Shula On Sunday

Alabama Football Coach Mike Shula wants to talk about "What might have been," but the subject keeps coming back to "What's it going to be?" In his regular Sunday teleconference with sportswriters, Shula revisited the promise of evaluations, but still with few specifics.

Following Alabama's 22-15 loss to Auburn, the Tigers' fifth straight win over the Crimson Tide and fourth straight over Shula-coached Bama, Shula said there would be evaluations of all aspects of the football program. He said the 6-6 record of 2006 was not satisfactory.

That was the message again Sunday afternoon. But he said there ios no timetable. Although Shula shared a long list of areas to be evaluated, it nevertheless is a list of generalties: offense, defense and special teams; personnel; coaching; recruiting; the weight program; how the injured are dealt with; scheduling; off-season work; training camp; practice schedules.

"It's everything," he said. "A lot of things we're doing really well, but we need to look at everything every year to see how we can do things better."

Although his answer was not much different than it has been to similar questions in the past, the tone of his reply Sunday was more emphatic when asked if the evaluation might lead to changing the play-caller, presumably meaning Shula as play-caller. In the past that kind of question has elicited a response along the lines of "Anything's possible." On Sunday he said, "We'll look at everything. When I say everything, I mean everything."

It was no surprise that the question turned to his coaching staff. Understandably, Shula was not specific. He said, "We're going to evaluate everything and make any adjustments we need to make. I'm not just talking about coaches. I'm talking about everything we can make better. Adjust anything to get our players back among the elite groups of SEC teams, which we were last year. As hard as it may seem to believe, we were right there last year and in some games we were right there this year and we need to keep that in mind."

Shula said as of Sunday he had not had meetings with anyone regarding his own evaluation. Asked if he had received any assurances about his situation, he said, "I haven't met with anyone. It has been just a normal Sunday."

He said his recent conversations with Athletics Director Mal Moore have been "regarding football, even Xs and Os, and football operations and organizations. I lean on him a lot. I'd be dumb if I didn't."

There wasn't one defining moment that led to Shula's evaluation plan. The overall record seems to have been less a motivation to make the evaluation, but rather reason to announce the evaluation.

Shula said, "Some things happen during the course of the year, during the season and during the off-season, and you make note of them. (The ones in season) you can't tweak them then, but you discuss them and work on them in the off-season."

Shula said, "Yesterday was a tough day for all of us, extremely tough. Ending up the season being 6-6 is hard to swallow. It's what none of us wanted. We've been in some close games and haven't done the things it has taken to win football games.

"It's a disappointment. We're not satisfied. We're going to evaluate everything because we have some good young players who give us a bright future. Some of those guys were on the football field playing their hearts out. That's our focus to get this team back. We've got some things to overcome. We felt that way last year after coming into a tough situation four years ago, which is why this is disappointing.

"The young guys will be the foundation of our team as we work to get better."

There's going to be a little break for players and coaches. Alabama has had 12 consecutive games and this week is Thanksgiving, meaning a short week of classes at The University. Shula said the staff would work Sunday and Monday, then get some time off. The players will be off this week, then begin conditioning work next week while the coaching staff is on the road recruiting.

The bowl situation, which is in limbo, will determine whether Alabama is able to continue football practice in December.

Shula was asked if the season was made tougher because of so many close calls where a play or two may have made the difference. He said, "It has made it really tough because you think you're right there and yet we haven't taken that last step, to have a big win on the road. You can't know what that does for a team, to win a big SEC game on the road. With a young team, that would mean so much for confidence. It's frustrating. We need to get back over that edge where we were last year after nine games (9-0)."

Asked if the line of scrimmage was the problem, Shula said, "If you compare to last year defensively, we weren't quite as stout against the run. Offensively, if we had not moved the ball as much as we have, I'd probably say we haven't won the battle up front. But there have been a bunch of times when we've moved the ball. We weren't perfect. We struggled at times both in the passing game and in the running game. But there were also times we moved the ball against good defensive teams."

The most notable place where Alabama's offense failed was in the Red Zone, those last 20 yards to the end zone. Shula said he did not think it was a mental block. "I'd say the speed of the game lends itself to not dwelling on it," he said. "There's not time to think, ‘Oh, boy, we're in the Red Zone,' and tighten up. Of course it's an issue, and rightfully so, in the media because our production was down."

He pointed out that Alabama did score in the Red Zone with the John Parker Wilson pass to tight end Travis McCall, but agreed the Tide's play inside the five-yard line particularly was not good. He said he thought the goalline offense, the so-called Jumbo Package with Tim Castille replacing Kenneth Darby at halfback, "had been real successful until about three weeks ago. We have to look at how we can make adjustments."

Shula said he thought the team came out of the Auburn game without serious injuries, noting that tackle Jeremy Clark did suffer a shoulder injury and "other than that bumps and bruises." He said there is a possibility that offensive guard Marlon Davis would have off-season surgery for knee cartilege damage.

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