Mal knows coaching talentAs observant Tide fans noted recently, Dennis Franchione just passed his one-year anniversary as Head Coach at Alabama--and what better way to celebrate than by finishing with a three-game winning streak to secure a winning record and almost certain bowl bid?
Of course Bama Athletics Director Mal Moore is the man principally responsible for bringing Franchione to Alabama. Unlike some ADs at nearby SEC schools, Moore has legitimate coaching credentials, earned during 31 years as a football coach--22 of which were spent at Alabama. A member of Coach Bryant's first national champion in 1961, Moore served as an assistant on six other NC squads ('64, '65, '73, '78, '79, '92), serving as offensive coordinator on the Tide's last four national championship squads.
To say that Moore knows something about what it takes to be a successful coach would be an understatement. And the facts certainly bear that out.
Searching for a proven winner to replace the departed Mike DuBose, Moore had Dennis Franchione on his short list from the beginning. But it's no secret that two other names were initially ahead. And while Tide fans (and Coach Franchione) are quite happy with how things turned out, it's interesting to note just how good a judge of coaching talent Moore is.
First on his list was Butch Davis, now of the NFL's Cleveland Browns but then coaching the Miami Hurricanes. Lured to the National Football League to turn around a troubled franchise, Davis has the Browns playing winning football and is generally considered one of the top young pro coaches in the nation. Of course while his former offensive coordinator now coaches the Hurricanes, there is no doubt that Davis deserves credit for assembling the Miami squad that is currently the consensus No. 1 team in college football.
Though Frank Beamer quickly withdrew from consideration when it became clear he was second choice to Davis, the Virginia Tech coach was also at the top of Coach Moore's list. Having built the once-lowly Hokies into a perennial Top-20 team, Beamer's reputation as a football CEO remains high. Virginia Tech was expected to be down this season. But relying on special teams play that has become their trademark, Beamer-coached Virginia Tech was within one dropped pass of possibly upsetting Miami this past week.
Again, Tide fans are frankly very happy with their "third-choice" coach, but it is interesting to note just how good an evaluator of coaching talent Mal Moore is.
Reggie closes with a rushAdmittedly, he's had an up-and-down career at Alabama, but a portion of credit for the Tide's recent defensive success has to be given to Reggie Myles. Always one of the more volatile players on the squad, Myles is also as physically gifted as any current Bama defensive back. And his recent improved performance has paralleled that of the defense as a whole.
A starter for most of his career, Myles was No. 1 at free safety this season the first four games, before losing that job to Charles Jones. Myles did not immediately respond to the demotion and played versus UTEP, Ole Miss and Tennessee in a backup role only. Then the low point came against LSU, as Myles watched from the sideline without playing a down.
The Tide coaches were asking for effort and execution, and starting Mississippi State week they noticed a change. Coming off the bench versus the Bulldogs, Myles ended up playing the majority of snaps that game, flying around the field and making his presence known. His effort earned him the start against Auburn, and the Pascagoula, Mississippi native's excellent play continued through that contest and then last week against Southern Miss. In the Bama's last three games, Myles' name has been all over the stat sheet, accumulating interceptions, fumble recoveries, pass deflections and showing up consistently among the Tide's leading tacklers.
Closing strong, Myles finished the season tied with Jarret Johnson as Bama's fifth-leading tackler with 54 to his credit. Myles has one interception, two pass deflections and has recovered two fumbles for the Tide. Not coincidentally, Alabama finished the season on a three-game winning streak.
And besides helping his team to victories, Myles has also elevated his stock for a possible shot at a pro career.
Juniors leaving early?It wasn't that long ago when some Tide fans were openly speculating about possible junior departures. Predictions of crippling probation coupled with what once seemed a probable losing season had many fans scouring the Bama roster, wondering which juniors might decide to leave. Early departure for the NFL and even transfers to other schools were cited as possibilities.
Though Alabama has relatively few senior starters, its roster is dotted with key juniors who either start or play a crucial role in the playing rotation. But thankfully for Tide fans, most of that talk has been silenced.
Yes, partly it's due to more optimistic assumptions regarding likely NCAA sanctions. Of course despite the nonsense being fed to recruits by certain conference opponents, Alabama was never likely to lose a bowl next season--much less television. But there is no doubt that informed predictions regarding possible sanctions have softened somewhat in recent weeks, serving to calm more than one troubled soul.
However, the more decisive factor has been recent on-the-field success. Almost without exception, the players like their new coach--certainly the squad responded well to Franchione's challenge to work hard in the off season. But for a time the 2001 team struggled to find its identity, and several tough losses frankly played with the squad's collective confidence.
But as Franchione noted, "something happened" during the Mississippi State game. The Tide grew up, found its voice--and perhaps its long-term identity.
Players like Kindal Moorehead and Saleem Rasheed could still decide that they've accomplished enough in college football and declare for the NFL draft (though at this point there is no reason to assume either player will make that decision). But the mood of the team is optimistic, with players and coaches anxious to keep the momentum rolling.