Shula ascends to Perkins' old job

Various Tide luminaries, including many of his former teammates, attended Mike Shula's introductory press conference. But as important as anyone present was Shula's former coach and mentor, Ray Perkins. <br><br>"We talked on the phone several times this past week," Perkins said afterwards. "But I don't think I need to give him any advice."

Shula and Perkins have known each other for a long time. Ray Perkins signed the lightly regarded high school quarterback as part of his first recruiting class at Alabama. Perkins would never admit it, but it was probably done as a favor to his former NFL coach, Don Shula, who of course "just happens" to be Mike Shula's father.

Perkins' tenure as head coach at Alabama lasted only four years, which exactly tracked Shula's own career in Crimson. Backing up Walter Lewis, Shula saw just enough action his freshman year to burn any chance at a redshirt. In 1984 he and Vince Sutton were in and out of the lineup, and the uncertainty took its toll. The Tide finished that season 5-6, Bama's first losing record in 27 years.

Ray Perkins succeeded Coach Bryant in 1983. Mike Shula was part of his first signing class.

But the next year Perkins handed the reins to Shula, and the team never looked back, putting together back-to-back winning seasons, including two decisive bowl victories.

Thinking back to that cool-headed quarterback from years ago, Perkins had just one word of advice for him today. "'Just be yourself,'" Perkins told the Tide's new head coach. "I don't even have to say it, because he's going to do that anyway. That's the type person that he is."

In his last two seasons at Alabama Shula developed a reputation for calm under fire. If the game was on the line and Alabama had the ball, Perkins never doubted the ability of his quarterback.

It's been suggested that the closest thing to the pressure the Crimson Tide head coach must endure is playing quarterback for Alabama. Perkins doesn't disagree. "I think that's probably right. After games were over Mike (Shula) had a lot of microphones stuck in his face--whether it was a win or a loss. As quarterback and team leader he had to handle both situations.

"Handling the press is just one aspect of being a head coach, but it's a fairly important one."

At 37 years of age, Shula is Bama's youngest head coach since Frank Thomas took over in 1931. But in an earlier interview with the Tuscaloosa News, Perkins dismissed the notion that the job might be too much for him. "I think he's got an excellent football mind," Perkins said in that interview. "He's very organized, and he's a tireless worker. Of course you know he's a great human being.

Though he was hardly the most talented athlete at the position, Perkins selected Shula as his starting quarterback in 1985. "There was no competition. The job was his," Perkins said. (‘BAMA Magazine photo)

"I think he (and Alabama) fit like a glove--especially at a time like this and (given) the kind of person he is."

Besides their long friendship, Perkins and Shula share something else in common. Both took over as head coach as head coach at Alabama, having spent virtually their entire careers in the pros. "Recruiting is really the only difference between college and the NFL," Perkins said. "I had only coached one year in college when I got the job at Alabama. I had coached five years in the pros, prior to coming here. But recruiting is recruiting. We just went to work right away."

Critics of the hire worry that Shula has never had any experience in the cutthroat world that marks recruiting in the SEC. But Perkins isn't impressed with the argument. "I don't think that's a problem," he said. "Mike's a personable guy, a straight-forward guy, an honest guy. He comes across that way, and I think that's what kids want to hear."

After college Shula spent part of the 1987 season with Perkins--only this time on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster. And when Shula's brief pro playing career ended, Perkins quickly added him to his staff as a coaches' assistant.

A student of the game from early childhood, at Alabama Shula and Perkins commonly talked about each week's game plan. "He helped me with game plans not just his senior year but every year he was there," Perkins said.

"He played for me, and then he coached for me, and, of course, I played for his father," Perkins said in the Tuscaloosa News interview. "I love the guy."

During his career at Alabama Shula starred in many games--but none were more memorable than the 1985 season-opener at Georgia.

After almost 20 years, that defeat still sticks in former Georgia Coach Vince Dooley's craw, "I certainly have a memory of Mike Shula," was how Dooley wryly put it yesterday.

Now living in his hometown of Petal, Mississippi, Perkins was on hand for Friday's press conference.

"Losing in the last 57 seconds--that's not the type memory you want to have of an opposing quarterback," Perkins agreed with a chuckle.

Savoring the memory of that 20-16 win, Perkins recalled what happened. "Late in the game we got a punt blocked (and Georgia scored). Normally when that happens you lose the game. The odds are greatly against you winning the game.

"When we got the ball back there were only 57 seconds left on the game clock, and we didn't have any time outs."

Assuming the game was safely in hand, scores of Bulldog fans had already begun to file out of Sanford Stadium. By the time the game resumed after a lengthy television timeout, many of the home crowd were already in the parking lot.

But they didn't count on Shula.

As cool as the proverbial cucumber the left-handed QB marched his team down the field. Alabama scored its go-ahead touchdown on a wide-open touchdown pass from Shula to Al Bell with 17 seconds to spare.

"We had a two-minute drill that we practiced every Thursday," Perkins recalled. "And we ran those five plays. Shula took us down the field as calm as you want him to be."

Reverting suddenly back to the present, Perkins tied the decades-old memory to today's events.

"Of course that's what he was supposed to do. Mike was the quarterback. Now he's the head coach. Now he's supposed to win.

"And he will."


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