Battle Says Grant Will Stay As Coach
Actually, Battle announced that he has confidence that Anthony Grant has the Alabama basketball program headed in the right direction and that despite a "disappointing" (his word) season that "Coach Grant has earned the chance to continue building this program into the winner that we all know it should be. He's done it before. He can do it again."
Grant certainly didn't do it in 2013-14. Alabama finished the season in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Thursday against LSU, losing in its first game in the tournament by 68-56. It was the first time in six years Alabama had not won at least one game in the SEC Tournament.
The team finished with a record of 13-19, the most losses since the 4-20 season of 1969. In 1969, though, C.M. Newton was in the first year of what would be a spectacular rebuilding program leading to SEC Championships and post-season participation. Grant has just finished his fifth year.
Finally, Alabama was 0-15 away from Coleman Coliseum. It was the first time since 1960 – 54 years ago – that an Bama basketball team failed to win a game on the road.
There are mitigating circumstances to this year's record, the most obvious being that Alabama played a difficult schedule. But the SEC wasn't considered particularly strong and including the loss to LSU Thursday night, the Tide was 7-12 against league teams.
There were also unexpected losses, Trevor Lacey transferring to North Carolina State and Devonta Pollard being involved in a bizarre kidnapping scheme that ended with his mother getting prison time and Pollard in junior college.
There are also things to be said about Grant that are very positive. He is by all accounts a good man, a man who will not cheat and who will put the welfare of his players as student-athletes first. Alabama has an excellent record in its players earning their degrees. On those occasions when he deigns to make himself available to the public, he is a wonderful representative of The University of Alabama.
And people who can be trusted who know basketball say he is a good coach.
He does have a resume that includes success as a head coach, but casual observers of Alabama have to wonder about whether the Crimson Tide is very good at anything. The offense is slowdown jumpshot, and when the shots aren't falling it is very ineffective. The defense gets credit for keeping opponents from scoring much, but that's in great part because Alabama's ponderous offense shortens the game.
And although it may seem that he has an inordinate number of players being suspended for violation of team rules, we are assured that Alabama is not different from other schools where the rules are enforced in this category.
Now, Grant may be in a class of his own in allowing one of his better players, Nick Jacobs, to take a "leave of absence" over the last month of the season.
Also, consider Battle's position. He has been on the job less than a year after having been out of athletics for many years. Men's basketball coach is second only to football coach in prominence in the athletics department, and a year may not be time for one to have that critical ingredient necessary to replacing a coach:
Having a successor that can be hired in mind.
From a salary standpoint, Bama should be competitive. Grant makes $2 million a year. Naysayers to the contrary, Alabama's basketball facilities are a huge plus when measured nationwide. The Crimson Tide has good basketball tradition, though it has not been enhanced under Grant.
Here is the text of Battle's statement:
"Over the last year I have spent a fair amount of time with Coach Anthony Grant. I have watched our team practice. I have watched them play. We have had several philosophical discussions. In every meeting we have had, I came away impressed with his character, with his knowledge and belief in his approach to the game, with his commitment to win championships at Alabama, and with his ability to recruit and develop players, both on and off the court.
"At this level of collegiate athletics there is a very fine line that separates winning and losing. The 2013-14 men's basketball season has been a disappointing one. Many factors shape a season. We made some strategic decisions going into the year, both with scheduling and with players, that didn't work out like we planned.
"Our mission is to recruit and develop student athletes to compete at the highest levels in their sport; to educate and prepare those student athletes to compete at the highest levels in life after graduation; and to do both with honor and integrity. Our men's basketball program is doing all of those things, but this season that did not translate into the level of success we all desire on the court.
"According to the latest ESPN.com RPI rankings (as of March 11), Alabama's 2013-14 schedule ranks second on the list of the nation's difficult overall schedules. Sometimes a tough non-conference schedule toughens you up and prepares you for conference play; other times it shakes your confidence. Some years it seems you win most of the close games. Other years you can't find a way to get over the hump. After three 20+ win seasons, this year we found ourselves in the latter category.
"College basketball is in an interesting place in 2014. The power of the NCAA Tournament appears to have diminished interest in the regular season. The "one and done" rule has had a greater impact on the game than just those players that come and go after one year. The mindset of many players (and their parents and friends) is, "I'll go pro after a year!" When that doesn't happen, the mindset is often, "It can't be my fault. It must be the system." As a result there were some 500 players that transferred last year. These factors make recruiting and coaching college basketball players even more challenging, as it is difficult to build the senior-laden teams that were more prevalent in times past.
"Without solid leadership, this year's team could have folded at several points in the season. Coach Grant and his staff stayed the course and did not panic when things were going bad. The team continued to play with effort and competed hard, even after many of the preseason goals were out of reach. I am very proud of our strong finish, with our younger players stepping up their game. I am impressed with the development of our freshmen, Jimmie Taylor and Shannon Hale, encouraged about the leadership potential of our returning veterans, and looking forward to seeing a highly-rated group of signees join our team.
"Off the court, Coach Grant's teams have been very successful in the classroom, consistently averaging high NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores. Alabama leads all SEC men's basketball programs in APR percentage and its APR ranks in the top 10 percent of all Division I men's programs. We led all SEC men's basketball programs in 2013 with six players named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll. In addition, every senior that has played for Coach Grant at Alabama has earned his degree.
"When considering the overall health and direction of a program, all of the aforementioned factors need to be considered. Simply put, this is a program that is not adrift, and is not devoid of leadership and talent. I believe this is a program that has better days ahead.
"The expectations of competing for championships and a high postseason finish remain. There is much that is right about our men's basketball program at this time. Coach Grant has earned the chance to continue building this program into the winner that we all know it should be. He's done it before. He can do it again.
"We need your support in making that happen. I encourage you to rally around our team next season, to become a part of our success, and to help our team reach its potential."
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