Third Time Can Be Charming For Coach

What do the 1999 and 2005 Alabama football seasons have in common? For one thing, in both seasons there were impressive victories over powerful Florida teams. But the common denominator is that those were the best seasons the head coaches would have. The third year is not always the best for a Bama coach, but there have been a lot of good ones.

This year, Nick Saban begins his third season as head football coach at Alabama. It will be difficult for Saban to have his best season to date because he set the bar very high in his second year. In 2008, Saban coached Alabama to a surprising 12-0 regular season, including a time at number one in the nation, and had a 12-2 finish.

In 1999, Mike DuBose was in his third season as head coach of the Crimson Tide. He coached Alabama to a 10-3 season, which included Bama winning the Southeastern Conference championship. That's the last time an Alabama team won the SEC title.

That DuBose team had some ups and downs. The biggest down was a last second 29-28 loss to Louisiana Tech. Among the successes were those in the immediate aftermath of the Louisiana Tech loss, a win over 14th ranked Arkansas and then a monumental upset of Steve Spurrier's Florida at The Swamp in Gainesville. Shaun Alexander helped Bama to a 40-39 overtime win over the Gators.

Later in the year, DuBose's Tide defeated LSU in the final season for Gerry DiNardo. The Bengal Tigers went shopping for a new coach and hired Saban.

In the SEC Championship Game, most expected Spurrier to get his revenge. Instead, Alabama romped, winning 34-7.

In 2005, the third season for Mike Shula as head coach of Alabama, the Tide went 10-2, including a Cotton Bowl victory. That Bama team won its first nine games and was ranked fourth in the nation before losing to LSU and Auburn to end the season.

Perhaps the most impressive win in that 2005 season for Shula was Bama's surprising 31-3 romp over fifth-ranked Florida, in the Gators' first year under Urban Meyer.

Both DuBose and Shula faded in their fourth seasons, which turned out to be the final season for both.

In between DuBose and Shula, no coach had a third season. Dennis Franchione had two and Mike Price had zero.

DuBose was preceded by Gene Stallings, who had the ultimate third season.

After losing his first three games in his first season at Alabama and finishing 1990 with a 7-5 record, Stallings improved to 11-1 in 1991. The lone loss was a 35-0 shellacking at the hands of Florida in Gainesville. Bama would follow that loss with 28 consecutive wins.

After going 11-1 in 1991, Stallings' third Alabama team in 1992 went 13-0 and won the national championship. There was a key win over Florida for that team, too. Alabama won the first ever SEC Championship Game with a dramatic 28-21 win over the Gators at Legion Field in Birmingham.

There were dramatic plays, but not much suspense to the national championship game. At the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Alabama spanked what was thought to be an invincible Miami, 34-13. The 13 wins in a season was not only Stallings' best, it's the best in storied Alabama history.

Stallings had a very good career with 70 victories (including six bowl wins) in seven seasons with the Tide, but the third year was the apex.

Bill Curry had his best Alabama season in his third and final year. The Crimson Tide won its first 10 games and rose to number two in the nation, but lost its final two games, at Auburn and against Miami in the Sugar Bowl.

No windows were harmed in Curry's third season. He finished his Alabama career with a respectable 26-10 record.

Ray Perkins went 8-4 in 1983, his first season as Alabama head coach. Perkins had the extraordinarily difficult task of following Paul Bryant as coach of the Crimson Tide. In 1984 Alabama dipped to 5-6, Bama's first losing record since 1957, and ended the 25-year Crimson Tide bowl streak.

Perkins' third season was a very good one, a 9-2-1 overall record and two of the most memorable victories in Alabama football history. That 1985 team, with Mike Shula at quarterback, opened the season with a dramatic last-minute, come-from-behind victory over Georgia in Athens, and ended the season with a more dramatic last-play 52-yard field goal by Van Tiffin to defeat Auburn. In the Aloha Bowl, Bama got its 10th win of the season with a 24-3 romp over USC.

Paul Bryant won six national championships in his 25 years as Alabama's coach and one of those national title years was not in his third season. It would take until his fourth year before Bryant started gathering national championship hardware.

But Bryant's third season was a dandy compared to where the Tide had been. Bryant inherited an Alabama program that had won just four games in the previous three seasons before Bryant returned as coach of his alma mater. In his first year, 1958, Bryant righted the ship with a winning record, 5-4-1. In 1959 there was improvement to a 7-2-2 record and the start of a remarkable bowl streak of 24 in a row.

In 1060, Alabama went 8-1-2. The team had an historic 16-15 win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta, orchestrated by quarterback Bobby Skelton and won on the first and only field goal ever kicked by Richard "Digger" O'Dell. Bryant's first recruiting class was the junior class of the 1960 team and as seniors would win the national title.

The unfortunate J.B. "Ears" Whitworth had back-to-back 2-7-1 seasons in his second and third seasons, which were better than the 0-10 mark of his first year.

Harold "Red" Drew had an up-and-down career as head coach at Alabama from 1947 through 1954 and his third season was not one of his best. His teams lost to Tulane and Vanderbilt to open the season, later had a tie with Tennessee, and then seemed to get on track with five consecutive wins. But a 14-13 upset loss to Auburn (a team Drew's Bama had beaten 55-0 the year before) made it a disaster.

Hall of Fame Coach Frank Thomas didn't have his best year in his third season, but the 7-1-1 mark was good enough to win the conference championship in the first year of the SEC. The lone loss was to famed Fordham by 2-0. Among the 1933 victories was one over Virginia Tech, a 27-0 homecoming romp. That squad set the stage for the 1934 team that went 10-0, including a 29-13 win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl, to win the national championship.

Thomas was preceded by another Hall of Fame Coach. Wallace Wade started his Bama career in 1923 and his third team went 10-0, including a 20-19 win over Washington in the Rose Bowl. It won the 1925 national championship for Alabama and also started the Crimson Tide bowl tradition, now the greatest in college football.

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