Case For Shula

A variety of "sources close to the athletics department" have been providing conflicting reports on what may happen regarding change in the football program. Most agree that nothing will happen this week.

It is our belief that it is a very small number with knowledge about the future of Alabama Head Football Coach Mike Shula and/or his coaching staff. Perhaps only Athletics Director Mal Moore knows. And it is possible that he has not yet made a decision on how to proceed. If he has, it is likely he has shared that with no more than a couple of people, including University President Robert Witt and Shula.

Although it's easy to scream for heads, cleaning house is not necessarily the right thing to do.

Almost everyone with best hopes for Crimson Tide football expects there will be some change, and almost everyone also agrees that some change is needed following a disappointing 6-6 football season.

If Alabama had somehow managed to win most or all of the six games that were lost in the same unimpressive manner as the victories, there would be no change. So perhaps the unintended consequence of the crummy year is that things will improve.

Although it will be big news if Shula is released, it will not really surprise anyone. And while some will bemoan such a decision, Moore will not have a difficult task defending the action. Based on the most vocal of Alabama fans, it would seem the majority would applaud the firing of Shula.

We can certainly see that viewpoint.

But a case can also be made in defense of Mike Shula. For that matter, Shula and every assistant coach under fire would be able to put forth an impressive list of supporters on both professional and personal levels.

An irony of the current climate of coaches' salaries and guarantees is that if Shula is fired, he walks away wealthy. Those most affected in a potentially devastating way are the assistant coaches and their families.

If Shula is fired, it will be because Moore is convinced that Shula can't deliver championships. Just because Moore has that opinion, does that mean it is the correct view? Well, not 100 per cent. But Moore knows football; he is better qualified than most to decide.

Beyond that is the task that follows. 'BAMA Assistant Editor Mitch Dobbs made the analogy that on fourth down a team makes the decision to punt or to go for it. If the decision is to punt, that's done. But if the decision is made to go for it, another decision must be made: how to go for it. If Moore goes for it – fires Shula – he must then find a replacement.

(If the changes are only at the assistant level, Shula will do that.)

Coaches do not come with assurances of success. Just because a new head coach (or offensive line coach or special teams coach, etc.) is hired, it is not automatic that championships follow. The landscape is littered with failures who seemed to be "can't miss" coaches.

The primary job of the head football coach at The University of Alabama is to win games at the highest level. When Mike Shula was hired there were many other considerations.

The turmoil in Bama football in late spring 2003 was unprecedented. Mike Price had been fired by President Witt before Price could coach a game. Moore's options were limited. He narrowed the list down to three NFL assistant coaches with Alabama backgrounds. Two of them were, like Moore, "Bear's boys," men who had been a part of the magnificent Paul Bryant era. They were a good friend Moore had played and coached with (Richard Williamson), and a good man Moore had helped recruit and coach and also had coached with (Sylvester Croom).

Shula was certainly an excellent choice considering the Price debacle. No one could be more circumspect than Shula. He has been a wonderful representative of The University, personification of what is right with college football. He was an outstanding student as well as fine Crimson Tide football player and he insists on his players taking advantage of the education afforded them.

Mike Shula is exactly the type person Moore and Witt want going into the homes of prospects.

The timing of his hiring put the new head coach at a disadvantage in assembling a staff. Coaching changes traditionally take place at the end of a season, perhaps at the end of recruiting, not in May. Shula kept the bulk of the Price assistants who had put the Crimson Tide through spring practice and added a few others. That staff has stayed almost completely intact.

Shula had a few months to prepare a playbook for a team he would not be able to put through spring practice, nearly an impossible chore. He also had a crash course in college rules, NCAA regulations and football rules.

Shula also had to prepare a team that was in the middle of extraordinarily harsh NCAA penalties. Bama was below the NCAA limit on scholarshipped players and headed lower. Moreover, recruiting the previous couple of years had been only lackluster. There was no possibility of or incentive for a bowl game.

And head coach at Alabama was not the job it once had been. It was middle of the pack in payment. Bama facilities were in need of major upgrades.

Shula worked through it. In 2005 he was a national coach of the year candidate as Bama went 10-2, including a Cotton Bowl victory. But that was accomplished with a veteran quarterback and a handful of star defensive players who are now starring in the NFL.

What he has done for us lately has not been pretty.

There are legitimate reasons for believing that Mike Shula cannot get the job done as Alabama's head football coach. But it is not an open and shut case.

If Moore makes a change, it will be with much more to offer than was the case when Mike Shula answered the call of his alma mater. Today the job is one of the high-paying job. Facilities are second to none. The Crimson Tide is back to near equal footing on scholarships. And it is a team with great potential, two-thirds of the 2006 squad in the freshman and sophomore classes. The academic standing of those players is on the rise. NCAA probation comes to an end in early February.

Whoever is in the northwest corner office of the Mal M. Moore Athletics Building in 2007 will have a good job. But it comes with very high expectations.

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