Woods optimistic about the season

With the 2003 season still two months away, very little these days is certain around the Alabama Football Complex. But Running Backs Coach Sparky Woods still likes everything about his new job. <br><br>"My impressions are all really positive about Alabama and everything about it," Woods said in a recent interview. "The enthusiasm is high."

For the Tide players, Woods and his fellow assistants mark the third set of coaches at Alabama in seven months. To say that the squad has endured more than its share of uncertainty would be an understatement of "Albert Meansian" proportions.

In the most recent turnover Woods himself was asked to switch assignments from tight ends to running backs, but it was a change he willingly made. "You get better at change when you have to deal with it," Woods explained. "I think our players have gotten good at adjusting. I think they've been remarkable with their tenacity about hanging in there and turning change into a positive.

His varied background means he could coach any of several positions, but Sparky Woods will be responsible for the Tide running backs next season.

"Of course they're looking forward to a comfort zone as soon as they can get it. Coach Shula is doing an excellent job keeping everyone calm."

Woods doesn't worry about teaching new offensive plays to the squad. One slant pattern resembles another, and the same is true for most basic plays. But terminology could be a problem. "Communication will be key," Woods noted. "It's hard because you've got large stadiums in the SEC with incredible crowd noise, you've got TV games where they're pushing that 25-second clock, so you've got to hurry."

Woods has been either head coach or offensive coordinator for most of his career, and he knows all too well the challenges of getting a play called and the ball snapped within the time frame allowed. He explained, "It's like a pit crew in NASCAR. You can't stutter around. Every word has got to mean something. There are similarities with every offense, but none of them are the same. And sometime the similarities can be what's confusing."

During his so-far 26-year career in coaching, Woods spent 10 seasons as a head coach. One school of thought holds that young coaches shouldn't hire ex-head coaches for fear of suffering by comparison in terms of maturity. But Mike Shula sees it differently.

"I'm a better coach now than when I was younger," Woods said. "I work smarter. I keep the big picture in mind. I have great admiration for Coach Shula. Coach Shula offers his assistants the opportunity to make suggestions, but he's really ready for this job. He was chosen for what he's accomplished and what he can bring to Alabama.

"If I can make a small suggestion, he's open to that and that's great. But his vision is what's going to take us there. He's the coach."

Woods' career has taken him to various programs--some good, some not so good. The experience has given him the ability to spot coaching talent. He explained, "I've been fortunate to work with a lot of different people. There are a lot of right ways of doing things. The important thing is to be yourself and know how to fix it when it's broken. That's what Coach Shula is doing."

Woods says the good news is that Alabama is "better equipped" than most schools to weather probation.

His coaching resume' includes stops at South Carolina, Memphis and Mississippi State. Woods noted with a laugh that Alabama's success probably contributed to his changing jobs on more than one occasion.

Woods says he always wanted a chance to coach at Alabama, but he understands that he arrives at a difficult time in Tide history. "The probation is a challenge because at Alabama everybody expects to win and win now," he said. "And that includes coaches, players and fans. But we're shorthanded in terms of numbers, and that will continue for the next few years.

"How can we get through these struggles and continue to win? That's the important question."

Woods concluded, "But the good news is that Alabama is equipped better than most schools to overcome a challenge like this. Whenever I discuss it with anybody, I say ‘We're still Alabama.'

"We have the best opportunity to get out of this rut the fastest."

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