"I came to Alabama to be something special

Despite the fact that their team faces heavy NCAA sanctions, including the loss of this year's bowl game, not a single Tide athlete on scholarship has chosen to transfer. <br><br>To outsiders looking in, that's frankly hard to understand. But new Safeties Coach Melvin Smith has the explanation. "The big thing is just letting the players know that Alabama is still Alabama. It's still the same university that you chose when you committed."

Smith doesn't dispute that his players face increased challenges the next couple of years. But maintaining a long-range view is key. "In the future when you say that you played football at The University of Alabama, people are going to listen," Smith continued. "And I'm not just talking about the United States. There are people around the world that know Alabama.

Dennis Franchione is reminding his players that they have a chance to forge a place for themselves in Crimson Tide history.

"And the players can identify with that."

As a result of recruiting allegations that involved none of the current players or staff members, Alabama will have fewer athletes on scholarship the next several seasons. And if the present sanctions hold on appeal, the team cannot participate in bowl games in 2002 and 2003.

But even assuming no relief on appeal, Smith points out the Tide will only lose two games. "The challenge is letting the players know that while all this has happened, that's the only way it affects you," he related. "We're going to lose a few scholarships, but we have talent here.

"And we have a fan base that's second to none."

Smith joined the Tide staff last spring, after spending the previous seven seasons at Mississippi State. He sees the move as a chance to be a part of the greatest tradition in college football. "To me you've got to accent the positive things," Smith said. "You can't accent the negatives. What has happened has happened. We will be the group that embraced the fact that even though we're not going to go to a bowl this year--that's no excuse for us not to be good."

Smith reminds his players that despite what rival fans would claim, Alabama is still Alabama.

Head Coach Dennis Franchione elaborated on the idea earlier. "At a school as rich in history as The University of Alabama, it's hard to be unique." Franchione went on to explain that this group of athletes has a chance to be remembered as the squad that stayed the course to see Alabama through tough times.

Smith commented on the idea. "If you want to be a part of something special, this is the place. That's what Coach Fran has done. He's got the guys realizing that they are special. They're a special group. They can really put that integrity right back. So many (rival fans) want it to be gone. But it's not. Alabama is still special. That's what we have to get across."

When you talk to the Tide athletes, very few are touting an "us against the world" mentality. Rather they display a quiet determination to write their own chapter of Tide history. Smith explained, "I listen to my players. Roman Harper told me he came to Alabama because he wanted to be special. Charles Jones said he came to Alabama because he wanted to be special. Coach Fran came to Alabama because he wanted to be special.

"The same is true for me. Having a chance to be a part of the Crimson Tide staff I have been blessed with the opportunity to impart knowledge to some of the best football players in the country."

His brief time on campus has flown by quickly, but Smith has already established a rapport with his athletes. "The NCAA says that (other schools) can come and recruit our players off our campus," he pointed out defiantly. "But I don't think I'm going to lose any of my guys.

Redshirt freshman Roman Harper told Smith that he signed with Alabama because he wanted to become something special.

"Frankly, I'm excited about working with my young players. And my oldest player--the only starting senior I've got coming back--(Waine Bacon) vertical jumped 42 inches at the Night of Champions with his teammates cheering him on. That lets me know that we're doing something right."

Smith is an enthusiastic coach who takes quite personally the team goal of developing a more aggressive secondary. But he spends just as much time working to foster a sense of family among his athletes. Smith explained, "I like giving my guys an assignment to define terms like ‘team,' ‘champion,' ‘esprit de corp,' and ‘unity.' I give that as an assignment to my players, so they can see how the ideas relate. When you have those things, you're going to be a champion--that's what it's about. And that's what Coach Fran is about."

Clearly echoing glorious seasons past, the message is certainly not new to Tide fans. Conduct yourselves like champions on and off the practice field, and the game results will follow. "I think you need to let your players know that they're special," Smith related, "that we're going to be a team, we're going to watch each other's back."

Instill that belief in your players, and the common problems that plague assistant college coaches everywhere tend to disappear. "Once you've got them there, the players will do everything else you want," Smith said. "They'll go to class. They'll do what they need to do academically.

"The guys that don't buy into being special and being a team are not going to make it anyway. And anyone that doesn't want to be a part of that needs to leave."

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