University President Dr. Robert Witt and Athletics Director Mal Moore conducted a teleconference with the state media with the purported purpose of bringing the media up to date on the search process for a new Crimson Tide coach.
Although there have been numerous print and broadcast reports of the deal having been completed, Dr. Witt and Coach Moore were firm in their stance that negotiations are continuing.
The teleconference included confirmation that there will be a team meeting tonight. Moore said, "The players are in final exams and we try to meet with them every day. Quite a few of them have finished their finals and gone home." Pressed as to whether Shula would be in attendance at tonight's meeting, Moore said, "That has not been finalized."
Sources close to the team told BamaMag.com earlier this afternoon that there was a called team meeting for 9 pm (CST) at the Football Complex. The sources also related that the purpose of the meeting was to reveal the identity of Bama's new head coach.
Other reports have Mike Shula wishing to meet with team members before being formally introduced at a press conference. According to officials with the Miami Dolphins, Shula was excused from this morning's team practice in Miami to attend to "personal business." The Tuscaloosa News reported earlier today that Shula had flown to Alabama, though his precise destination was not known.
Coach Moore would not say whether the candidate was in Tuscaloosa or close enough to Tuscaloosa to be introduced to the team at tonight's meeting if the negotiating process is complete by then. He said the negotiations were being done by telephone, but did not say if the negotiations were with the candidate or if they were with his representative (agent and/or attorney).
The two admitted that Shula is one of the candidates for the position and both made it clear that negotiations are ongoing with only one candidate.
Moore said, "We're in the process of hiring the coach and we hope to make that happen in the very near future. We're getting closer and hope to make it in the next day or so." Later he said he hoped it would be within 24 hours.
There were several embarrassingly clumsy questions futilely trying to get either Moore or Witt to admit that Shula is the man. Both said that Shula is an attractive candidate. Witt said he had been impressed by Shula's "range of experience."
In answer to a question, Moore said he had interviewed "six or seven" candidates when Alabama sought a head coach just a few months ago. He also said that Shula was not a candidate then because in that search one of the requirements was experience as a head coach. When he started this search, Moore said he would not limit it to those with head coaching experience, seeking instead "the best fit."
Although Moore declined to identify other candidates, it is well-known they are - like Shula - former Alabama players who are now assistant coaches in the National Football League. Shula, 37, is quarterbacks coach at Miami, Sylvester Croom, 48, is running backs coach at Green Bay, and Richard Williamson, 62, is wide receivers coach at Charlotte.
All have been offensive coordinators in the past and Williamson has been a head coach both at the professional level (Tampa Bay) and the college level (Memphis). Croom and Williamson were also longtime Alabama assistant coaches. Shula, the son of NFL coaching legend Don Shula, has spent all his coaching career at the professional level.
Moore said that while an Alabama connection was not a prerequisite for the job, he considers an Alabama background to be a positive. He said all of the candidates were attractive. He did not say that there had been only three interviewed and declined to identify any by name other than Shula.
Witt agreed "All of the candidates I talked to were very well qualified." The president, who has been on the job only a few weeks, said it was unusual that he would take part in interviews of candidates with Moore, but said that was done at Moore's request in the interest of completing the process as quickly as possible.
There has been some question about a new coach keeping some or all of the assistants from the previous staff. Moore has said that the new head coach will have complete autonomy in naming a staff. But he said, "There is no question we have quality assistant coaches here," and said the new coach would have the opportunity to meet them and interview them.
Croom, a native of Tuscaloosa, is an African-American and there were questions regarding Alabama's interest in a minority candidate to be Bama's head football coach. No Southeastern Conference school has ever had a black head football coach. Moore noted that "I have known Sylvester most of my life. I coached him, then coached with him, then coached against him. He is an outstanding individual."
Both Moore and Witt said that Alabama's original list and the short list were attentive to minorities. Witt said, "The University's commitment to diversity was reflected in this search."
Moore said that while it would be desirable for the new coach to have a contract signed at the time he is announced, the athletics director indicated that such a situation was "not likely." Alabama's office of counsel (the in-house legal staff) has not had good luck in recent months in having contracts signed by Alabama coaches. Dennis Franchione walked out on a five-year contract, but he did not sign a 10-year pact that he and Moore agreed to in principle months before. In other sports Bama has had trouble getting final contracts from even minor sports coaches like Women's Basketball coach Rick Moody and Gymnastics Coach Sarah Patterson.
Thursday's teleconference also included discussion of Mike Price, Alabama's head football coach the past four months who was fired by President Witt last Saturday. Price has issued a statement stating that a story in Sports Illustrated this week contains false information about Price's behavior. Neither Moore nor Witt had read the article or heard or seen Price's comments, so both declined comment.
Price was fired because of unacceptable behavior that involved drinking. Witt said, "Coach Price was dismissed before that article was published. My reasons for terminating his employment were his own statements to me." The president added, "Severance has not been discussed. In my judgment he is not due any severance." Price had been offered a seven-year, $10 million contract, but had not signed the contract.
Moore confirmed that he had met with Price and also with Price and his coaching staff to discuss behavior, the first meeting about a month after Price arrived and the second a few weeks after that.
Moore also detailed the background check that had taken place prior to the hiring of Price, including interviews with those who had employed Price, those who had coached with him and against him, and those who had played for him, among others. Dr. Witt added that he had talked to Sam Smith, who had been president at Washington State when Price was hired there in 1989, and Smith had told Witt there was nothing unsavory in Price's background.
By the way. Jane, the one person listening in on the teleconference who may not have known that Mike Shula will soon be named Bama's head football coach, is the service facilitator for handling calls on the teleconference, working out of Atlanta. And, of course, if Mike Shula is not the new coach, Jane won't be surprised.