Shula weighs in post-Signing Day

Tide Head Coach Mike Shula began his post-signing-day press conference by characteristically deflecting the credit to others.

"I'd like to thank my staff and Randy Ross (director of football operations) particularly," Mike Shula said. "(Recruiting) has always been a shared responsibility. The assistant coaches have done an excellent job through all seasons. First making phone calls, then getting on the road, establishing relationships with the prospects and their families--especially those here in state. After recruiting, I feel even better about my staff."

Now more than ever Shula feels confident that keeping the Tide staff intact is precisely what the teams needs right now.

"We've had a lot of changes around here in recent years," Shula said. "We need constants. The players need to know that their coaches are going to be here. Of course we've got to show up every day and help our guys be the best players they can be."

Shula continued, "I told the players the other day that it is about to get very boring around here. There is not going to be much change."

Just days ago Auburn's Tommy Tuberville told the press that he was making a complaint based on negative recruiting tactics other schools were using against the Tigers. Given Auburn's recent history, more than a few Tide fans found that ironic. But Tuberville certainly was not talking about Alabama.

Numerous Bama signees have remarked on the difference in talking to Tide coaches as opposed to other schools. Player after player related that the Bama recruiters spoke only of the Crimson Tide, spending their time emphasizing the positives of playing for Alabama rather than tearing other schools.

Was that by design?

Marcus Carter

"I don't think any of our coaches needed to be given marching orders in that regard," Shula said. "When you first get to Alabama you find out about the place. Even though we've struggled recently, it's still Alabama. And it's still a special place.

"Here, we do everything first class. This year in recruiting we just tried to be ourselves and not be something that we're not."

The months heading up to National Signing Day can often seem to jumble together amid the constant activity and travel. When the big day finally arrives, it's natural to be a tad nervous waiting on the papers to be faxed in. But Shula was calm.

"We had a lot of guys that committed early, and then they didn't want to take official visits to other schools," Shula related. "I really wasn't nervous. As the faxes came in it was a good feeling, confirming what we felt good about. Of course you never take anything for granted.

"I'm proud of our staff. Now they can take some time off the road and spend some time with their families. I think we made in-roads developing relationships with high school coaches in the state. We're moving forward. With this signing class we addressed our needs."

A team coming off a 4-9 season that also graduated an overabundance of seniors definitely has needs. For the Tide, there was really no secret. Alabama simply had to sign several receivers capable of playing immediately, and linemen on both sides of the football were also a high priority.

"We talked about situation at wide receiver starting last summer," Shula said. "We had five players graduate, so we knew from day one that we would have to look hard at the position in recruiting. All the players we signed at the position have a great opportunity to play."

The Tide signed six athletes slated for receiver, including D.J. Hall, Nikita Stover, Ezekiel Knight, Keith Brown, Will Oakley and Marcel Stamps.

Twenty-one of Bama's 27 signees hail from the state of Alabama, a remarkable number even for the radition-rich Tide.

"We got our fair share of players in state," Shula understated. "Now our job is to coach them up. Develop them into the best football players possible."

Curtis Dawson

With so many immediate needs to be filled, normally a school might be expected to sign several junior-college players, by definition more ready to step in and contribute. But defensive lineman Chris Turner was Bama's lone JUCO in this year's class.

"We think Chris will be a good fit," Shula said. "We looked at (signing JUCOs), because they're more ready to play. But we feel confident that we'll be able to have an open competition next fall. The guys coming in certainly have a great opportunity to play next year."

"I've never been afraid to play young players," Shula added.

Just one athlete, Aaron Johns, signed by the Tide yesterday is listed at tailback. Shula acknowledged that running back would be a priority next season.

"Ideally you'd sign 2-3 running backs every year," he said, "just like with linebackers. Next year running back will definitely be a position we'll look at."

From the moment Shula arrived on campus, he had as a principal goal to close the borders of Alabama in recruiting. Wednesday with a few exceptions, he essentially did just that.

"We did make an effort to concentrate on Alabama," Shula said. "There are a lot of good players in this state, and one of the main reasons for that is coaching. We tried to get (high school coaches) to feel good about us as a staff. They know we'll take care of their athlete, shepherd him along toward his degree. The state of Alabama was definitely an emphasis."

Six out-of-state athletes signed with the Tide, representing Georgia, Florida and Tennessee.

"We also wanted to spread the good news about Alabama beyond the state," Shula explained. "We hope our efforts will help in the future. The (out-of-state) players we signed are all good-character guys--and good football players."

Nikita Stover

Naturally the writers asked Shula about how he planned to fit 27 signees into only 19 available slots this fall, but while not revealing any specific information he answered firmly.

"We've got a plan for every single one of our signees," Shula said. "Since day one we've been talking with Randy Ross and our staff about the plan. Many of the staff meetings ran longer than they had to, because I wanted to know that every one was taken care of. I wanted to be confident, and I am."

As has been written before, several of Bama's signees will probably not qualify, starting next year at either prep school or junior college. And numerous other signees have privately agreed to be grayshirts, if needed.

With fall camp still more than five months away, Shula isn't about to guess at how many members of this class could see action as true freshmen. But on the other hand, he's not setting any arbitrary limits either.

"There's no set number set to play as true freshmen," Shula said. "My gut feeling is that if they're ready to play, they'll play. Certainly we don't have a lot of depth.

"I want our (signees) to come in next fall with a mindset to compete."

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