"I don't know if I'd call it ‘cutthroat' or not," he said, "but it's hard core." ">
"I don't know if I'd call it ‘cutthroat' or not," he said, "but it's hard core." ">

Just how tough is the SEC?

Having recently joined the Tide staff from West Virginia, defensive ends coach Paul Randolph can bring some outside perspective to the job. And from what he's seen so far, the "take no prisoners" mentality in the Southeastern Conference is very real. <br><br>"I don't know if I'd call it ‘cutthroat' or not," he said, "but it's hard core."

After finishing a ten-year career in the Canadian Football League, Paul Randolph entered college coaching at UT-Martin, his alma mater. From there he moved to Valdosta State, Toledo, Illinois State and West Virginia, before joining the Tide staff last winter.

"The SEC is an extremely competitive conference," Randolph said. "I was in the Big East last season, and it was competitive. But from the things I've seen there is no doubt the SEC deserves its reputation. Everybody wants to win in any way they can."

Randolph joined the Tide staff after coaching at West Virginia, giving him a unique perspective on the Southeastern Conference.

A native of Gainesville, Georgia, Randolph has maintained close ties to his home state, which Alabama hopes will be useful in the recruiting wars. At West Virginia the recruiting pool wasn't quite as deep as it is in the Deep South, and the players were also more spread out.

"There is especially competition between (SEC) coaches in recruiting," Randolph said. "The athletes that we recruit are for the most part local for every school in the Southeastern Conference. So you're battling every conference school for the players."

Randolph joined the Tide staff after National Signing Day, but in the months he's worked recruiting for Alabama he's experienced his share of negative tactics. He explained, "I'd say the level of competition is extremely high. You've got to go in and battle. If there is any dirt on you, it'll be thrown up. You've just got to be able to shake that dirt off and sell your program."

The truth is that next year's group of signees will experience little if any negative effects from Alabama's probation. The bowl ban is done with this season, and starting in 2005 the Tide can sign a full complement of athletes.

But according to Randolph, that's a fact that many recruiters from rival schools conveniently "forget" to explain to prospects. "You can get in a dirt throwing contest," he acknowledged, "but I think that sheds more light on the school that started throwing the dirt than you. I think you just keep pumping your school and your program.

"Let the positives outweigh the cutthroat mentality."

Randolph handles the Tide's defensive ends while Buddy Wyatt coaches the tackles. At previous stops Randolph coached the entire defensive line, but he's getting used to the new arrangement.

Coaching the defensive line and special teams throughout his career, Randolph will handle the defensive ends at Alabama.

"I think it's gone great," Randolph said. "I was kidding with Buddy during spring. I told him ‘I started off with four, then I had three and now I'm down to two.'" At the time Randolph was referring to Todd Bates' suspension and health problems that beset the starting Bama D-Ends.

Both Nautyn McKay-Loescher and Antwan Odom are back and healthy now, and Randolph frankly likes the extra time he has, allowing him to specialize in his teaching techniques.

He explained, "As a defensive line coach when you're coaching all four positions their techniques aren't a lot different. Now I'm able to specialize and work hard to get it right."

Given the turmoil that has plagued the program the past several months, it seems a long time since Randolph joined the staff. But the truth is he has yet to coach a game for Alabama, something he's looking forward to correcting very soon.

"I've only gone through a spring, of course, so I haven't gotten the full effect of coaching in the SEC yet," Randolph acknowledged. "But I'm looking forward to the fall."

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