Patience Paid Dividends

Take a good, hard look back into the past. Search two years backwards, deep into the recesses of your minds. What did you think about the state of University of Alabama football? Specifically, what did you think about the state of its defense? And defensive coordinator Joe Kines?

Chances are, if thoughts – or angry message-board posts – could kill, the Crimson Tide defense wouldn't be where it is today:

The backbone of the No.4 team in America.

Owner of the No.3 total defense in America.

Owner of the No.6 pass defense in America.

Owner of the No.10 rush defense in America.

And the key to a potential unbeaten, national championship season.

This defense is the perfect example of what can happen when a coach is committed to his system – and his players.

Two years ago, Kines was forced into using youngster after youngster on what was a bad 4-9 team.

Guys like DeMeco Ryans. Juwan Simpson (then Garth). Anthony Madison. Roman Harper. And Charlie Peprah.

They struggled. Oh, how they struggled.

Maybe the best example was that infamous fourth-and-19 play in the fourth quarter against Tennessee.

The less said about that, the better. You know the results.

Flash forward two years, to the other end of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Game tied 3-3, Tennessee driving, Alabama desperately in need of a huge play.

Harper's helmet hit the football, cradled in Vol fullback Cory Anderson's hands, in just the perfect spot, and you know the rest.

It was the kind of play a veteran player – the leader of a veteran defense – makes when he has to.

It was the kind of play followers have come to expect from the Alabama defense. Now, it is showing the benefits of two years' worth of strife, learning and experience.

Now, it's one of the nation's best defenses – if not the best overall. Such success makes Ryans wonder why fans ever doubted Kines.

"It's crazy how people are, hating Coach Kines, Coach Shula when they first got here, and now they love them," he said this week. "It just takes time to get your system in, get guys to understand what they were going.

"That (first) year, (we) went through a totally different system, totally different terminology. It takes time to grasp hold of it, really understand it, and go out and play well."

Ryans' point was simple: patience, patience, patience.

Sometimes, players simply take a year or so to adjust to a new system, a new guy screaming signals in their ears they've never heard.

When a new coordinator works well – like Al Borges at Auburn last year or Bobby Petrino before him – he is praised to the heavens.

But if he doesn't, you get the "Fire Joe Kines" faction that emerged two years ago. What would have happened had Shula caved and shown Kines the door?

Sure, maybe he would have uncovered some wunderkind defensive coordinator who could have tapped the Tide's talent.

But most likely, they'd just now be getting used to him, and Alabama would have suffered as a result.

Firing coaches isn't just expensive. It's costly to players' development, too.

Like most of us, young football players crave stability, the same faces looking at them, yelling at them and encouraging them day after day.

That's why the Dennis Franchione-Mike Price-Mike Shula coaching carousel was so costly to Alabama football.

It's also why Shula has said, over and over, that he kept his staff virtually the same following 2003's debacle.

He knew, better than anyone behind a keyboard, how much his team needed stability. And it's paid huge dividends.

Most of the defense that will start against Mississippi State, LSU and Auburn started that three-game stretch last year.

And two years ago. Such experience is priceless.

It's the kind of know-how that turns a fourth-and-19 debacle into a game-changing helmet-to-football hit inside the five-yard line.

The kind of know-how Alabama wouldn't have if Shula hadn't had a little patience two years ago.

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