Timing Counts

Timing and clear-thinking decisions are everything in college football coaching hires, and Alabama hasn't had a great deal of good fortune on either front with its picks over the last couple of decades.

Witness the near-misses with coaches like Bobby Bowden and Frank Beamer, who have no doubt established themselves as coaching legends and could have been at The Capstone under different circumstances.

Will the same be said about Steve Spurrier?

A well-placed source in the industry said Alabama could have had Spurrier two years ago, after his messy run with the Washington Redskins washed out. However, that move would have come after Mike Shula's second season ended at 6-6, and it would have been a harsh and callous decision to pry Shula out after two years of loyal and genuine hard work.

Bad timing.

Now Spurrier is nearing 62 years old and Alabama's current attempt to woo him might also be for naught. It would also likely be its last try at hiring Spurrier.

You have to appreciate Alabama's determined effort to land the living legend, who, in the Paul "Bear'' Bryant mold, could "take his and beat yours or take yours and beat his'' with just about any club in the country. Problem is, Spurrier is only two years into this gig at South Carolina and he's determined to make the Gamecocks an SEC champion.

He has reiterated his promises to work to that end the last four days, and it's hard to see him turning back on those words. Love him or hate him, Spurrier has conducted himself as one of the most honorable men in college football for two decades.

And it's apparent the money is hardly an issue for the Great Visor.

Valiant effort by Alabama, but it appears to be another case of bad timing.

Will Alabama's efforts now shift to West Virginia Coach Rich Rodriguez?

The climate seems about right for that move, but the number 15 Mountaineers play a huge game against Rutgers on Saturday that has BCS implications.

It would not be fair or right for Alabama to go snooping in his territory until after that game. Sources around the industry think Rodriguez will put a receptive ear to Alabama overtures, so we'll keep our ears tuned to that situation.

Meanwhile, a brief look back at the Shula regime.

For his first two seasons, with injuries and quality roster numbers hampering the efforts, it looked like Shula was learning hard lessons on the job, but growing with the pain.

The evidence is overwhelming. There was the double-overtime loss to Arkansas in Shula's first season, in which a poor-judgement celebration penalty was assessed to help set up a missed game-winning field goal.

Then came the five-overtime loss at home to Tennessee in 2003, which was probably the most painful and heart-wrenching loss I had seen any team absorb in all my years.

The 2004 team began to show promise despite crippling injuries in the backfield, and the juniors on that club were high-character impact players who made their mark in 2005.

The absolute apex of the Shula years–the 31-3 thrashing of number five Florida before a hysterical wall of sound at Bryant-Denny Stadium–also sadly marked the symbolic end of Shula's hay-days.

I never debated the fact that Tyrone Prothro was in the receiver rotation on that ill-fated fourth-down play in the fourth quarter.

I'll contend forever that hubris took hold of Shula when he elected to throw for the end zone on fourth-and-five from the Florida 27 after spending a timeout to think it over.

You have lots of options on fourth-and-five when leading 31-3 at home against a dispirited team with nine or 10 minutes left in the game. Among them: a 44-yard field goal try, any kind of run, short passes like a slant or a quick out, even a pooch punt down deep into Florida territory.

Hadn't the sequence already been filled with bad portent–Brodie Croyle took a forearm to the facemask for a personal-foul penalty only moments earlier–before the flawed fourth-down decision? Oblivious to the omen, Shula called for the deep pass and Prothro wound up with a smashed leg in the end zone.

Instead of taking some measure of responsibility for putting his game-changing receiver at risk, Shula said something about "that's football'' and moved on.

Prothro might never play again.

A series of fourth-down decisions painted Shula's last stand in 2006, most of them winding up in chip-shot field goals or momentum-jerking dead ends at the goal-line.

He never could get it right on fourth down.

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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