As anyone that has driven by recently will attest, the outside of the structure is essentially done. Workmen are now spending their time busily attending to the thousands of details necessary to finish off the interior. Ceiling tiles are put in place, electrical outlets and switches are finished off and last week a magnificent mural depicting the history of Crimson Tide football was put up along one entire wall of the new weight training room.
"The new facility is opening up piece by piece," Mike Shula said. "I should be in my office by (this weekend). I could get in there now, but we've got to get all the paperwork in there."
The entire bottom floor of the expansive facility will be given over to strength and conditioning. When finished, Alabama's weight room will be at least equal to Nebraska's famous facility and second-to-none in regard to the rest of college football. As one Tide official remarked jokingly, "We could have built it bigger than Nebraska's, but they would have just added on to get back to first."
How soon will Bama's athletes be able to enjoy the state-of-the-art construction?
"The floor is still being laid," Shula said, "so it will probably be about (four or five) days until we can start to move the weights in."
Half of the weight room (the Northwest corner) extends two stories high, with high ceilings and huge windows overlooking the Thomas-Drew Practice fields. The second floor will be given over to a beautiful recruiting area, including combination meeting room/dining room, with a big window looking down into the weight room below. The luxurious room will give Alabama an edge on official visit weekends.
And of course the second floor adjacent to the existing structure will be taken up with Mike Shula's office (with its own window overlooking the lifting area) and various meeting rooms and staff offices.
Of course Alabama has already hosted two official visit weekends, with two more scheduled this season. Asked if visiting prospects had an "eye-popping experience" when they first looked at the huge structure, Shula responded, "I think so. I know mine did."
Neither the weight room coaches nor Shula's other assistants have completely taken occupancy of the building yet, but that hardly diminishes its present value in recruiting.
"I do think it helps," Shula said. "If you come in there as a prospect or family member, it's impressive. Anyone that sees it I'd be shocked if they didn't say the same."
Shula wasn't exaggerating. Time after time when writers have done post-visit interviews with Alabama prospects, the prep athletes have remarked how much they loved the nearly finished structure--and at how much more impressive Alabama's finished product will be when compared to other schools they've visited.
On the subject of weight lifting, if the floor is still being laid, that brings up the question of where the current athletes are working out.
"We've actually moved some of the weight equipment into the Indoor Facility on plywood," Shula explained. "We've started our winter workouts. The players are spending some time (conditioning) on the practice fields and spending some time indoors lifting.
"(The temporary area) is not as big, but we're still getting a lot done."
Earlier when asked about his plans for the off-season program, Shula said simply they would be "rigorous." Having brought in Kent Johnston, most recently the Seattle Seahawks Strength and Conditioning Coach, Shula is obviously serious about what he's determined to accomplish this off season.
"The workouts are going well," Shula said. "I've heard reports of some soreness from certain players that haven't felt that way before. Kent is going to do a great job. He's a special person to me, and he loves Alabama."
Whether fans agree with his selections or not, Shula's plan is to surround himself with men that he views as proven professionals--men that enjoy a bedrock trust with each other--and let them do their jobs.
Shula commented, "For me to have guys like Kent, Dave Rader, Joe Kines, Dave Ungerer in their positions--as well as the rest of our staff--is really important to me, because of our relationship in the past and our relationship now. The way these guys work with 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-old athletes. They get the most out of them."
Shula also made sure to talk about the Tide's academic support system. Anytime there is transition from one coach to another, there are always some athletes that let up somewhat in regard to their schoolwork. But Shula and his support staff have drawn a line in the sand.
"Jon Dever has done a great job with our student-athletes," Shula noted, "especially our football players, keeping them heading toward their degrees."