Shula On The Tide

Alabama Coach Mike Shula met with the media for the first time since the Cotton Bowl Saturday and discussed recruiting, the off-season program, the situation with transfers and injured players as spring practice approaches, staff changes, and even the events of last Wednesday, which was signing day and also the day Ryan Lucy Shula came into this world.

Ordinarily, the Alabama head football coach would have met with sportswriters on Wednesday, signing day, but that was also the day Mike Shula's wife, Shari, delivered their third daughter, Ryan Lucy Shula. Bama's head coach was asked about the events of that day when he met with reporters Saturday morning.

He said, "About 7:30 (a.m.) Shari said, ‘Today's the day.' I said, ‘Yep, signing day.' And she said, ‘No. I mean today's THE day.'"

The baby was born about 10:46 a.m. Less than 30 minutes later, Shula said, he was on the phone with Recruiting Coordinator Randy Ross. Shula said Ross asked him, "Have you heard the news?" And Shula answered, "Have YOU heard the news?"

Ross's news was that star lineman Andre Smith had joined the Crimson Tide, completing the 2006 signing class.

The Smith signing was certainly important. Shula said "The staff was excited." He also said that he called his famous father, Don Shula, with the news of Ryan Lucy's arrival. "He was excited," Mike Shula said. "And then I told him about some of the late commitments and he was more excited."

Shula was asked about Alabama's following the Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech with a strong recruiting finish. The coach pointed out, "We had some early commitments from guys we think are really good players before the Cotton Bowl. Then we had the great win in the Cotton Bowl. The feeling on the staff and on the team following that game was so much different than the year before when we lost the bowl game. After that game we had some coaches leave immediately to go recruiting and within about another half day everyone was out recruiting.

"We ended up with a talented class, a class of good character, and we filled some needs."

He was asked about Bama taking two new running backs in Mike Ford, a re-sign from 2005 who is at Hargrave Military in Virginia, and Terry Grant, "Mr. Football" in Mississippi. Shula said that while Alabama has running backs, it was the feeling of the staff to try to get the two talented runners, who Shula said are "different and bring something special."

Shula said, "We didn't get many defensive linemen, but we signed a lot last year. That will be a priority next year. You always want to gather offensive and defensive linemen and we've had good success on offensive linemen the last two years."

A late addition to the Alabama recruiting list was defensive back Javier Arenas from Tampa, Florida. It was noted in the question that Arenas didn't have many scholarship offers. Shula said, "We have been watching him since early in the season. Coach (David) Ungerer has that area and told us early that he thought he could be a kick returner and defensive back or wide receiver. He may not have been on the radar of the media, but he was on our radar."

Shula was asked about linebacker prospects who signed elsewhere, but said only that "We feel good about the guys coming in here. We feel we got guys who can play Sam (strongside linebacker) and Will (weakside linebacker)."

As for quarterback Greg McElroy, Shula said, "Everyone knows where our quarterback search went," and inference regarding Bama's fruitless recruiting of Florida signee Tim Tebow. He also noted that he had "some contact" with Mitch Mustain, who went to Arkansas. Shula said McElroy, the 5A offensive player of the year in Texas, "had been in our camp. The big question was he hadn't played quarterback (until last season). We had seen some film of him from (2005) spring practice. And we followed him through the season. And when Greg decided on us (after committing to Texas Tech), it made us happy."

Shula said it made him feel a little old in that sons of his former teammates, Joey Jones and Van Tiffin, would be joining the Tide. Jake Jones is a defensive back (and possible kick return man) from Mountain Brook, while Leigh Tiffin will walk on and follow in his father's steps as a placekicker.

Bama has a new assistant coach. Paul Randloph left the Tide to become assistant head coach at Rice. On Friday it was announced that David Turner would join the Alabama staff from Vanderbilt. As Randolph, Turner will coach defensive ends. Turner, who was also recruiting coordinator at Vandy, had previously coached with Alabama assistants Sparky Woods and Dave Ungerer.

Shula said that the team is now in the off-season program under new Strength and Conditioning Coach Rocky Colburn. Assistant football coaches had a few days off following recruiting, but will become more involved in the off-season work now. Shula said the off-season work is similar under Colburn to what it was under the retired Kent Johnston, although he said work was in smaller groups "which means less rest time for the players." Bama is lifting three days a week and has conditioning work five days per week.

Shula announced that wide receiver Marcus McKnight will finish his degree this year and will not return to the Tide squad.

He said that three men who missed the Cotton Bowl–defensive backs Simeon Castille and Chris Keys and wide receiver D.J. Hall–should be back in good graces. He said that Keys will likely start off at linebacker and mentioned that there could be other position changes, although he did not wish to discuss them until they could be determined in conversations with the staff and with the players.

Shula said that transfers Max Martin (from Michigan) and Jonathan Lowe (from Mississippi State) are going through the off-season program. He also said that defensive tackle Curtis Dawson is in the off-season program and indicated he would be rejoining the team, though not on scholarship.

Shula said among those who will be out or limited for spring practice will be safety Cory Reamer (knee), defensive tackle Justin Britt (shoulder), cornerback Ramzee Robinson (back and wrist injuries), and halfback Roy Upchurch (foot), although he noted that Upchurch was "ahead of schedule, probably a little further along." He also said that fullback Le'Ron McClain had arthroscopic knee surgery and might miss some spring work.

And he also discussed the status of wide receiver Tyrone Prothro. Prothro, who suffered a broken leg in the fifth game of the 2005 season and had surgery, is still a few weeks from being able to put pressure on the leg. The upcoming senior wide receiver from Heflin obviously will not participate in spring practice, which begins February 24 and ends with the A-Day Game April 1.

Shula said, "There has been so much speculation (on the subject). We probably are not going to know anything before June. He is improving. In the next three to four weeks he will start putting pressure on the leg and then the process (of healing) will speed up. We'll continue to monitor his progress and should have a better idea of that in June. But he's doing well."

It was also announced Saturday that Cotton Bowl officials and Lott Trophy representatives will attend the Alabama-Auburn basketball game on March 1 to present various awards–the Cotton Bowl trophy for Bama's 13-10 win over Texas Tech to the team, the Most Valuable Offensive Player to Brodie Croyle, and the Most Valuable Defensive Player to DeMeco Ryans. And Ryans will also receive the prestigious Lott Trophy.

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