Alabama Basketball Starts New Era
Mark Gottfried had grown increasingly unpopular among Alabama followers as the Crimson Tide became less and less a factor in Southeastern Conference basketball, much less on the national scene. Unflattering rumors regarding Gottfried's personal behavior added to the fire this season.
Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore met with Gottfried Monday. Following that meeting a statement was issued from Gottfried saying that he had offered his resignation and that Moore had accepted it.
Assistant Coach Phillip Pearson is interim head coach. He conducted today's practice and will have that role the remainder of the season. Alabama plays at Arkansas Thursday night and returns home Saturday to host Georgia.
There are no fewer than three good reasons for the move to have been made prior to the end of the season.
One is that Moore and (likely) Dave Hart, executive director of athletics and a former Bama basketball player, can get on with the business of finding a successor to Gottfried. There won't be any of that phony "We'll wait until the end of the season and then evaluate it." Alabama and any search professionals The University wants to utilize can operate in relative openess.
Two, it avoids the danger of not being able to make a change because of unexpected success. Last year Georgia's Dennis Felton was finishing up a five-year run in which his best SEC record had been 8-8. He was likely out the door and then made a run through the tornado-affected Southeastern Conference Tournament in Atlanta, winning the championship and keeping his job.
It also gives Alabama a chance to rescue its fan base. Although that is not paramount in such a decision, it is an important by-product.
Although there were compelling reasons for Alabama to make a change in its head basketball coach, it probably was not as easy a decision as some might suspect. Being competitive is certainly a primary factor in a coach doing his job. But a university president can't be hypocritical. Every NCAA institution is charged to graduate its players and to operate within the letter and spirit of NCAA rules and sportsmanship.
Mark Gottfried has few peers in his success in bringing good young men into the program and then watching them graduate. Gottfried also is a poster child for doing things the right way and he has generally been a good representative of The University of Alabama.
Moreover, it is difficult to dismiss one of your own, and Gottfried had been an excellent player for the Crimson Tide before answering the call of his alma mater in 1998.
And he had some competitive years, a couple of SEC Western Division championships and that miracle run in 2004 to the NCAA Elite Eight, Bama's highest finish ever in the NCAA Tournament. But overall he was mediocre. As of today his record is one game above .500 in SEC play, 83-82.
Pearson is also an Alabama graduate. He has been Gottfried's right hand man. Barring a run deep into the NCAA Tournament, however, he will not be Gottfried's successor. Alabama almost certainly will hire a coach with a proven record as a college head coach.
Almost everyone expects Alabama's next head men's basketball coach to be an African-American. The name that will be heard most is Anthony Grant of VCU. There will also be support for former Alabama players Mike Davis (now at UAB), Leon Douglas (now at Tuskegee) and T.R. Dunn (assistant with Houston of the NBA).
There was no report on what, if any, compensation will be given Gottfried. Although he officially resigned with two years left on a contract in which The University is reportedly bound to pay $900,000 per year, it is unlikely he walks away with zero. Few would suspect that Gottfried resigned without some settlement having been negotiated.
Earlier this year Auburn accepted the "resignation" of its football coach, Tommy Tuberville, and then said it was paying him everything he would have been paid had he been fired. There had been reports that powers at Auburn had wanted Tuberville gone for years, but he kept beating Alabama. Even though Bama had mostly sorry teams, they couldn't get rid of a coach with his resume on his fingers.
In the release from The University:
"My number one priority is to do what is best for the University of Alabama, this basketball program, and these young men," Gottfried said. "Mal and I sat down today and we talked. At that point, I notified him of my intention to resign as head coach of the men's basketball program. I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity and the privilege to lead our men's basketball program at Alabama for the past 10 and a half seasons. It has been a wonderful decade for me and my family, and I love The University of Alabama, but I feel that it is in the best interests of everyone involved. I want to thank our players, their families, our coaching staff and their families, and our great fans for all of their support over these last 11 seasons."
"I accepted Coach Gottfried's resignation," Moore said. "I respect Mark's decision and will begin immediately working on a permanent replacement. I agreed with him that it is in the best interests of the men's basketball program for us to move in a different direction. I want to extend my sincerest best wishes to Mark and his family, along with my personal thanks to Mark for his many years of dedicated service to our men's basketball program.
"Out of respect for our players, I will make no further comment on Coach Gottfried's decision. I want to extend my complete support to our players and our coaching staff, which will be headed by interim head coach Philip Pearson. We fully expect them to compete hard the rest of this season and I ask our loyal fans to rally in support of these coaches and players over the coming weeks of SEC play.
"Our process towards finding a new head coach will begin immediately. Out of respect for our players and coaches, I will not comment on the progress of our search until it has concluded."
Gottfried was named head coach at Alabama on March 25, 1998, and compiled a record of 210-131 (.616 winning percentage) with the Crimson Tide, including a mark of 83-82 in Southeastern Conference (SEC) games, winning one SEC regular season championship and leading the team to five NCAA Tournament appearances. He joined the Crimson Tide after three seasons as head coach at Murray State (Ky.) where he compiled a record of 68-24 while leading the Racers to three Ohio Valley Conference championships (1995, 1996, and 1997) and three NCAA Tournament appearances. Gottfried's career record stands at 278-155 for a winning percentage of .642 in 14 seasons as a college head coach.
Gottfried, a 1987 Alabama graduate, played guard for the Crimson Tide for three seasons (1984-85, 1985-86, and 1986-87) while starting 98 consecutive games for then-head coach Wimp Sanderson after starting his college career at Oral Roberts University (1982-83 season).
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