Thoughts About Gottfried

You knew it would happen eventually. Following an incredible ride through the NCAA Tournament–which capped off one of the best three-year periods in Alabama men's basketball history–Mark Gottfried's name came up in connection with a prominent coaching vacancy.

More than likely, Mark Gottfried's link to the Ohio State head coach position (filled last week by Xavier's Thad Matta) was nothing more than scattershot journalism by an Ohio writer who connected the Tide coach to the job because he was–gasp!–born in Crestline, Ohio, over 40 years ago.

Never mind that Gottfried spent his adolescence in southern Illinois and graduated from Alabama, or that his family now has strong roots to Alabama (his father, Joe, is South Alabama's athletics director, and his uncle, ESPN commentator Mike, is a force on the Mobile sports scene).

Gottfried was never a serious candidate for the OSU job and didn't comment on the matter. But this certainly won't be the last time his name surfaces when a hot job comes open.

That's the price of success in college basketball these days. And if it can happen to Duke, Kansas and North Carolina, it can happen anywhere.

Especially Alabama. Here's why.

When Gottfried took over the program from David Hobbs six years ago, fan interest and talent levels were at near-record lows.

He and his staff steadily returned the program to prominence, taking Alabama to the NIT championship game in 2001 and to the NCAA Tournament in 2002.

The 2003 season was little more than a tease–the program's first-ever number one national ranking in late December bottomed out in an NCAA first-round flameout in March–but that just made 2004 even sweeter.

A team few predicted as an NCAA team in early February made a magical run through February and March that ended 40 minutes shy of the Final Four in San Antonio.

Before Alabama fell to eventual national titlist UConn, though, the Tide stunned number one Stanford and defending national champion Syracuse on the way to the school's first-ever Elite Eight trip.

Gottfried and his team finally got their turn in the media spotlight, generating positive national publicity for an athletics department badly in need of it.

An NCAA probation against the football program, the messy exits of Dennis Franchione and Mike Price, and Mike Shula's shaky start left plenty of negative buzz surrounding the Alabama athletics complex.

Gottfried's great run erased some of that, but it also brought out the what-if crowd.

"What if Mark Gottfried has another great season and–fill in the blank–calls?" they asked.

Legit questions, sure. But know this: Gottfried isn't Franchione, and he isn't Price.

He has strong ties to the school and the program and seems very comfortable in Tuscaloosa. His wife, Elizabeth, went to school at Alabama, and their five children are firmly ensconced in area schools.

Gottfried also enjoys his role just out of the spotlight. When asked at an Elite Eight press conference the benefits of coaching basketball at a football school, he smiled.

"Well," Gottfried said, "the press doesn't dissect me like a frog like they do Mike Shula."

The whole room roared with laughter.

At Alabama, Gottfried can generally conduct his business without too many questions, without prying eyes second-guessing his every move. His teams develop in near-silence from mid-October to early January, the bulk of Alabama fans too mesmerized in football season to notice.

He wouldn't be able to do that at a basketball-first school–or maybe even at a place like Ohio State, where the program is under NCAA scrutiny and pressure to keep up with Jim Tressel's successful football program.

That's why Gottfried jumping from Tuscaloosa's tranquil waters would really surprise me. He has most everything he needs at Alabama: he is paid approximately $800,000 per year under a contract he signed before last season, and upcoming renovations to Coleman Coliseum should at least keep it in line with the rest of the SEC.

In my opinion, Gottfried deserves more. Kentucky and Florida both have sparkling new basketball-only practice facilities, and other schools like Arkansas and South Carolina have gleaming, nearly-new basketball arenas that are among the best in college basketball.

If Gottfried keeps Alabama among college hoops' elite, the school must make a similar commitment to its program with new facilities, be it a new practice gym or a new gym entirely. And the UA administration must pay Gottfried what he is worth, even if it's more than the head football coach is paid.

If Alabama continues its recent run, elite schools will make runs at Gottfried. Alabama fans should accept it as a sign of progress.

And the Alabama administration must make a commitment to basketball if it expects to keep Mark Gottfried the next time a college basketball power comes calling.

It will happen–and they'd better be ready.

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


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