looked eerily similar to other coaches’ losses, but it was a winning record.
Pre-2008: Saban lands No. 1 recruiting class in the nation = up, yet again
So what will 2008 bring? What about 2009 and the future after that? Only time will tell. Remember, patience is the key! The standard of success set by Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant will come at no small price and will not happen overnight!
On my way to work this morning I was reminded of the tradition and importance of the program in Tuscaloosa, Alabama when I listened to the lyrics of Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues”:
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues
Alabama, despite the ups and downs of the past decade, are looking to brighter days. I feel comfortable and confident when I say that Alabama will once again be synonymous with the “winners in the world.”