Alabama football had almost everything going wrong. Phil, with good reason, and Roy, who had no business trying to torpedo the most valuable member of the Southeastern Conference, combined with Alabama officials who were either self-serving complicit or inept. The NCAA was only so happy to get Bama's scalp and apply unprecedented and inappropriate penalties, even while breaking its own rules.
Phil even had the advantage of Roy's decade-long input into the SEC officiating crews, or at least so it seems to Alabama and Florida and others.
One off-shoot of the NCAA troubles was a coaching carousel. Fran didn't think he could get it done, and headed West without so much as an "Adios" to his players. Pappy came in and did some good things–hiring the likes of Joe Kines, for instance–but also did some bad things that got him fired.
And so Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore went to one of Bama's own, former quarterback Mike Shula. He was one of the youngest men in the nation serving as a head coach, and he had no experience as a head coach.
Alabama was at three-fourths scholarship strength.
And so the playing field was unlevel for much of the past decade as Tennessee had its most successful era against the Crimson Tide.
Alabama found itself unable to sign players who had grown up Alabama fans. The Cadillac said it was because of probation, although there may have been other factors at work as he decided between Auburn and Tennessee.
There are a number of players on Alabama's team who were not highly-recruited, guys like linebacker DeMeco Ryans. There are also a few like Brodie Croyle, who were highly-recruited. And there are some like starting defensive tackle Rudy Griffin tackle who weren't recruited at all, but walked on at Alabama.
What they had in common was they all wanted to play for Alabama.
Meanwhile, the evil rival was recruiting nationwide, and without many of the constraints of other colleges–constraints such as academics or police matters. Unlike those going to Tuscaloosa, these were more like hired hands, top guns but with no lifelong love of orange. While Alabama has struggled, top ten recruiting classes have followed top ten recruiting classes year after year for Phil.
There is no substitute for experience, but the youthful Shula has proved wise beyond his years in building a staff and a tough defense and an innovative offense.
Alabama was not supposed to be back this fast. And it may be that Alabama is not yet all the way back. We won't claim that until the next national championship trophy is shipped to The University.
But no one can doubt that Mike Shula has Bama headed in the right direction and more quickly than anyone could have imagined.