Thorough search led to Price

Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore appeared to have made a thorough search for a new head football coach. He had talked to dozens and dozens of college and professional coaches and had made particular use of Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, a former Crimson Tide star player.

Moore had interviewed a handful of prospective candidates in person. Although Moore was a committee of one in selecting and hiring the new coach, he also sought the advice of University leaders. Bama's athletics director also consulted with NCAA staff members and the Southeastern Conference commissioner to make sure all candidates passed compliance muster.

But Mike Price, who was introduced as Alabama's 25th head football coach Wednesday, said that Moore missed one base when seeking opinion. "You forgot to ask my 90-year-old mother," Price said, looking at his new boss. "She would have said I'm a great guy."

And the 56-year-old Price added that his mother said "Go for it!" when told of his opportunity.

Price was hired away from Washington State, where he has been head football coach for 14 years. He has coached the Cougars to back-to-back 10-2 seasons and his team this year is scheduled to play Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl on January 1. In a mild surprise, Price said he would coach Washington State in that game. He added he would be taking "careful notes." Alabama's second game next season is against Oklahoma.

Price is being replaced by his defensive coordinator, Bill Doba. Price said that some of his assistants are expected to remain with Doba and some are expected to come to Alabama. He said one spot on his staff would likely go to a current Alabama high school coach and that one would likely go to a former Alabama player who is in coaching.

Price, who is universally described as "a players' coach," said that his staff will coach "with dignity and respect and positive reinforcement." He said the fans and alumni are important, "but the players are always first."

Over the next few weeks Price will be involved in forming his staff, recruiting for Alabama, and preparing Washington State for the Rose Bowl. He said one reason he is not concerned that he can't get everything done is that "recruiting has changed." He pointed out that players now commit earlier. Alabama has some 15 players committed and Price has already begun the process of contacting all of them. Following Wednesday's press conference he hit the road recruiting.

Price replaces Dennis Franchione, who made a surprise defection to Texas A&M two weeks ago after leading Alabama to a 10-3 record.

Price, who will sign a seven-year contract at an undisclosed salary thought to be in the neighborhood of $1.2 million per year, was very much a media darling Wednesday in what has become a somewhat regular occurance in the past 20 years. He becomes the sixth Crimson Tide head coach since the 1982 retirement of Paul Bryant.

Price made reference to Bryant. He said his goal is "to be the second best coach in the history of Alabama football.". And he said it would be an honor to walk the same sideline Bryant had. He added that he wouldn't be doing it the Bryant way, that it would be done the Mike Price way

Price made an excellent first impression at his introductory press conference as the Crimson Tide's new head coach.

He also defended his way. When it was suggested his teams play finesse football whereas Southeastern Conference play is noted for an emphasis on physical defense, Price wondered if the television reporter asking the question had seen his team play.

"The reason UCLA wanted to interview me for their job is because they want to have a team that plays like ours," he said. "We're aggressive on defense. We get after it. We fly around. We will knock your block off. Our defense is awesome. You don't win football games without defense. That's what it's all about. Football is a tackle game. We're going to run and we're going to hit like you've never been hit--within the rules of the game. We'll have disciplined, sound special teams.

"For the fun of it we'll play offense."

Actually, Price's reputation is based in great part on offensive success. This year Washington State averaged 436.8 yards per game, second best in the Pac-10, and gave up 338.8 yards per game, third best in the league. As a head coach he has tutored first round NFL draft choices Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf. His quarterback this season, Jason Gesser, completed 219 of 368 passes for 3,169 yards with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. As an assistant coach to Jackie Sherrill at Washington State he coached Jack Thompson, nationally-known as "The Throwin' Samoan," and at Missouri he tutored Phil Bradley, who went on to major league baseball fame.

Price said, "We have fun on offense. We take chances. We throw the ball. But we will run. You have to run to win. We set up the run with the throw."

Asked the secret to his success with quarterbacks, Price joked, "None of those guys could throw it 10 feet until I got them." He then said that the key is talent. "We recruit talent, and then we work with them," Price said. He also said he is aware of one Alabama quarterback, sophomore Brodie Croyle. A few years ago Price's son was evaluating quarterback prospects across the nation. That evaulation had Croyle number one.

Price said when he recruits he wants the best player, but only if he is also a tough player and a good student. Moore noted that Washington State has graduated 62 per cent of its players over the past four years.

Price exhibted a deft sense of humor, great confidence, and a recognition of the importance in which his job is viewed.

