What Now?

Has there ever been a more bizarre tale in the search for a head football coach? What seemed like a sure thing–sure enough for most of the nation's major news outlets to report it–fell apart on Friday. Now Alabama is back to square one in its search for a man to replace Mike Shula, who was fired 12 days previous.

Alabama is not in a good position today. There is no doubt the Crimson Tide was spurned by at least its first choice. Many will suggest that no fewer than three turned down the job, though there is no evidence that anyone other than Rich Rodriguez of West Virginia was offered the position.

On Friday, when it was expected that Rodriguez would tell his team that he was leaving for Alabama and a six-year contract worth something over $12 million, he instead declared he would remain a Mountaineer–reportedly with a last-minute and substantial increase in his $1.1 million annual salary.

If Alabama doesn't do anything else, it has made at least a couple of coaches quite a bit wealthier this year.

Bama may or may not have approached Steve Spurrier, who regardless got a half million dollar a year raise as he pledged his loyalty to South Carolina.

The Tide may yet approach Paul Johnson of Navy, also slated for a nice raise, or Jim Grobe of Wake Forest, likewise expected to get a salary boost.

It is impossible to know if Alabama went after Nick Saban of the Miami Dolphins because of so many conflicting statements–all from the Saban side.

As surprising as the announcement of Rodriguez may have been, it is unlikely to have caught Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore completely unprepared. It doesn't take Moore off the hook. Bama followers may not always be reasonable, but it is not unreasonable to expect the Crimson Tide to be able to identify a good football coach, obtain that good football coach, and retain him. Unusual circumstances notwithstanding, Moore's record is wanting in all three areas in this decade.

And Moore can't share the blame, because he serves as a search committee of one. He may seek the counsel of others, but it is his charge from the President of The University and the Board of Trustees to hire the head football coach. That Moore chooses to keep the process secret to the extent he can adds to the frustration of interested fans.

Though strictly conjecture, considering his background I suspect that Moore discussed thoroughly with Rodriguez the consequences of the deal; and I have no doubt Rodriguez had agreed to the Alabama offer. Moore would have told Rodriguez that West Virginia–Rodriguez's alma mater–would make a strong bid to keep their coach. And Moore would have said that if Rodriguez was not strong enough to stand up to it, to let Moore know before the offer was made.

Also knowing Moore, it is certain that he had a contingency plan. This is not the first time Moore has been misled (unless Moore says otherwise, I will be convinced that Rodriguez backed out of a deal) and he would be prepared to move on.

There is a sense of panic among the Alabama faithful now, and that is understandable. Where there cannot be panic is in the office of the athletics director of The University. And there will not be.

Rick Rodriguez is a fine coach. Fortunately for Alabama, he is not the only fine coach. Moore knew other good coaches before the deal with Rodriguez, and the Alabama AD has not discarded that list. (This is a fortuitous year to be coach searching because there are so many excellent possibilities in college and professional ranks.)

No matter who is chosen for the job, he is going to be considered second tier by those who despise The University–fans of other schools and a handful of media members. That is of no concern to Alabama. Those will always have an agenda against the Crimson Tide.

It is possible that a new name will surface quickly. But if it does not, that does not mean that Moore cannot achieve a satisfactory result. Joe Kines and the assistant coaches still under contract will prepare the Crimson Tide for its Independence Bowl game against Oklahoma State. Recruiting will be on hold, but prospects don't have anywhere to sign until February 7. Long before then Alabama will have its coach in place and there will be no reason the Crimson Tide cannot have a solid recruiting class.

It's not the finest day in Alabama football, to say the least. But the Crimson Tide will continue to have a football program.

Perhaps Rich Rodriguez was not strong enough. Mal Moore must be strong in a trying time.

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