Mark Gottfried's Alabama Basketball Team in Crisis: Does Anybody Care?

Ingram WorleyCorrespondent IDecember 10, 2008

Like most Alabama fans, I think the past four months have been a great time to be a supporter of the program. The football program. 

However, I still maintain a vested interest in the spiraling basketball program as well. I can't help myself.

As I near my 30th birthday, my life is filled with memories of Alabama football games. I have had the good fortune of being in attendance at nearly every meaningful win, and the misfortune of witnessing many of the worst losses.

Unlike most 'Bama fans, I have just as many memories, if not more, of the basketball games. I grew up in what most would consider the pinnacle of our basketball program: the Wimp Sanderson era. 

Those days were special. The plaid coats, the parquet floors, and a packed Coleman Coliseum on most nights, especially conference games. I can remember nights when I thought the roof was going to blow off because the crowd was so fired up.

We had a vicious rivalry with Arkansas after they joined the SEC. I had a chance to witness the days when Robert Horry, Latrell Sprewell, James Robinson, and company went head to head with Todd Day and Oliver Miller. 

I was young, but I remember the run of consecutive Sweet 16 appearances. I remember having a home-and-home set up with North Carolina. 

I can recall Roy Rogers blocking 12 shots in one game. I remember Elliott Washington's three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Hogs in the semifinals of the conference tournament, when they still felt the need to play that thing in Birmingham.

After the David Hobbs debacle, I remember thinking that Mark Gottfried was the perfect fit. He was an Alabama guy, he was young, and he had led Murray State to several NCAA tournaments after being a part of a UCLA National Championship team.

During the first half of his tenure, I think I still felt that he was our coach for many, many years to come.  Even though the most optimistic Alabama fan couldn't expect Final Four appearances, Gottfried had us in the dance more often than not.  He even led the memorable Elite Eight run a few years back.  This was a feat that even Wimp could not attain.

Unfortunately, since that time, the program has headed south. By all accounts, Gottfried had a knack for attracting moderately high-profile recruits to the Capstone, even though our facilities were a mess and we didn't draw a crowd unless Kentucky or Arkansas came to town.

The team record in road games became an embarrassment. I do not have the numbers in front of me now, but places like Oxford and Starkville made us look like a junior varsity middle school team. 

He dotted some seasons with a few unlikely wins. We beat Kentucky a couple of times, we managed to keep pace in most years in the division, even though we rarely were competitive near the end of those seasons.

As the years passed, the losses mounted, but the talent seemed to stay in place.  NCAA Tourney appearances began to dwindle. We even attained a No. 1 ranking for a couple of weeks one year, only to self-destruct and miss the tournament all together.

As a member of the Gottfried bandwagon, of which people were bailing left and right, I maintained that the majority of this was not his fault. Early departures for the NBA left us in bad situations multiple times. Untimely injuries added to the problems.

I felt if we could get a few breaks, he could bring us back. I no longer think this is possible. 

I drove to Tuscaloosa in October to see the first practice and sit in on a Q and A session with Gottfried, and he preceded to win me over again. The practice was run well, and the players looked ready for the season. He answered all of the questions the way I hoped that he would, and I became a Gottfried defender once again.

Then the season started. Mercer came to Tuscaloosa and won on our home floor. Strike one. We then went to Hawaii for one of the more high-profile preseason tournaments available, chock full of quality opponents. We opened with an average Oregon team and were run out of the gym. Strike two.

I was ready to chalk up the season when I sat down to watch us play Alabama A&M (a team coming off of a hard-fought loss to Talladega College). In my 20 years of loyalty to the program, this was arguably the lowest point. 

The team jumped out to an early 16-point lead, only to see A&M whittle that lead to five by halftime. The second half was no better, as it became a one-possession game with less than a minute left. Thanks to a very questionable blocking foul on A&M with about 45 seconds to go, Alabama escaped with a victory. Strike three.

I am now firmly entrenched in the camp of people screaming for a change. It is time. It has been time for a while, I just couldn't bring myself to believe it. Gottfried has done all he can do for us, and we need new blood.

Which brings me to the question and the focal point of this article: Who can we get that is any better?  This is a sad situation. What up-and-coming coach would want to come to a place where, at best, you are an afterthought, even in the best years.  

Tennessee managed to do it under similar circumstances. They hired Bruce Pearl, who has taken Tennessee to an elite level. Florida trumped even that, snagging Billy Donovan and winning multiple titles.

These are football-first schools, just like ours. Why not us? Where can we find our Donovan, our Pearl? 

Although I know that most Alabama fans could not care less if we finish last in the conference year-in and year-out, but I do. There are some like me. 

This begs the question: Where do we go from here? I have heard no rumblings, no potential replacements, just silence. Those of us who care need to take a more active role in improving this situation. I just do not know how. I will gladly throw my tiny bit of support behind any new plan.

If you care about the basketball program like I do, it is time we started to make some noise. It is very easy to look the other way when the football team is running the table in the SEC and is back in the National Championship picture. We can't do that. 

So, here is my plea to the few die-hard 'Bama basketball fans. Let's keep supporting our team, but let's also look to the future. If we remain quiet, it could lead to more years of this miserable mediocrity. A few more years of this, and die-hards like myself will start to look the other way, too.

We are at a crossroads, folks. Let's start to talk this thing up and help this once-proud program climb back to respectability. Let's find a fresh face with a fresh attitude and try to make this right. 

I don't want to have a nine-month dead period between January and September where the most exciting action is on the football recruiting front.  I'm not ready for that.  Not yet.