Former Tide Stars Like What They See

Magnolia Grove Golf Course west of Mobile was the venue for the regional qualifying tournament for the second annual Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Championship. Among the celebrity participants for the event sponsored by Plantation Pointe were four former Tide football stars who are enshrined in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. They expressed their views of the current edition of the Crimson Tide.

With Alabama 6-0 and ranked second in the nation, it is no surprise that the former Tiders are impressed.

"I'm just excited," said Lee Roy Jordan, former Alabama All-America and Dallas Cowboys All-Pro linebacker. "It's unbelievable right now. We're riding pretty high after winning two big ballgames against Clemson and Georgia."It's great to be this far along in the season and see this young team play as well as they're playing."

Fellow former linebacker/center and Super Bowl III member of the New York Jets Paul Crane concurs. "I'm pretty impressed with them," he said. "I have been pleasantly surprised at how well they've done."

The midseason report card is "Beyond my wildest expectations," Bob Baumhower, former nose-guard of the Miami Dolphins, said. "Getting young men to think the right way and believe in themselves and believe in the coaches is a heck of a challenge. I don't know that people fully understand how hard that is to get done. It looks like they've gotten it done. That's a different team mentally on that field right now."

"It looks like they've got a chance to be a pretty good team," said Ray Perkins, former Alabama receiver and later head football coach. Perkins was a receiver for the Baltimore Colts and then a head football coach in the NFL with the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Bucs.

Alabama's lackluster performances against Tulane and Kentucky along with the nonchalant second half effort against Georgia were raised. "We kind of muddled through a few more and just kind of got by on some others," Jordan said. "They are not playing at a high level every game or complete games. They are playing some good halves and some good quarters and some poor halves and some poor quarters. It's so exciting to watch them because they're going to develop and get better."

Crane said, "I think we've been fortunate. I was at the Tulane game and I think that was a wake up call for the next game."

"They've played exceptionally well in spots but I don't think they feel like they've played an entire game but sometimes you don't have to and still win. That's the most important thing," Perkins reminds the faithful.

Coach Nick Saban's efforts to reverse the fortunes of the program are to be commended according to Jordan. "I'm so impressed with him and his work ethic," Jordan said. "He is the workingest person I have ever met. He coaches all the time just like he does in a game. He's coaching the players, he's coaching the coaches. He's coaching offense. He's coaching defense. He's like that in practice. He's coaching everybody all the time. When he's not doing that, he's recruiting all the time. You can be sitting with him and the phone rings. It's a recruit or a recruit's father or a recruit's mother. He has a great conversation with them. He's just a workaholic as far as I can tell."

Baumhower echoes the sentiments of praise of Saban. "We all know Coach Saban is the real deal and has to be the hardest working coach in America and his assistants are some of the hardest working assistants in America," Baumhower said. " It's really good to see all that hard work paying off. I don't think I have ever seen as much of a change in a team's mentality as I have since Coach Saban came to Alabama and where we are right now."

Building a team requires not only teaching the techniques and strategies to the squad but also creating an atmosphere conducive to maximizing performance. "Coach Saban does a great job of looking at the problems or what they did wrong and correcting them and making everybody play better," Crane said. "Obviously Coach Saban has done a great job in getting their confidence and their intensity back. They seem to know more about what they're doing."

Perkins, a man who walked the sideline of Bryant-Denny Stadium, offers his support and confidence in a coach he has not met. "I've never shook Coach Saban's hand," he said. "I called to congratulate him when he got the job, but other than that I don't know Coach Saban. I think he's a good coach, a thorough coach. I think he goes about his job in a way that he has to in order to get things done. It's been very successful for him over the years and I'm certain that he'll have further success at Alabama."

Pre-season questions about Alabama's defense have been answered in the first half of the season as Bama is second ranked in the SEC and 10th nationally. "I'm surprised that our defense has played as well as we've played," Jordan said. "We've got a lot of young people."

If a poll was taken to select an individual on offense and defense whose surprise performance has significantly contributed to the success of the team, not many would dispute the running back and defensive lineman singled out by the former Alabama greats.

The nose tackle known as Mount Cody, Terrence Cody, drew first mention from Jordan. "He is a load," Jordan said. "He is a big kid. He's only going to get better. If they can get him down another 30 or 40 pounds to be just a 325-pounder; he'll be a great player and a great NFL player."

Baumhower has a kinship with the defender he espouses as the surprise candidate of impact. "Tom Banks (former Auburn center) and I do a little radio show down here called the ‘Gumbo Express' and we talked before the season how coaches look for surprises. Sometimes it's somebody you don't expect that steps up and maybe matures a little more than you think they do over the summer. That may be mental or that may be physical or that may be both. Terrence Cody is that guy. I am having more fun watching him have fun on that field. He's getting a lot of attention and being an old nose guard, I just love that. In a defensive scheme where you play some three-man line, you've got to have a strong nose and he can set the tone. He can make a big difference in that defense. He has made a big difference in that defense not just by the way he plays the game but also by his mentality. He's having fun out there. He's the guy that likes being on the field. He likes being in the middle and you don't find many nose guards like that. To be good at it you've got to want to be there and for me he's just a wonderful surprise and it's a lot of fun for me to watch him."

Has there been any veteran member of the team transformed more than Glen Coffee? Hampered by injuries and a four-game suspension during the 2007 season, the junior running back leads the team with 708 yards gained in only six games with a 7.5 yard per carry average as compared with 545 yards gained in nine games and a 4.2 yards per carry average last year. "Coffee is playing so well," said Crane about Coffee's career high 218 yard performance against Kentucky which is the sixth highest rushing total in Alabama history.

The entire offensive team has elevated their performance to the benefit of the senior signal caller. "I think what's happened from an outsider's view is the support cast around John Parker Wilson has improved a great deal," Crane said. "I think he (Wilson) is a player who's done a real good job. He's not making many mistakes. He needs a support cast around him. We all do. He's not a Namath or a Stabler or somebody that can get by with a little lesser group. He's been able to play more within himself. All the running backs seem to be doing so much better. His receivers are good. The offensive line is playing so much better than last year. All those things play into this being a better team."

The infusion of recruits physically and mentally prepared to compete has really bolstered the depth deficiencies evident the last few years. Perkins said, "I've been very impressed with the young talent they've accumulated there. There are a few freshmen making great contributions. If they can stay on the healthy side, they should get better and better each week. Who knows? Maybe they can win it all."

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