Contracts Aside

Mike Shula's future will be decided on the field. It's that simple.

The University of Alabama's young head football coach (he turned 40 on Friday) won't meet his fate in a boardroom somewhere, or in a smoky bar along the Gulf Coast, a woman of questionable origins at his side.

Whether Shula has a long career stalking Bryant-Denny Stadium's sidelines will be determined when we find out if he is a consistent winner.

That remains to be seen, but it doesn't mean that recent talk about his potential contract extension is particularly meaningful.

This week, news broke that Shula and UA Athletic Director Mal Moore are expected to sit down soon and discuss a contract extension, per a negotiating window in his current deal.

Unless Moore and Shula reach a deal, Shula will enter this season with - gasp! - only three seasons left on his current five-year contract that he signed when he took over in May 2003.

I'll wait while you surf over to aeroseek.com and track Moore's search for a new coach in the university jet.

Understand, the ideal of a four-year contract is an issue on the recruiting trail, where rival coaches (although not Shula, so he says) will say just about anything to get a prospect's attention.

If this deal doesn't get done, some critics say, rival recruiters will tell prospects that Shula won't be there for their entire careers.

And we're supposed to believe that once the ink dries on the new contract, those recruiters will just back off and allow Shula to go about his business in blissful peace?

If you buy that, I've got a killer nonrefundable deal for you on that Vandy-Duke matchup in the Sugar Bowl.

Truth is, that college football recruiting is one of the nastiest businesses around. If Shula gets a four-year deal, his rivals will carp about the fact that it isn't a five-year deal.

Or they'll just say he won't survive four years without backing it up.

That isn't a statement on Alabama or its rivals; it's a statement on SEC football. Period.

Semantics aside, what has Shula done to deserve a new/revised deal, anyway?

He walked into one of the toughest situations a college football coach can face at Alabama, and is still in the middle of what was generally agreed would be a rebuilding period.

But in two full seasons, he's 10-15 with one postseason appearance, a desultory Music City Bowl loss to Minnesota last New Year's Eve.

That includes a 4-9 record in 2003, a year Shula entered with one hand tied behind his back thanks to his hiring after spring practice thanks to Mike Price's firing.

Last season's 6-6 mark was an improvement, but not much of one, and the Tide still hasn't beaten Auburn, LSU or Tennessee under his watch.

It isn't all Shula's doing, of course; the fragile knees of Brodie Croyle, Tim Castille and Ray Hudson and Ken Darby's tender groin likely cost Alabama several victories last fall.

Lay out the facts, however, and it becomes clear he hasn't done enough to warrant an extension.

He is a bright, savvy coach who has shown considerable talent recruiting, hauling in top-15 caliber classes in both of his efforts on the recruiting trail.

That doesn't seem worthy of a raise, though, especially when Shula is already making $900,000 per year - more than men's basketball counterpart Mark Gottfried, who has had much more success during his UA tenure.

Chances are that Shula will get an extension regardless, because it's good public relations.

And because it's relatively harmless.

UA officials have always been proactive in signing coaches to contracts - take the lucrative offer that sat before Dennis Franchione for months before he bolted for Texas A&M.

And Moore is being proactive with Shula. Why not?

If Shula fails, it will be relatively easy to negotiate a buyout of the deal at some point, whether he has one, two, three or ten years left on his deal. In college athletics, contracts are hardly worth the paper they're printed on.

The same is true with Shula's deal. If Alabama wants out of the deal, it will find a way out. The same goes for Shula, if the Franchione deal has taught us anything.

Shula signing a new deal is news.

Shula justifying a new deal with wins is bigger news.

Scoreboards - not boardrooms - will ultimately determine his fate.


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