Because right now he's being asked to do the impossible. ">
Because right now he's being asked to do the impossible. ">

Moore handling difficult task

Scant days since The University of Alabama officially became an "FFZ" (Fran free zone), one can only hope that Tide Athletics Director Mal Moore isn't reading the newspapers--and God help him if he's paying attention to Internet boards or listening to talk radio. <br><br>Because right now he's being asked to do the impossible.

Replace the "Midwest Walker" with a proven coach--one capable of returning Alabama to its former glory, one committed to sticking with the Tide through the next few years of NCAA-mandated morass…

And do it yesterday.

A plain-spoken man, frankly uncomfortable in the glare of television cameras, Moore has already told Tide fans what he's looking for:

  • an experienced head coach on the college level
  • a person who will have a long-term commitment to The University
  • one who recognizes Bama's potential to compete for championships
  • one who honors the tradition of the Crimson Tide

Moore's statement was disarmingly simple--so much so that many fans and media types have overlooked it. But for those looking for clues to Moore's thinking, he said a mouthful.

Eliminate all career assistants--either in the college or pros (the ghost of Mike DuBose still lingers). Cross off your list, any coach with a history of job hopping (thank you very much, Dennis). And while it isn't required for your candidate to have actually played or coached at Alabama, unlike two years ago ties to the program certainly won't hurt.

As Cecil Hurt, the sports editor of The Tuscaloosa News pointed out in his column today, Coach Moore is conducting this search in secrecy. Faced with the task of replacing DuBose two years ago, Moore methodically went about the business of first identifying the top prospects out there. Then contacting his first choice.

That first choice (Butch Davis) at first indicated interest through back channels before being apparently scared off by NCAA sanctions. Given Bama's circumstances at the time, there was no shame in being turned down by a man that was then easily the hottest young coach around. But unfortunately, Davis' name (along with others) had leaked out in advance, prompting Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer to decline further contact--and tagging the Tide's eventual choice with the then worrisome moniker of "Fifthchoicione." Now of course Bama fans are calling him much worse, but the lesson was learned.

This time around, if Coach Moore is confiding in anyone about his coaching search, those men aren't talking. But fans shouldn't make the mistake of assuming that an absence of news equates to no action. While the situation is obviously in flux, candidates have been identified and prioritized. And the process of contacting and gauging interest began days back.

There are lots of rumors out there--and one or two may even be true. Has a former collegiate coach (or two) now laboring in the NFL sent out feelers, indicating he might be interested in a return to the college game? Probably.

But though visors may be involved, the coach in question believes in wearing--not throwing--his. Plus, any serving pro coach (making multi-million dollars in the NFL) is a long shot. And retired coaches (even successful ones) are usually retired for a reason.

The possibilities among college coaches are numerous. Begin with veterans like Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech), Joe Tiller (Purdue) and Bob Pruett (Marshall); and add in Walt Harris (Pittsburgh), Jim Leavitt (South Florida), Rich Rodriguez (West Virginia), Jim Grobe (Wake Forest), and Kirk Ferentz (Iowa).

Bama's best shot at Beamer has probably passed, but that doesn't mean Moore won't gauge his interest--just in case. His denials to the contrary, Harris was very interested two years ago, and if he's interested now (and could convince Moore he's tough-minded enough for the job), Harris would be an intriguing candidate this time around. Tiller and Moore have some personal ties, adding the Boilermaker coach a to the mix.

Leavitt, Rodriguez, Grobe and Ferentz are all hot names. And as Ohio State proved a couple of seasons back with the hiring of Jim Tressell, sometimes going with the best young coach is the best course of action.

Given Bama's recent experience with Dennis Franchione, fans may wonder if Alabama would travel that road again. But ideally Moore's goal now (as it was two years ago) is to settle the question of head coach for ten years or more. Circumstances may force him to go "short term," but a long-range solution is his clear preference.

What about Mike Riley (currently the assistant head coach of the New Orleans Saints) or Carl Torbush? Both remain real possibilities, and fans should not read too much into the fact that Moore didn't immediately focus his attention on them. Their interest in the job is obvious, and Moore is simply checking out his options elsewhere first.

But the hard realities of Alabama's situation will force fast action. SEC recruiting is a cutthroat business, and several Tide commitments are actively looking elsewhere. So what will Moore do? And when?

The second question is easier. His goal is to hire a new head coach this week--the sooner the better. Depending on the response he gets from early feelers, he'll go after his first choice quickly.

But as Moore keeps his own counsel, for now at least the identity of that first choice remains a secret.

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