After once again fighting to the bitter end--only to come away with a loss--Alabama's athletes must quickly put last weekend behind them. Saturday's game may be played in "paradise," but the Hawaii squad will try to make Aloha Stadium anything but.
Shula talked about the problems every team faces on its way to Hawaii.
"It's probably harder than other games because of the distance and travel," he said. "You've got guys thinking about going to Hawaii. That's what every team that goes out there fights against."
Will motivation be a problem? "With some teams it would," Shula replied, "but our guys have responded the whole year."
Shula continued, "I think our players will be motivated for a lot of reasons, to get back on the winning track, to win the last game for the seniors, finish on a high note for the younger guys to lead us into the off-season."
If Hawaii would cooperate and provide a "vacation game" for visiting teams it would be one thing, but the Warriors will field a dangerous, pass-happy offensive attack led by veteran quarterback Timmy Chang. And as the Tide learned all too well last year, Hawaii can play some defense, too.
"We know it's going to be difficult because Hawaii plays out there," Shula said. "They're a very stingy team, is the best way to say it. I've heard that from this group from last (year's game), as well as from other people that have taken their teams out there."
Bama's returning players all have fond memories of their brief time after last year's game. Before boarding the plane for the long ride back, the athletes were given almost 36 hours to enjoy Hawaii and its legendary surf and sun.
But the fun can't happen until after Saturday's game. In the meantime, Bama's players have to focus on the task ahead. Otherwise, they'll be embarrassed.
"You do have to strike a balance," Shula admitted. "We have to realize that this is not a bowl game. We're going out there to win a football game--to go get our fifth win. There won't be the formal time frame (for sight-seeing in advance) that you would have with a bowl game."
Shula has practical experience on the subject. Following the 1985 season Alabama traveled to the Hula Bowl in Hawaii to face Southern Cal. Prior to the game Bama's athletes enjoyed themselves, and unfortunately their first-half performance showed it.
In the locker room at the break, Shula and his teammates got blistered by their head coach.
"I'll always remember the halftime speech that Coach Ray Perkins gave us," Shula recalled. "I think it was 3-3 at the half, and we weren't playing very well. We got a speech at halftime, where we were promised to have our toughest off-season we could ever imagine if we didn't play better in the second half.
"We went out and played better in the second half." (Alabama ended up winning 24-3.)
Both Shula and Hawaii Head Coach June Jones spent long years in the NFL before moving to the college ranks. So Shula won't be unfamiliar with Hawaii's offensive schemes.
"I've coached on teams against him when he was with the (Atlanta) Falcons," Shula said. "His teams have always been very productive offensively. I wouldn't expect anything different this week."
Making the long trip to Hawaii (and then adjusting to the time change) presents a real challenge. Shula gave the squad its mandated day off Sunday and brought them back to the practice field for a late Monday workout. Tuesday will be a normal day, schedule-wise. Alabama will leave Tuscaloosa at 4:45 am Wednesday and bus to the Birmingham airport, where their flight is scheduled to take off at 7:30 am. After refueling in California, the team plane should arrive at the Honolulu airport around 2 pm Hawaii time.
"It's actually going to be difficult for our guys," Shula explained. "We practiced Monday night late. Then we'll have a normal Tuesday. We'll get on a plane early Wednesday and get out there in mid-afternoon."
Due to the time change Alabama will "gain" four hours, but don't try and tell the athletes that Wednesday when they arrive. The Honolulu clocks may say "mid-afternoon," but their bodies will be screaming "nighttime." Forcing their internal clocks to reset as quickly as possible, the players will travel to the stadium that day for a workout.
"We'll practice (Wednesday afternoon) as soon as we get there," Shula said. "We'll have a normal Wednesday practice and a normal Thursday practice. Friday's (practice) will be a little more involved than it is when we play here."
By Friday, Shula hopes everyone will be adjusted to the new time zone.
Alabama will spend most of those first three days traveling back and forth from the team hotel to Aloha Stadium. "We'll practice right away on Wednesday afternoon when we get out there," Shula said. "All three days we'll practice there. They've got some high school games going on (at the stadium on Friday), but so long as we practice early enough during the day we'll get out of there in time."
The team plane is not scheduled to leave Hawaii until Monday morning, Hawaii time, giving the players basically 36 hours (Saturday evening through Monday morning) to enjoy the island beaches.
Yesterday a Honolulu writer wrote a story in which he claimed Shula was not happy with the Hawaii trip, preferring instead to end the season at 4-8 and get right to recruiting. Judge for yourself.
In response to a question about whether or not he would have scheduled the game, Shula replied, "I haven't thought about it. I would have to know a lot more about all the circumstances under which the decision was made. It would be unfair for me to answer that question."
Shula said they would take "right around 80" players to Hawaii, indicating the serious nature of the trip. That number would basically include only scholarshipped players and a few key walk-ons like punter Bo Freelend, placekicker Brian Bostick, holder Alex Fox and kickoff man Kyle Robinson.