Kudos To Coaches

Here's a shout out to Jim Wells, the Alabama baseball skipper who guns for his school-record 488th coaching victory tonight against Appalachian State. I've long held the belief Wells is a sports writer's dream to cover. He's astute, clever, has a savory dry wit, can quote liberally from the comedy ``Airplane'' and speaks his piece.

If a player isn't performing, Jim Wells doesn't gloss it over in media interviews.

Last year a reporter innocently asked Wells how Alabama pitcher Wade LeBlanc was handling his rehab from a shoulder injury. In his slow, north Louisiana delivery, Wells proceeded to tell it like it was. Paraphrasing, he said LeBlanc was handling rehab the way a child would: he's hurting and he wants everyone to know it.

Zing. And that was his star pitcher.

My personal opinion, as the son of an army officer, is athletes need to have a tough hide. You better have one playing for Wells.

Some guys can handle it, others can't.

Former Crimson Tide All-American Andy Phillips was one who could, and even prospered with Wells' tough love.

``If you can handle the toughness, he can make you a great player,'' Phillips said Thursday. ``He saw something in me that I didn't know I had.''

Wells is a winner in any era: gorilla ball, station-to-station, you name it.

While other baseball programs around the SEC continue to supplement their rosters with in-state talent lured by lottery funded scholarships, Wells keeps chugging along, finding diamonds in the rough, managing winning baseball. Alabama has no such attractant like Louisiana's TOPs program or Georgia's HOPE scholarships, but the Crimson Tide continues to compete with those and other programs with similar setups.

Looks like Wells has assembled another pitching-heavy, questionable-hitting club this year, so expect a lot of SEC games to be of the one-run variety.

By the way, LeBlanc will hurl the first pitch for Alabama tonight in Wells' quest for the record. It won't be easy against Appy State's 6-5 right-hander Garrett Sherrill, who is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA.

You know Wells will get the record soon enough -- ``Roger, Roger!'' -- and continue coaching Alabama baseball in his own unique style.

While we're on the subject of throwing out coaching honors, how about the season Mark Gottfried is turning in?

Gottfried earned SEC coach of the year honors for his conference-winning club in 2002, but he might be doing even a better job this year.

There's been a long-standing assumption that Gottfried was a great recruiter who was a mediocre Xs and Os coach. This year, Gottfried has pumped up his chalkboard acumen and could even hang a sports psychologists' shingle over his office door at Coleman Coliseum.

I've said it before: I thought the Tide was cooked when it lost at home to Ole Miss and lost Chuck Davis for the season on the night SEC play opened.

Gottfried was crushed for Davis' sake, but his upbeat demeanor spread all over his team. ``Our team never lost hope, our team never got down,'' Gottfried said after whipping Tennessee 92-79 on Feb. 18. ``If you've got some questionable character in your group, that thing could tailspin away from you. We've got good kids who play hard.''

The Crimson Tide has run the table on its home games since the lost evening against Mississippi, and scored key road wins at Auburn, Kentucky and Ole Miss (and almost Arkansas) to punch its fifth-straight NCAA Tournament ticket.

Gottfried won't win SEC coach of the year honors. Tennessee's Bruce Pearl has a more compelling story and LSU's John Brady has an SEC champion. One of those two will win it.

But Alabama fans should embrace the superb body of work Gottfried and his staff have compiled in this season that was nearly on the brink.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register and a contributor to 'BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com


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