MURPHY: Nine Crazy Years Coming to an End

BIRMINGHAM -- It has been the craziest nine years of my life.

When you sign up for the University of Alabama beat, you enter a universe filled with more passion and ardor for college football than anywhere else on our lovely planet. It's a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you know everything you write will be devoured by the ravenous Crimson Tide fans. A curse because it will be dissected and spit right back at you if it's not genuine or on the mark. Covering Alabama athletics has been too overwhelming for some people in this business, and it has sent several scurrying for easier work, like taking pot shots at the Crimson Tide while hardly ever venturing onto campus.

If you care about what you're doing, you try to match the enthusiasm of the fans by pouring an equal amount of energy into your work, and that, my friends, can be a grind.

Someone once told me that covering Alabama was liked being sucked into a vacuum that is difficult to break away from, and I have concluded he was right.

But after nine years, I have reached out of the swirling vortex and stabbed a finger at the off switch. I have accepted a job that will return my wife to her home state of Arkansas while keeping me in the business of covering SEC West football. I'll be covering the Razorbacks for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Yes, Houston Nutt and Frank Broyles have their own dramas playing out in The Natural State, but we're ready for the challenge. We've dealt with enough soap opera here in Alabama.

If you've kept up with Alabama athletics since 1998, you know what I'm talking about. DuBose - scandal - Orange Bowl - pay raise - Bockrath fired - Mal Moore hired - 3-8 - Albert Means - NCAA investigation - Coach Fran - sanctions - Fran bolts - Mike Price - scandal - Mike Shula - `We're close' - mediocrity - Prothro - Cotton Bowl - mediocrity - losing to Mississippi State at Bryant-Denny - Shula fired - Rodriguez misfire - the month-long wait - Saban.

And that's just the football program.

I must admit, there's a side of me that wants to see how this will play out. Will Saban be a proper match in Tuscaloosa? Will the fans exude this "positive energy" Saban keeps referring to after difficult losses?

I'm certain the level of talent in this program will take a dramatic upswing under Saban. And he's clearly a top-notch schemer and game-day coach. It should translate into some massive winning seasons in the coming years. But there are always so many external factors that could affect performance.

That's one of the great things about football: the way so many elements have to mesh together to produce a championship team.

The big question will be can Saban cope with the sniping and the inquisitions, the poisonous talk radio and the toxic chat boards, all the high-decibel static and interference that accompanies the big chair at Alabama. Shula had a bland personality and was a mediocre coach, but he dealt with the outside distractions quite admirably.

Saban has sensitive ears, and he won't do as well with the criticism.

How will the athletic department cope with Saban's imperious personality? That's another difficult question to answer.

I'm also interested in the upcoming months for Mark Gottfried. A year after his best coaching job ever, the Crimson Tide was blindsided with physical and psychological issues that ransacked their chances of competing for the SEC title they thought they could win.

Gottfried is in the crucible this year.

There are always compelling storylines around Alabama, and I will miss reporting on them.

I'll also miss the friendship of long-time friends on this beat, including Kirk McNair and Mitch Dobbs of 'BAMA magazine. Kirk gave me the chance to raise my voice on this forum and I had a good time. There were occasions when I wanted to blast away at the calculating, self-centered and petty actions of others in the media business in this state, but I showed restraint and will do so again today.

My advice to you is to love your team with all your heart, avoid rumor-mongering, and stay away from or ignore unhealthy media choices. You'll be happier that way. Thus, I bid you all farewell.

**Editor's Note: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register, and a contributor to 'BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com. Normally, this column is available to BamaMag.com premium subscribers.


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