MURPHY: Gottfried Critics Need Reality Check

I criticized Mark Gottfried's team in this space a few weeks back for lack of defensive intensity and a stand-around mentality on offense.

At the time Alabama was in the midst of losing three consecutive SEC road games by an average margin of 24 points. And, to be fair, it was noted that the health of point guard Ronald Steele, who is agonizing through the season with a series of knee and ankle problems, and the emotional trauma suffered by center Jermareo Davidson were likely playing key roles in Alabama's struggles.

Now I feel compelled to respond to the message board-posting wackos who are so brave as to anonymously contend that a change needs to be made at the top of the Alabama basketball program.

Are you crazy?

Mark Gottfried's supposed shortcomings are mere specks on the vast resume' of positives he brings to his alma mater.

For heaven's sakes, he's on the verge of leading the Crimson Tide to a SCHOOL RECORD-TYING sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. This despite his All-American point guard being roughly 66 percent of the player he can be and his center losing 15 pounds in a dizzying period in which he buried his girlfriend and his brother.

There is fair criticism and then there's crass stupidity.

The nameless folks who say Gottfried needs to be replaced fall into the latter category.

Just off the top, let's talk about graduation rates, police blotters, national exposure, recruiting and rankings around the Alabama basketball program.

There may be no better coach in America when it comes to keeping the academic game plan in front of his players than Gottfried. The Tide's graduation rates and APR numbers under Gottfried are beyond excellent.

When's the last time an Alabama basketball player was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons? The last time a Tide player was arrested?

Exactly.

Gottfried recruits character players and they exert their own internal pressures to do the right thing while on campus.

The Crimson Tide is on national and regional television all the time now, further showcasing the program and the product and helping in recruiting. Beyond that, Alabama is an easy sell for the promoters of the various preseason tournaments and holiday classics.

The Crimson Tide has cachet around the country and is an attractive name for these classics from coast to coast, from Hawaii to Alaska to Las Vegas to New York City to the Virgin Islands.

Gottfried and his staff are also on top of recruiting, particularly within Alabama's borders. Plucking talent like Davidson, Alonzo Gee, Mo Williams, Kenny Walker and Mykal Riley -- just to name a few -- outside the state in recent years also underscores the program's recruiting prowess.

Rankings? Alabama's a fixture in them, which keeps their highlights on the sports channels from November to March.

Gottfried has also shown a deft hand in scheduling after getting the message in 2001. He bulked up on non-conference teams that help his team's ratings percentage index and not necessarily its win-loss record. There's a big chunk of Alabama's SEC West brethren that still schedule to make the NIT and -- because their RPI ratings suffer -- have to put together big seasons in the SEC to have a prayer at the NCAAs.

Now, are their legitimate criticisms of Gottfried? Of course.

He is not the best strategist, tactician or game-day coach in the SEC. He doesn't get into his players' faces in front of the camera very often. He isn't seen as a guy who toughens up his team.

These are valid issues and hardly firing offenses.

The Crimson Tide has toughened up measurably on defense in the past month. It has either won or held a lead well into the second half of its last four road games. This includes a handy double-digit lead at the reigning NCAA champion and SEC kingpin Florida, and a nail-biter of a loss Wednesday against a Tennessee team that not only hasn't lost at home, it has almost run at will on everybody. The tenor of Wednesday's game was obviously in Alabama's favor, and the Crimson Tide nearly won despite getting a combined nine points from Steele, Davidson and Gee and the short end of a few horrendous officiating calls.

It seems the talking dunderheads of cable television currently rate Alabama an ``out'' on the NCAA Tournament scale. Even taking today as a snapshot -- with the Tide at 6-7 in SEC play -- this is absurd.

And if Gottfried's crew wins home games against Auburn and Ole Miss in the next week, as they'll be favored to do, the issue is non-existent.

Alabama will be in the NCAAs.

If the Tide doesn't hold serve at home against the Tigers and Rebels, then: Tuscaloosa, we have a problem.

We'll talk later if it comes to that.

But not about Gottfried's job status.

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


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