How Many Years?

No one who matters is showing concern about Mike Shula's record as Alabama's head coach after two years at the helm, but the question does come up occasionally. Some pre-season publications (the embarrassment of print journalism) are suggesting this is a "make or break" season for Shula. I prefer to consult a higher authority.

Years ago–1978–when I was involved in running a network of college sports publications, I hired a young man named David Stirt to publish a magazine called "Go Gators" covering the University of Florida. Stirt eventually went on his own and was very, very successful. He is now publisher and editor of "Fightin' Gators" magazine.

Alabama's football team was going to Gainesville in 1979 and Stirt, who also taught journalism courses at Florida and was host and producer of a television program, "Come Together," on the university's station, wanted an interview with Crimson Tide Head Coach Paul Bryant. I had been sports information director at Alabama before starting ‘BAMA magazine, and so Stirt asked me for help in arranging the interview. It might be hard to believe for today's coaches, but Coach Bryant said he would have time Saturday morning between his staff meeting and the time for the team to leave Silver Springs for Gainesville.

Stirt recently spent some time with me and gave me a copy of his magazine, which included a reprint of that interview and the background of it. I had read the article years ago but took time to read it again.

In 1979 Mike Shula was barely a teenager. But words Bryant spoke that day have meaning for Shula as he prepares for his third year as Alabama's head football coach.

Bryant was speaking of the task facing Charley Pell, who was in his first year as head coach at Florida. Bryant said, "I don't think your first year, or your first two or three years should count. Some of your best seasons are when you lose some games and some of your worst seasons are when you win some game. There's no doubt in my mind Charley will have a good program here. I think he's had some real tough luck. Well, I know he's had some real tough luck to lose great football players early in the year."

Pell would have more tough luck that day. Alabama, en route to an undefeated season and a consecutive national championship, would pound the Gators, 40-0.

When Charley Pell died I was surprised at the number of people from Florida who showed up in Gadsden for the funeral. Dave Stirt was one of them. Stirt knows Florida football about as well as anyone, and he thinks the job Charley Pell did is the reason the Gators became national contenders.

There was another interesting aspect of the Stirt interview. Stirt asked Bryant what his role would be in choosing his successor.

Bryant said, "I would hope it would be an Alabama man. I used to think that I wanted to name him, but I've been taking smart pills. When I walk out of there I'm not going to have anything to do with it. I'll let the administration handle it, and if they make a mistake, it's their mistake. Of course, I think we have a lot of people who are well qualified. I want them to get the best man for the job in the country whether he went to Alabama or not, but I'd be pleased if he was an Alabama man.

Like Bryant, Shula is a former Crimson Tide player.

Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore recently extended Shula's contract through the 2009 season.

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