Earlier we looked at the recent discussion prompted by Steve Spurrier’s contention that Georgia and LSU are the best places to be head football coach in the Southeastern Conference, and the belief by almost all others that Alabama is not only the best football program in the SEC, but also the best place to be the head football coach. Today we look at why Tuscaloosa is considered the best home for a head football coach in the SEC.
Legendary Alabama Coach Paul Bryant was the best at sharing credit with players and coaches, saying he wanted to surround himself “with people who are smarter than I am.” By the way, he would not have been able to do that.
And that’s a hint at why most consider the best head football coaching job in the SEC to be the one at Alabama.
Alabama has become one of the elite brands nationally, and credit can go to a handful of men for its football success.
The first would be former University President Dr. George H. Denny. He had been president at Washington & Lee for 11 years when he assumed the presidency at Alabama in 1912. He would remain at the helm through 1936. Denny recognized how football could be important to The University. He hired future Hall of Fame Coach Wallace Wade, who led the Crimson Tide to Rose Bowl success, the first Southern team to do so. Denny then went after out-of-state students, particularly in the New York area, and grew The University at a rapid rate, including football players.
When Wade left Bama, Denny hired Frank Thomas, who continued the Tide’s Rose Bowl success, and also signed a football player from Arkansas who would pay huge dividends later. That was end Paul Bryant.
Alabama football fell on hard times in the 1950s, and Dr. Frank Rose was hired as president. He made it a point to resurrect the football program by hiring Bryant from Texas A&M.
Bryant made Alabama the nation’s best for two decades, albeit sharing the stage with the other elites of the time – Southern Cal, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Penn State, Ohio State, tec. And part of the attention on Alabama came because Bryant the athletics director scheduled home-and-home games against many of those giants.
Bryant’s overall plan of competing for national championships, making bowl games relevant, and dominating the SEC was large in making the Alabama coaching job appear to be the best. In fact, it was the SEC coaching job that had the best man, as is the case today.
Alabama had success at various levels between Bryant and Saban. Coaches Ray Perkins, Bill Curry, Gene Stallings, Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione, and Mike Shula all had 10-win seasons, and Stallings’ 1992 Crimson Tide went undefeated and won the national championship.
But things were not going well when Mal Moore was named director of athletics in late 1999. NCAA violations had put the Tide in dire straits, and years of facilities neglect were obvious.
Moore ranks among the most important in making Alabama’s football coaching position a top job. In the toughest of times, he directed a massive fund-raising program to upgrade facilities, notably Bryant-Denny Stadium.
And, of course, Moore – with the support of former Alabama President Robert Witt -- was successful in his quest to hire Saban from the Miami Dolphins, which put Alabama atop college football in the SEC and the nation.
Witt, like Denny, understood the attraction football could be for students, and that was part of his model to spur growth of the program. The original Witt goal was to have 28,000 students. In an extraordinary example of success, Bama is now at 37,100, trailing only Texas A&M and Florida in the SEC in student enrollment.
In that “chicken or egg” thing, The University of Alabama is among the most popular in the nation for students, and so why shouldn’t it be attractive to football prospects?
Primarily thanks to Mal Moore, Bama got ahead of the curve on facilities improvements and additions and keeps ahead of the competition in those areas. The Alabama head football coach has everything that could be asked for in the way of facilities. And if he thinks of something he doesn’t have, all he has to do is ask.
In the coaching fraternity, there is one statistic that would stand out as making the Alabama job most atttractive: Nick Saban’s $7 million a year salary. Now, no SEC head football coach is struggling, but Saban is clearing more than any other; in fact, more in a week than Bryant made annually in most of his 25 years.
Job security is another factor for coaches. Saban is beginning his 10th season as head coach at Alabama, and the only coach with more seniority in the league is the man who replaced him at LSU, Les Miles. There are no issues of job security for Saban, but Miles is on a hot seat primarily because of recent losses to Alabama.
The bottom line, then, is that Alabama by virtue of geography or population would not necessarily be the best spot for a head football coach among SEC schools. It is the best because it has had men of vision and talent who shaped the landscape administratively and in on-the-field performance and, perhaps, in personality.