"This job means more to me than you'll ever know," Price said. "There isn't a college coach in the country that wouldn't want this job. It's the premier job in the world and I respect that and I'm taking it seriously." He said it had been a thrill to walk down the hallway with Joe Namath, the all-time great Alabama and New York Jets quarterback who was on hand for the announcement Wednesday.

Perhaps without being aware of it, Price made reference to his predecessor. A Washington reporter asked Price about announcing the decision to his Washington State team before having a press conference. Price said, "That's what you do. You don't handle it any other way. They weren't going to read about it in the newspaper." Franchione earned scorn for going to Texas A&M and leaving the job of telling Alabama's players he had gone to an assistant coach.

But Price also had praise for Franchione and his staff, saying they had done a good job and that he expected Alabama's returning players to be fundamentally sound.

Price said the decision to accept the Alabama job was easy, "a no-brainer. It feels like a dream. I'm pinching myself. I feel like I'm in football heaven." The hard part, he said, was leaving Washington State, where he had spent 20 years of his life and raised his family.

"That's how much this job means to me," he said. "To leave and start a new life."

He said his wife is a coach's wife and understands, even though she will be leaving friends and a two-year-old grandchild.

Moore interviewed at least three candidates for the job. Moore actually offered the position to former Alabama player and current New Orleans Saints Assistant Head Coach Mike Riley, who accepted the job, then forced Moore to withdraw the offer by asking for "more time to think about it." Moore had also interviewed South Florida Coach Jim Leavitt and even continued an interest in Leavitt after Leavitt got a new contract from South Florida. (Alabama opens the 2003 season on August 30 against South Florida at Legion Field in Birmingham.) Moore made initial contact with Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, who said he was not interested in leaving Virginia Tech.

Moore said, "It's amazing how things go back and forth in your head when you're trying to do this because you so desperately want it to be right. I wanted it to be right for the players who stuck with us." Moore added, "I believe that it is."

The athletics director talked to Price early in the search process. Last week Price was in Orlando, Florida, with his star defensive tackle, Rien Long, who was presented with the Outland Trophy as the nation's best defensive lineman. Moore flew to Orlando and brought Price back to Tuscaloosa to tour the campus. The same airplane (owned by University Trustee Paul Bryant, Jr.) that flew Price back to Washington waited there and brought him back as Alabama's head coach late Tuesday night.

Moore noted particularly the help of Ozzie Newsome in selecting Price. Moore said, "Ozzie helped in critiquing all the candidates, and he told me that Mike Price was without question one of the best coaches for this job; and Ozzie noted that the best thing about Mike was his personal integrity. His ability to relate to the athletes was unquestioned. His ability to lead the University forward was unquestioned."

Price said he doesn't expect to have any problems "fitting in" in Tuscaloosa after 20 years in Pullman, Washington. He also expects to finish his career at Alabama. "I'm a loyal man," he said. "This is it for me."

Bama's new coach is part of a long football tradition. He said that his father was a junior college coach for 20 years. "I can still remember on Sundays my father bringing home those old 16 millimeter films," he said. "I learned my Xs and Os before I learned my ABCs." He and his wife, Joyce, have three children. Eric, 35, played at Weber State and coached under his father at Washington State and now coaches with the New York Jets. Aaron, 31, played at Washington State and is quarterbacks and kickers coach there. Daughter Angie, 27, is married to a high school athletics director.

Both Moore and Price said they had gone over the NCAA sanctions on Alabama football. Price said, "I checked it out. I talked with Mal about it. I think we're going to be able to make it work. I think we have enough depth." He also said that compliance has to be top priority with any program.

Price said, "As much as I loved my team and as much as I disappointed some of them when I made the decision to come here, there is a football team here in need of support. We are going to be here for them. We are going to reunite the family and reunite Alabama football."

Much has been made of the "media pressure" on an Alabama coach. Price discounted it. "All you (the press) want to know about is Alabama football," he said. "I'm supposed to know about that."

Moore said, "There is a right time and place for an individual to make a bold step into the future. Mike Price took this step by accepting this position. I can state without any hesitation, I am completely satisfied with the process The University utilized in reaching this conclusion to offer the position to Coach Price.

"Even more importantly, I am 100 per cent confident he is the right person for The University of Alabama. During the last two weeks, a number of fans have expressed their support for many different candidates, most of whom had legitimate credentials. It is now time for all the supporters of The University of Alabama football program to do their part by uniting behind Coach Price and the Crimson Tide football team."

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