One of the more thoughtful players on the team, junior Evan Mathis believes in his teammates. "We've been through a lot, but I know how tough these guys are," he said. "We're not going to be stopped by anything. You might see us down for a day or so, but we're not going to spend too much time feeling sorry for ourselves. We'll keep going."
Immediately after they got the disappointing news, the players were understandably down. "I tell you what, we stuck together when Coach Fran left," Spencer Pennington commented Saturday. "We believed in Coach Price. I don't know. I knew we could bounce back one time, but I never thought we'd have to do it again so soon."
"It's going to be a tough one," Donald Clarke agreed. "We've been through a lot with the sanctions. We might be at the all-time low. This hit us the hardest out of everything. It's going to be tough. But we have some good leaders on the team. We're going to try. We're trying to pull forward."
Showing more maturity than some fans, the Tide players understand that tough times must be faced head on. Wesley Britt explained, "One way or another we're going to have to overcome this. We're still at the greatest university in the country with a great tradition. I'm still proud to be here at Alabama. We'll just have to do what it takes--do what we have to get through the situation."
"We've just got to go forward," Triandos Luke added.
In his first two years on campus, tight end Clint Johnston has already developed into a team leader. "Alabama football will go on," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind. Yeah, we can do it. And we're going to do it.
"A lot of people said the No. 1 reason not to fire Coach Price was next season, but whoever is our head coach we're still going to be Alabama football next year. We'll still start with South Florida. Oklahoma is coming to town. Tennessee is coming to town. We're going to Auburn. We will get through it. We have to--we've got a schedule to play."
Lance Taylor's father, James, played tailback for some of the most potent offensive teams in Tide history. When asked if the team could bounce back after being knocked down yet again, he took some time to think before answering.
"I've been asked that question every time, and every time before I've said ‘Yes,'" he replied. "The seniors--especially the fifth-year seniors--we've seen a lot. This has probably been the most tumultuous five years in Alabama football history, with changing coaches and having so many negative things occur. I do think we can bounce back. I think that we're stronger than any one person. But it's another devastating blow to us.
"Each time it happens you say ‘things are going to get better. They can't get worse.' And then we get knocked down again. It's like we've been kicked while we're down. I believe we can come out of it, but it'll take strong leadership."
Athletics Director Mal Moore and university president Robert Witt are both determined to find and hire a strong leader for the team. But Greg McLain points out that the most important leadership must come from within. "We're a great group of guys," he said. "Things like this you've got to feed off of. It'll make us stronger. We've got to realize that tough times are a learning experience. We can learn a heck of a lot from this."
Todd Bates agreed, "We've been through a lot of adverse times and we've stuck together through those times. This is just another trial. I think we will get through it."
No one is minimizing the challenges ahead, least of all the players. But life--and in this case, college football--goes on.
"We have no choice but to bounce back," Charlie Peprah said. "We've hit rock bottom now. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it got worse. Our coach got fired, but our schedule didn't get canceled. When it comes time we'll be ready. Right now everybody is going to be down and out, but we will bounce back."
Clint Johnston talked about the bond that will get the players through. "This is just a bigger bump in the road. This is bigger than when Coach Fran left. This is bigger than the NCAA sanctions. It's the biggest thing we've gone through. But if I had to go over to Iraq to fight tomorrow, I'd want everybody in that meeting room to go with me.
"As a team we've grown that close."