The End Is Near

Although there was no "hard news" from Wednesday evening's meeting in which University of Alabama President Dr. Robert Witt told the Crimson Tide football team of the progress being made in search of a football coach, the president did say he "is optimistic" a decision will be made by this weekend.

Although he didn't stop to talk to the newspaper reporters waiting at a side exit, President Witt confirmed what the players said, that progress in the coaching search was going well and he expected it to be completed by the end of this week or, at the latest, early next week.

Ordinarily a mid-week team meeting is very brief. This special meeting during final examinations week lasted just over half an hour. In addition to Dr. Witt and Athletics Director Mal Moore, it included Football Operations Director Randy Ross imploring the players to continue to work hard in their studies and an inspirational presentation from former Bama All-America Jeremiah Castille, who now serves as director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at The University. Former Tide linebacker Derrick Oden was also on hand.

A handful of players were sent out to meet with the press following the meeting. They were linebacker Freddie Roach, offensive linemen Wesley Britt and Justin Smiley, and tight ends Greg McClain and Clint Johnston. All had essentially the same story.

""It's getting closer every day," Johnston said. "They are hoping we have our new coach by this weekend, but there are no guarantees."

The upcoming sophomore from Wetumpka said, "I don't think anyone expected a decision by now. It's been only four days since we learned we didn't have a coach. I'm glad they are taking their time to make the right decision. They seem to be going over all the pros and cons. It looks like the president and the athletics director are working hand--in-hand."

Johnston said the players were given an opportunity to ask questions in Wednesday's meeting, "but nobody had any," Johnston said. "They covered everything pretty well." Hopefully Johnston is not a journalism major since there was one omission. No one spoke the name of any candidate to be Alabama's next head football coach.

While there were no questions, Johnston said that Smiley made a presentation on behalf of the team. "He told President Witt that even though the majority of the players on the team did not agree with the decision he made last week, that we respected him for having made the decision, that we appreciated him listening to what the players had to say, and that we trusted him and Coach Moore to make the right decision."

The decision Witt made last week was to fire Coach Mike Price just four months after Price came on the job. Price was terminated for conduct embarrassing to The University, conduct that has resulted in national negative publicity for Price, including "National Enquirer"-type reporting by "Sports Illustrated."

The firing came despite passionate pleas for mercy from Alabama players. Johnston said he was one of those who supported Price. "I feel sorry for what happened," Johnston said. "But all I asked of President Witt was that he listen to us, and he did that. He was hired as our president to make decisions like this and I respect him for that. We players were looking at it from one angle. He saw it from all angles. I trust that he made the best decision last week and that he will make the right decision this time. I'm glad he and Coach Moore are choosing our new coach."

While there is much discussion in Alabama and around the region and nation speculating on Bama's next head coach, Johnston said there has not been much talk among the players about the candidates. He said he was aware that three former Alabama players who are now assistant coaches in the National Football League – Sylvester Croom of the Green Bay Packers, Mike Shula of the Miami Dolphins and Richard Williamson of the Carolina Panthers – have been identified as the finalists. But, he said, the players have been occupied with final examinations.

"I haven't heard one player say ‘I want him,' or any other talk about it," Johnston said. "I think we all know that a former Alabama player is likely to be our coach, and we all like that. I think the Alabama Nation is excited about that. The players wants someone who wants to coach here. I'm glad President Witt and Coach Moore are taking care of that."

He added, "I signed with Alabama, not with a coach. There are 132 players on this squad and each one of them signed with Alabama. Jeremiah Castille told us tonight that Alabama is still the greatest university in America, and I believe that. We have the greatest tradition and we had the greatest coach of all time and we'll continue to be great."

Johnston said, "I didn't sign with Coach Fran (Dennis Franchione, who coached in 2001-02, then left at the end of last season to go to Texas A&M) or Coach Price. I signed with Alabama."

Johnston noted that this is the second straight final examinations week in which the players have been distracted by a coaching search. "I think the team is doing a good job of keeping its focus, including on our classwork," he said.

He added, "No one is thinking about the decision of last week. We're focusing on the future. We still have 13 games to play. We know we've got to get ready to play South Florida on August 30 no matter who the coach is. We've got Oklahoma coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the second game of the season, which could be one of the biggest games of the year."

Johnston said that when Price was named head coach last December it was during The University;'s Christmas break. "A lot of us came back to meet him," Johnston said. "I did. That's when I first met him. I'm sure that a lot of guys will be finished with finals and have already gone home when a new coach is announced, but a lot of us will come back for that."

He said most of the players planned to take two weeks off after final examinations, then report back to campus for summer school and the summer off-season workouts. "I think in the summer is when you build a football team," he said.


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