"One thing that hasn't changed since I left is the tradition," Koenning said. "Expectations are high here--and they need to be if you're going to be the best. Those things have stayed the same, and they need to stay the same if we're going to be what we can be."
Whether it be 1984 or 2004, some things will always remain the same. "Expectations, tradition--those things are really what you enjoy as a coach," Koenning said. "Yes, there are pressure situations. But where do you want to be? In a situation where you're just coaching football or do you want to be where you can be the best?
"This is one of those places where you can be the best you can be and still have a chance to compete for a national championship."
After spending one season on Ray Perkins' Alabama staff (an opportunity "too good to pass up"), Koenning's resume has included stops at Mississippi State, Duke, Texas A&M, Houston and the Miami Dolphins. But his memories of Tuscaloosa 20 years back remain fresh. "The town has gotten bigger," Koenning reminisced. "But the student body is still not that large."
Facilities-wise, the Tide athletic complex was very much in transition back then. Perkins was engaged in a major building campaign that would add the present Football Complex and Indoor Practice Facility. But in '84 most of the Athletics Offices were still housed in Coleman Coliseum. "I still have memories of walking over into Coach Bryant's old office," Koenning said. "I haven't been back this time, but I'd like to to see how it has changed. I remember the old film room. They tell me it has changed, but I haven't seen it.
"The stadium has gotten bigger. The practice fields have been re-arranged."
But buildings aside, the major difference Koenning noted this past year was the death of the Iron Bowl. Alabama/Auburn will always be huge, but back in 1984 the showdown was a happening.
"It was a little bit more ‘blood and war' when you went to Birmingham," Koenning said. "That was a big change that I noticed this year. Back then when they walked up into the stands, everything was split."
Though Koenning relishes the Tide's 31-7 pasting of Auburn on the Plains as much as any Alabama fan, he frankly was a bit disappointed in the atmosphere. He explained, "The biggest change I noticed from when I was here before was the Alabama/Auburn game. Back then it was played in Birmingham. To me it was more radical there than it was at Auburn, because everything was 50/50.
"When you walked into the stadium, they were getting at it back and forth--right in the stands."
Economics and personal agendas have ended the tradition that used to be called the Iron Bowl, but just because you accept change doesn't make it a good thing. "Back then it was a 50/50 deal, where now it becomes a home-and-home basis," Koenning said. "The allotment of tickets is for the home team. That was a big difference to notice."
Besides new offices, Koenning is especially grateful for the Bryant Museum, a feature he believes gives Alabama a big edge in selling the Tide program. "The museum was new to me," Koenning said. "I think that's a great attribute. We get so many compliments from visitors about the museum. And one of the biggest things about the museum is Coach (Clem) Gryska.
"When I first came here Coach Gryska was the one that greeted me for Coach Perkins. It really felt good to go back and talk to him. I enjoy just eating lunch with him and gaining some of his insight."
Along with the rest of the staff, Koenning worked long hours this past season righting the Crimson Tide ship. But he found some time to compare how things were his first time around. "The rivalry with Tennessee is always big," Koenning said. "That's just always there. I've played against some of the other SEC schools before, but experiencing it this way at Alabama is nice. It was nice to play Mississippi State. I was over there with Rocky (Felker, from 1986-1989)."
Koenning has coached literally all over the football map, but to him the Alabama fans will always be special. He explained, "The uniqueness is what draws you here. The fans' love for The University of Alabama is unmatched. You see it come out everywhere. They live and die with it. In this state you're either Alabama or Auburn. There is no halfway in between. You're going to support the other schools, but in football it's either Alabama or Auburn.
"The other places I've been, Texas, Miami, there are other things to do. It's not nearly as much as a way of life. Here it's a way of life. When you talk about deep-rooted values--Southern values, but also football values---then you're talking about The University of Alabama."