Boring Is Good

As I walked the loping hills and lush fairways of Greystone Golf and Country Club last Wednesday, I noticed a distinct difference in the day's atmosphere. Gone were the buzzing hordes of sportswriters and television cameramen following the Alabama head football coach.

Oh, there were a few writers (and more than a few fans) following Tide coach Mike Shula and his father, NFL legend Don Shula. But there was a sense of calm–probably because Mike Price was somewhere in the wilds of West Texas.

This Bruno's Memorial Classic Pro-Am was far more placid than 2003's event, which was held in the throes of Price's date with destiny that eventually cost him the Alabama job after only three months in Tuscaloosa.

As Shula prepares to celebrate his first anniversary in Tuscaloosa, it is important to remember one of his most impressive qualities: stability.

Shula is by no means perfect (heck, none of us are), but he is beginning to stabilize Crimson Tide football after years of toil and turmoil under Mike DuBose and Dennis Franchione.

Several times since 2003's 4-9 season ended, Shula has reminded reporters and players alike that "things are going to get pretty boring around here."

That's a good thing. A very, very good thing.

Sure, the controversy over Shula removing (and then restoring) Mississippi State Coach Sylvester Croom's name from a little-known spring football award has been discussed, debated and beaten into complete submission by fans and news media.

For all intents and purposes, it's over. The proverbial hatchet has been buried by both parties, given a proper memorial service and then forgotten.

Croom (who played two groups ahead of the Shulas and Tide hoops coach Mark Gottfried) said the controversy was "definitely behind me, and it was behind us immediately.

"I talked to (the Shulas today), and it's over. I respect them both a great deal and count them as friends."

Frankly, if Croom-gate is the worst thing that happens to the Alabama football program this season, it will have been a quiet year indeed.

Especially compared with last year.

If I were an Alabama football follower, I'd take the Croom controversy over a coach leaving his players in the lurch after a 10-3 season (hello, Dennis Franchione) and a coach getting inebriated and admitting to waking up in his hotel room with a woman that wasn't his wife anytime.

Last year, the Bruno's buzz surrounded Price. He held a say-nothing press conference before his round of golf, played one of the more closely followed pro-am rounds in some time and said exactly nothing after his round before peeling out of town.

Next time anybody saw him, he was walking into the bizarre open meeting with the UA Board of Trustees that would eventually result in his firing.

Wednesday, the Shulas projected an air of ease and calm. They made the typical round of quick-hit media interviews before their round, played golf, signed some autographs and did more relaxed interviews after their round with Champions Tour pro Tom Kite, Gottfried and WVTM-TV sports director Jim Dunaway.

Both Shulas presented a happy image. They talked of getting together in late June and July to play competitive golf within the family tree, and Don Shula predicted better results for his son.

Of course, it was carefully calculated public relations–of course Don Shula plugged his steakhouse, and no one really expects a father like Shula to do anything but pump up his son in the public eye.

Still, such public posturing sure beat watching Price squirm before the cameras last year.

Such "boring" stability is Shula's biggest asset. More than anything right now, Alabama football needs a constant, reassuring touch.

Shula appears comfortable with the way he is rebuilding Crimson Tide football. He signed a solid recruiting class in February, and made only minimal changes to his coaching staff, replacing popular strength and conditioning coach Ben Pollard with good friend and longtime NFL strength guru Kent Johnston.

If notoriously impatient Alabama football fans give Shula and his staff time, their patience might be handsomely rewarded. Shula has yet to prove that he can consistently win SEC football games, but last season's struggles should have a dual asterisk: coaching under duress of probation and turmoil (courtesy of Franchione and Price's drama).

This season will be crucial in Shula's tenure. The schedule is much lighter and his players have spent a year in his system, which could lead to much better results.

If that happens, the Alabama football coach's appearances at Bruno's should be placid for years to come.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Greg Wallace is the Alabama beat writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald and writes a weekly column for BamaMag.com


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