An Important Decision

It sometimes seems that the head football coach at the University of Alabama endures more scrutiny than anyone this side of the President of the United States and The Roman Catholic Pope. At times, Alabama fans can be a sadistic, pessimistic and self-hating bunch, always discovering new ways to point out what is going wrong, sometimes even while blindfolded.

A coach told me recently he remembered hearing talk radio in Alabama for the first time and hearing fans seething about the head football coach. It seems his victories were never by impressive enough margins. The coach he was referring to, Gene Stallings, now has a statue in his honor outside of Bryant-Denny Stadium and is remembered fondly.

Some of those in the media who follow the team know this, and often exaggerate Alabama fans' impatience to the point of excess, especially during times of great uncertainty such as the ongoing search for a new head football coach in the wake of Mike Shula's firing. The story of Alabama fans growing impatient would have been the same had Shula been retained, just with different set of details.

Mike Shula will be remembered positively for taking over the program in mid-May, 2003, in a time of great turmoil, and seeing the team through NCAA probation without a hint of scandal – either personal or professional – during his time at Alabama. He will also be remembered for his anemic red zone offense, legendary personal rigidity and insulation from any founded or unfounded criticism.

Moore will be remembered for his leadership in fundraising during this same tumultuous time. Some wanted to put off until later the building boom in athletics, which culminated this year with the opening of the expansion of Bryant-Denny Stadium and those statues of national championship coaches. But those buildings – the academic center, expanded football complex and expanded stadium – are now part of what is being used to attract a new coach.

Moore will be also remembered for firing Shula, but I think more so for hiring the man who will replace him. The second-guessing of his hard-to-track actions during this time (Moore said he wanted to keep the search "low key") goes well beyond any decision a coach ever made about whether to go for it on fourth down or to kick a field goal.

Right now the hot name everyone seems to have in mind – including the man Moore has hired to help him search - is West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez's agent heard from coaching consultant Chuck Neinas, who is helping both Alabama and Miami search for a head coach, ESPN's Ivan Maisel said. sources said Rodriguez appears highly interested in the job; he has not yet spoken directly to anyone with Alabama, and won't until after West Virginia's game against Rutgers Saturday night - if at all.

There has been no public softening of Miami Dolphins Coach Nick Saban's harsh denial of interest in the Alabama job after Shula was fired, but some insist on including him on a list of viable candidates.

Moore might decide to turn to someone like Navy's Paul Johnson, or Wake Forest's Jim Grobe, both of whom also have teams playing games Saturday night. Johnson and Grobe are the next names of conventional wisdom, but someone else (we would refer to him as a darkhorse, since there's really no consensus on other names) might emerge.

Two guys who currently coach for the Tennessee Titans are interesting ones that have been tossed about by no one important. They are current Head Coach Jeff Fisher (Is he in any danger of losing his job with the Titans?) and Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow, who was Pete Carroll's assistant at Southern Cal.

Both are probably more viable names than some that have been thrown around, such as Oklahoma's Bob Stoops. Selfish media guys would like to see a pal like Steve Mariucci coaxed out of his role as a television analyst for the NFL Network, but he didn't nibble at an opening at Michigan State, his alma mater.

Many have used a baseball term, saying Moore needs to "hit a home run" with this hire (and hitting it on the first pitch would be preferable). They forget that the man who walks to the plate swinging for the fences more often strikes out than the one focused on keeping his eye on the ball.

What really should be important for Moore and The University of Alabama is to know absolutely as much as can be known about the person selected to be the next head football coach. And if that falls through, the same should be done for the next person, and the next and the next. Whatever length a thorough and well-researched decision might take, be it even a month or longer, could over the next few years be miniscule in comparison to the ramifications of haste.

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