Murphy: Moore's Legacy Hinged on Search

There were dark moments, for certain, in Mal Moore's 38-day search for Alabama's football coach.

They actually started the week after Alabama's 22-15 Iron Bowl loss to Auburn. While Mike Shula was gravely underestimating the jeopardy his job was in, Moore was seriously contemplating what could hardly be imagined just three weeks earlier: letting Shula go.

Up until the Mississippi State game there had been tough losses, but Shula's Crimson Tide seemed only a play or two away from beating Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee -- all on the road. After the loss to State, in which Alabama seemed lethargic and ill prepared to deal with the emotion on the other sideline, the wick was burning down on the Shula regime.

The four years under Shula carried a theme: We were close. Like many Alabama fans, Moore was sick and tired of close. Worse than that, there was no promise that under the mule-stubborn Shula the Crimson Tide would find a way to bridge the gap between tough loss and thrilling win.

In a nutshell, there was nothing exciting about the prospect of more years under Shula's bland leadership.

Moore made the very difficult, and very expensive, decision to fire Shula. Alabama's director of athletics looked not only despondent, but pale, unhealthy and almost beaten when he stood at the podium to announce Shula's firing.

Looking back on those days, some of the misconceptions border on the ridiculous. There was actually a segment of fans who believed that if Moore returned from the Thanksgiving holidays with Shula's pink slip in one hand, that the contract with a new coach's signature would be in his other hand.

The pressure was on immediately and intensely, as it has been in this whole string of coaching searches at Alabama. Moore's original A-plus list -- Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Bob Stoops -- at the outset looked so unreachable as to be comical. Why would any of those championship-level coaches even consider the Alabama job, given the utter chaos in the football program since 2000?

Moore also had an A-list, on which Rich Rodriguez and Bobby Petrino resided.

When his initial overtures to Spurrier and Saban were rebuffed, Moore zeroed in on Rodriguez. With Rodriguez's agent, Mike Brown, in Tuscaloosa hammering out a deal and assuring the Tide brass his client would be delivered, the roof seemed to cave in. Rodriguez couldn't be pried out of his home turf in Morgantown, W.Va., and Moore was raked over the coals a little more by ESPN and a litany of loud, opinionated voices.

Into this drama rode the sound bytes, like Don Shula saying "they need to evaluate the evaluators" as he defended his son.

Moore dropped back on fourth-and-long and returned to Plan A. Based on critical information from Saban's camp, Moore would wait Saban out. The coach simply would not direct his focus to an Alabama offer until after the Miami Dolphins season was over.

Moore told friends during this period he knew he was out on a gangplank.

Failure to deliver a slam-dunk candidate at this point was tantamount to handing his own pink slip in with the introduction of any pedestrian coach.

Fate would be in Moore's favor on this one. Terry Saban was fed up with the NFL lifestyle and her husband, the coach, said his heart wasn't in it.

Moore came with a bank vault, helping the Sabans more easily turn their back on Nick's commitment with the Dolphins and endure the withering criticism out of South Florida.

We can empathize with the folks down there. Another football power found their coach attractive, the attraction made it into the public domain and lingered for weeks, and the coach was eventually lured by millions of dollar signs flashing in his head.

Only the media in Alabama didn't describe Texas A&M's wooing of Dennis Franchione in 2002 as unseemly and scurrilous -- an underhanded affair -- as some South Florida voices have done.

Moore got his man.

Saban is here. As impossible as it seemed just a few long weeks ago.

How will this unlikely marriage turn out?

Stay tuned.

Editor's Note: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register. He is a contributor to ‘BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com.


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