Anthony Grant Has High Aspirations

Terry Saban had to keep a secret. When the wife of Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban answered her telephone Friday morning, she heard Christina Grant calling from Richmond, Virginia. "Roll Tide!" said the wife of Basketball Coach Anthony Grant.

Christina then cautioned Terry, "We probably shouldn't say anything until Anthony calls Coach Moore."

Shortly thereafter, Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore got the call he had been hoping for. Anthony Grant called to say that he was "absolutely committed" to being the next basketball coach of the Crimson Tide men's team.

That was before Billy Gillespie was fired at Kentucky and before Billy Donovan turned down the Wildcats to stay at Florida. There was no Grant flirtation with Georgia or Virginia. "Alabama was my first choice," Grant said.

"We set our sights on him and turned our guns on him," Moore said. The Alabama athletics director said Grant was the only coach he talked to about the job.

Moore and his Executive Athletics Director Dave Hart flew to Richmond a week ago to meet with Grant. "I went there to hire him," Moore said.

It wasn't quite that quick. Grant and his wife spent Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, including a stop by the Saban home before flying back to Richmond. Grant said his wife was "very excited" after the trip to Alabama.

Christina and Terry passed in the hallway of the Mal Moore Athletics Administration Building, where Grant had been introduced to the media moments earlier. "I want to come out and ride that ATV down to the water," Christina said. The Saban home in the exclusive Crown Pointe subdivision includes a couple of all terrain vehicles for getting down to the boathouse on Lake Tuscaloosa.

Grant made the same impressive presentation in his debut Alabama press conference as he had made with Moore and Hart in the whirlwind coaching courtship. Grant replaces Mark Gottfried. Moore demanded Gottfried's resignation in February.

Grant's thorough presentation included appreciation to Gottfried for the good things that had been done under his watch and to Gottfried's former top aide, Philip Pearson and the other Tide assistants for carrying on in the final half of the season. Grant said that he would make staff decisions later and that the decisions would "be based on what is best for The University of Alabama."

Grant comes to Alabama from VCU, where he was head coach for three years. The Rams were one of only 14 programs to win 24 or more games in each of the past three seasons. Grant also paid his respects to his former team and the president, past athletics director and current athletics director for the opportunity he had been given as a college head coach.

VCU was 76-25 under Grant and earned two trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Grant is familiar with Alabama and with the Southeastern Conference from a 10-year period at Florida, five years as assistant coach and five years as associate head coach under Billy Donovan. Grant said that Donovan and Louisville Coach Rick Pitino were among those he talked to about the Alabama job. He said both coaches called the Bama job an excellent opportunity.

Grant said that he had been impressed with the passion that Moore and Hart showed for The University. "You can't fake that," he said.

He was also impressed with the leadership of University President Dr. Robert E. Witt and Moore, and noted that leadership "doesn't trickle up." He said he felt a commitment to providing all the resources for a program "that will compete for championships."

There were several questions about facilities upgrades. Both Grant and Moore indicated there are areas to be addressed. "Facilities are constantly in need of being upgraded," Moore said. "We're going to do what we need to do."

The final contract is still a few weeks from being finalized. Moore indicated it would be for more than three years, perhaps five or more. Grant had a package worth about $850,000 at VCU and was expected to at least double that with his Alabama pact.

Moore said Alabama considered "four or five" candidates. He said, "The feedback we got on Anthony Grant was consistently strong that he was an outstanding coach, recruiter, and family man. There were a lot of good comments from people I respect. The more we researched, the more we knew he was the one."

Grant said he had also had conversations with former Alabama Coach C.M. Newton and with Wendell Hudson, who is coach of Alabama's women's team and who was the first African-American to be on scholarship at Alabama. He also had an important conversation with University President Witt and with Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban. Hudson and most head coaches of other sports were present for the press conference. (Saban was not at the press conference, but did meet with Grant immediately following it.) Ten members of the Board of Trustees were also present, as was Witt.

Grant said, "To say I'm honored would be an understatement."

He said that he had left Florida for VCU because the Virginia university had the resources in place to be successful. He sees that situation at Alabama.

Grant said he was impressed with the history and tradition of Alabama basketball. "People say this is a football school," he said. "Alabama is a football school. But it's also a basketball school, and a gymnastics school, and a baseball school. Every coach is given the resources to have a winning program. Resources and commitment are all a coach can ask for."

On a personal note, he said he recognizes the significant opportunity he has as the first African-American to be head coach in one of the two high profile positions at Alabama. He said there is an opportunity "to accomplish things that haven't been accomplished, to blaze a trail. It excites me tremendously."

He compared the Alabama job to the situation of Donovan going to Florida, where there had been little basketball success. Donovan turned the program into a winner, then into a championship contender, and then won two national championships.

Grant was given much of the credit for the success of those Florida teams because of his recruiting ability. Grant recruited and coached nine McDonald's All-Americas and seven NBA first-round draft picks at Florida. Four of his last seven recruiting classes at UF were ranked in the top five nationally. At VCU his 2007 recruiting class was ranked as the fifth best in the mid-major ranks.

Dave Telep of said, "The guy's a stud, a flat-out superstar. Thee are few guys in the country that have the kind of presence, knowledge, talent, and ability that Anthony Grant has. I think he's not just one of the bright, young coaches in college basketball. I think he has a chance to leave a tremendous legacy in college basketball."

Grant said his style of basketball would be similar to that of Florida. "It's a style of play the players will really enjoy," he said. "It's a fun style. More importantly, it's a style you can win with."

The new coach said he had met with returning Alabama players. "They don't talk much," he said. "I think they're excited, but they are also waiting to see." He said he had also talked to the players who signed with Alabama in November. And he said he had some ideas about possible future prospects. Grant said he had some experience in recruiting in Alabama when he was at Florida. "It's hard to get a player out of Alabama because of the love in this state for this university," he said. He promised to recruit the state "and the nation."

"My vision for this program is to play for championships," said Grant. "I know that there is a lot of that goes into this and a lot of work that needs to be done. I promise you this, there will be no one that will work harder or be more dedicated than I will to make sure that we put a product on that floor, a product that walks on this campus and product that you will recognize in this community and be proud of the way they represent the University"

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