"The biggest thing I told the players the past few days was that they had to keep their heads up."
The sight of Shaun Alexander running with the football is a thing of beauty to Alabama (and now Seahawk) fans. But the former Tide All American contends that attitude is even more important. "It's easy to get negative," Alexander said. "That's the easiest thing to do, but football is so much more mental than physical. The current team has got to be strong and stick together. The players can't let negative messages come in."
Still an enthusiastic ambassador for Crimson Tide football, Alexander talked about his alma mater. "We want to be great. That's what Alabama is all about. We're seen as a school of excellence. That's just Alabama football. We want to be the best."
With the team facing yet another coaching transition, many pundits are predicting difficult days ahead. But will Bama fans be patient?
"If the team loses a couple of games next year you can't talk about it taking four years to win," Alexander said. "Alabama fans don't want to wait four years. For them the time is now. That's one thing that makes Alabama special.
"Hopefully by the end of next season we'll have 10 or so wins and we'll be happy with it."
Like other Alabama fans, Alexander watched helplessly these last few weeks as former head coach Mike Price was first investigated and then dismissed for "inappropriate" off-the-field behavior. "It was embarrassing," Alexander acknowledged. "It was tough for the players and for the Price family. You would never want somebody to go through that. But I feel even more for the players.
"For many of the older players Mike Shula will be their fourth head coach. I talked to many of them and it's tough. Having a different coordinator or a new position coach is tough enough, but adjusting to a new head coach with a whole different scheme and system is hard on any player."
Both Alexander and Mike Shula share a sterling Crimson pedigree, though Bama's new head coach preceded Alexander at the Capstone by slightly more than a decade. But the NFL community is smaller than most fans realize, and the two men are very familiar with each other by reputation.
"I'm excited for Mike," Alexander said. "Of course I'm from Cincinnati, so I watched his brother (David Shula) coach the Bengals for awhile, and I knew about (Mike Shula's) work with the Dolphins. I spoke to Mike and told him that he's got people in the NFL hoping he'll do well. I think he'll do great."
One key factor that worked in Shula's favor during the recent coaching search was his impeccable personal reputation. Alexander believes firmly that it will be an asset as head coach at Alabama. "I think that's the biggest thing," Alexander said. "A lot of times you judge a coach based just on coaching ability, and you don't realize what that person's lifestyle is. That can hurt you in an atmosphere like Alabama.
"Alabama is a place where you'll be treated like a king, but you have to accept responsibilities when you get that kind of love. It's a tough place to coach at. You've got to be strong to be able to endure."
Alabama's senior athletes have endured far more than their share of adversity during their college careers. But Alexander advises them to approach that hard reality as an opportunity. "These guys are strong," he said. "They've hung in through it all and they now have a chance to be remembered forever--especially if next year turns out well."
Alexander concluded, "When you go through trials you've got to remember: trials don't break people. It's the response to the trial that determines if you become a winner or a loser--whether you become a champion or a failure.
"Trials incubate greatness. That's the bottom line."