Discipline part of the job

Sixteen years of experience coaching quarterbacks and coordinating offenses in the NFL prepared him for a lot of things. But this year as head coach, for the first time in his career Mike Shula has shouldered the responsibility of meting out team discipline.

Has it been a problem for him?

"Not really," Shula replied. "Discipline happens on every team every year. You've got to make sure you set the precedent that for guys that violate the team rules there will be consequences. (That way) everyone understands what is expected of them."

Setting guidelines is one thing. With few exceptions everyone understands the necessity for discipline, and arriving at a consensus on what is and is not acceptable on a football team is not really that hard.

But actually handing down discipline to young men you know and like is rarely easy.

Shula commented, "It's disappointing when you have to discipline guys for a couple of reasons. As a head coach you want guys focused on winning like you are and you're asking the team to be.

"When (problems) happen, it sends the message that they're not."

In the pros Shula worked for several successful head coaches, and of course he grew up under the watchful eye of Don Shula, who "just happened" to finish his career as the winningest coach in NFL history.

"You learn from watching other coaches," Mike Shula acknowledged.

His seventeenth year in coaching, the 2003 season is Mike Shula's first as a head coach. (Barry Fikes photo)

"And I learned at an early age from a head coach who disciplined his son for forgetting to take the garbage out," he added with a laugh.

Though most such team matters are dealt with internally and are thus never aired publicly, this season Shula's actions in disciplining three Tide team members have been reported. But as he is always careful to firmly point out, most of what happens is handled "in-house" and never made known to the public.

Reportedly sophomore defensive tackle Taylor Britt was intoxicated following a game and became involved in an altercation with a police officer, which resulted in a multi-game suspension. Though acted on earlier, Taylor Britt's situation was not acknowledged by Shula until after his arrest was reported by The Tuscaloosa News. Britt has since completed his punishment and been reinstated.

Shula suspended redshirt freshman Brandon Avalos for the final four games of the season. The University sent out a press release, confirming the suspension only after a Birmingham television station reported it. Despite speculation afterwards, the details of Avalos' infraction have not been released by Alabama.

More recently, junior tailback Ray Hudson was suspended for one game after being arrested on a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession. Members of the local drug task force, exercising a search warrant, discovered a small amount of the illegal substance.

Some advocates of a zero-tolerance policy in regard to any and all drug use called on Shula to essentially make an example of Hudson, but the new head coach held firm in insisting that no decision be made until the investigation was complete. And when he had the facts in hand, Shula acted in line with existing team policies.

During the several days before the matter was resolved, Shula adamantly refused to give any details to the media.

"We keep all our team policies in-house," he said.

"What makes you think he hasn't been punished?" was Shula's fierce response to a television reporter that had suggested Hudson was not being dealt with. "We discipline in other ways besides playing time."

After sitting out the Mississippi State game, Hudson played last Saturday against Auburn, gaining 23 yards on six carries. Reporters asked Shula Sunday if Hudson would play in next Saturday's game versus Hawaii.

He responded with a predictably cryptic reply. "We announced that (Hudson) was going to dress out and play (against Auburn), and I would expect him to do the same this week."

Another writer inquired about the status of Avalos and whether or not he would return to the team.

"I haven't talked to (Brandon Avalos) lately," Shula said. "As far as his (plans), I don't have any comment at the moment."

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