Just before noon Friday he was introduced in a televised press conference. But the sports reporters who cover Alabama on a daily basis prefer to have time away from the broadcasters and Shula agreed to meet with the writers at 1:15 p.m. As it turned out, it was well after 2 p.m. before he made it into that briefing.
There is not a great deal that Shula can say about his new job. Shula, who will be 38 on June 3, was offered the position as head football coach at his alma mater Wednesday evening. Athletics Director Mal Moore made the offer and after a discussion of some contract issues, Shula accepted. Shula had been interviewed by Moore and University President Dr. Robert Witt on Sunday. He flew into Tuscaloosa Thursday evening and met his team, then spent some time Friday morning with a few of the staff people on campus. Some of the assistant coaches hired by Mike Price are on the recruiting trail, but Shula will meet with all current assistants one-on-one in the next few days.
It took Moore just over four days to hire a replacement for Price, who was fired by President Witt last Saturday.
Shula knows he has things to do and a short time in which to get some of them done. He intends to have a schedule and timetable soon. He must form a coaching staff, take care of recruiting issues, make plans for camps and off-season work, familiarize himself with NCAA matters, and a thousand and one other tasks. "I'll be leaning on the staff, some of whom I don't even know yet," he said.
And, he said, he must get to know his team. "The quicker we bond, the better we're going to be."
Shula senses that Alabama players today are as they have always been, and he thinks that is a positive. He knows that Alabama went 10-3 last season and said, "When you have a successful season it means you have good leadership. I think there are good leaders on this team. I think all they have gone through has made them stronger."
"Time is a big challenge," Shula said. "Another challenge is having a guy who hasn't been a head coach before." No one listening to Shula believes he is not prepared for that challenge.
He said that he has a number of people to call on, people he has been around through the years and whom he trusts. "I've got to be my own person, but I've always been big on gathering as much information as I can before making a decision," he said. One man Shula will rely on is the man who held the job when Shula was a player in the mid-1980s. Ray Perkins, like Shula a former Tide player who ascended to head coach at Bama, was on hand for the introduction of his former quarterback, who takes over about 20 years after Perkins succeeded Paul Bryant. Shula said he has had several telephone conversations with Perkins and that he met with him for a while Friday morning.
Shula can also call on one of the most successful men in football coaching history for advice. His father, Don, won more games than any coach in NFL history. Don is now 73 and retired, but in good health, traveling and speaking and playing golf. Don Shula saw his son play only one college football game in person, Mike's final game at Alabama when he led the Crimson Tide to a 28-6 win over Washington in the Sun Bowl at the conclusion of the 1986 season. Usually Don was having to prepare his Miami Dolphins team for a game when Bama was playing. Mike expects his father to be on hand for more Alabama games now.
Shula admitted that in his 15-year career as an assistant coach in the NFL that he certainly had the thought, "If I was the head coach..." But, he said, he couldn't think of any specific things he has always wanted to do if he gained control. Instead, he said, he has tried to learn from others. And, he added, even if he didn't agree with a decision, once it was made he was "100 per cent committed to it. That's what a team is."
He also said he had made mistakes as a coach and hoped that he had learned from them and would correct them. "That's easier to say than it is to do," he added.
He said that he would be a strict coach in terms of demanding that players do the right thing, that they are on time for meetings, do their schoolwork and workouts, etc. "But uptight, not let the players know me? No."
"All I ask of the players is to be accountable to each other every day," he said. "The guys are going to have to lean on each other."
He also said Alabama will be a well-conditioned team. "I've always been around teams that are well-conditioned and we're going to be that," Shula said. "That's one thing we can control."
Shula's background as a player and coach is on offense. He is not yet sure of some things, such as whether he will call his own plays or whether he will coach his quarterbacks. He's not even sure of how the offense will look. He said he would learn what Alabama did in the spring, then mesh that with his own ideas. And, he said, "We'll be flexible enough to tweak things to take advantage of our personnel."
He added that while the decision will depend in part on what is best for the long term, that he is not looking past the upcoming season. When he met the team Thursday night he asked the seniors to stand up. He said he told them he was not here for a two- or three-year plan. "We want to win next year. These guys have been through a lot and I'm going to do everything I can for them this year."
He did say that he expected Alabama to be able "to run the football and to protect the football. We will be sound."
Although he has not committed himself, indications are Shula plans to keep Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines and possibly the entire defensive coaching staff that he inherited from Mike Price. Kines was defensive coordinator when Shula played at Alabama and the two coached together under Perkins at Tampa Bay. Shula, who said he has complete autonomy in forming his staff, said that when he was a player that Alabama's defensive players, "including my roommate Curt Jarvis," responded well to Kines.
Jarvis was among a number of Shula's former Alabama teammates on hand for the announcement. Others included Wes Neighbors, Gary Hollingsworth, Craig Sanderson, Gene Newberry, and Paul Ott Carruth.
Shula said it was his experience that good defensive teams "have great team speed, are highly-motivated, and give good effort."
Shula said that he had not previously been contacted about head coaching positions, and said that he would not have left "a good job" as an assistant coach for the Miami Dolphins for any college job save the one at Alabama. He admitted that when he heard about Mike Price being fired the thought of coming to Alabama crossed his mind "because your friends and coaches ask you about it."
Although he has not been involved in recruiting, Shula thinks he will enjoy it and be good at it. "It's one of the more exciting things I'm looking forward to," he said. "I'm a people person. And it will give me a chance to share my experiences of what it's like to be a football player here."
Shula has wonderful memories of his days at Alabama as a player, 1983-86. He said when he made his first visit as a prospect he was surprised, that he thought Alabama would be bigger because it was so famous. "It was a college town and I loved it," he said. He said he had delayed the recruiting process because the Dolphins were in the Super Bowl. After making his trip to Alabama he cancelled the remainder of his recruiting trips.
"I fell in love with this place the first time I was here," he said. "When I was here my four years seemed to go so fast. There were times I wished I could slow it down."
"I know what it's about," he said of Alabama. "I felt good when those wheels (of the airplane bringing him to Tuscaloosa) touched down." He said he drove by Bryant-Denny Stadium Thursday night. "I didn't get to play in it in the expanded version, and I can't wait to go out there as head coach," he said.
Shula said that Moore "filled me in on what the (NCAA) sanctions are and what we have left. He wanted to be sure I knew everything there was to know. That part is difficult, but what can you do? As a team, the players and coaches, we have to make the best of the situation. I'm going to demand a lot of the players and coaches and I'm going to demand a lot of myself. We have to deal with it. We won't use it as an excuse."