Marshall: Reasons for AU Fans to Feel Good

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn football and SEC football.

As I write this, it appears Alabama has found its next head coach. Numerous reports say that West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez--or at least his representative--has agreed in principle to a lucrative offer to leave his alma mater.

Over the next few days, Rodriguez will be lauded as the right man to return Alabama football to greatness. He'll, no doubt, talk about the honor of coaching where Bear Bryant coached and about Alabama tradition.

It'll make for good sound bites, good television and good newspaper and Internet stories. And none of it will mean a thing.

Rodriguez will be judged in the same way all football coaches at the highest level are judged--not by what he says, but by wins and losses.

If he wins enough, he'll stay around for as long as he wants to. And that could be a long time, since he probably won't be the most popular person back in his home state of West Virginia.

If he doesn't win enough, he'll get the same treatment every coach who doesn't win enough gets at any big-time program. Ask Mike Shula about that. Or Terry Bowden. Or Mike DuBose. Or Jim Donnan. Well, you get the picture.

Rich Rodriguez

The truth is Rodriguez almost certainly will make Alabama a winner again. Mike Shula would have made Alabama a winner again. Alabama is one of the half dozen Southeastern Conference programs that have what it takes to compete for championships. Auburn's Iron Bowl winning streak certainly won't go on forever.

What Rodriguez won't do, what no coach can do, is make Alabama what it was in the 1970s. The dynamics of the game have changed. A handful of schools have the capacity to dominate the national scene for long periods of time. And Alabama, like Auburn, isn't on that list.

Alabama certainly can win championships. It can compete for a national championship. But the difference between first and sixth in the SEC is very small. Some years things come together. Some years they don't.

Is Rodriguez the long-term answer? There is really no way to know. There would have been no way to know if Nick Saban was the long-term answer had he responded to Alabama's pleas and left the NFL. The answer will come on autumn Saturdays.

But on Alabama's day of celebration, Auburn fans might consider doing a little celebrating themselves.

Imagine for a moment that Auburn had called a press conference to announce a new head coach. And imagine the new guy had done the following:

He had won 32 of his last 37 games, 23 of his last 26 games against SEC teams and had a perfect season on his resume.

He had been national Coach of the Year.

He had won nine of his last 15 games against teams ranked in the top 10.

He had won an SEC championship and had won or shared five SEC West Division championships in eight seasons.

He had taken his team to two SEC Championship Games and seven consecutive bowl games,

His teams had won 11 of their last 12 SEC road games.

Hiring a coach like that would, no doubt, be viewed as a reason to celebrate. And Auburn, of course, already has him in Tommy Tuberville.

Rodriguez is an energetic coach who is known as an offensive innovator. He has certainly been informed about the importance of putting an end to Auburn's dominance. He is a spread offense guy. Like Florida's Urban Meyer, he'll face questions about whether his ideas will work in the SEC.

Meyer's offense certainly hasn't been spectacular, though it got enough done this season to allow defense and special teams to get the Gators into the BCS championship game. The truth is that college football isn't about schemes. You can run the spread. You can run the I-formation with two tight ends. Heck, you can run the wishbone or the single wing. The key in the game's fastest lane is talent.

Neither Rodriguez nor any other coach is a miracle worker. It will take time to get his program in place. Alabama is not, as of today, one of the SEC's more talented teams. Fans will need to have patience, which is in short supply everywhere in this day of $2 million coaches.

Maybe Rodriguez will make Alabama a champion again quicker than most expect. Maybe it'll take longer than most would like. Maybe it won't happen at all.

Regardless, one thing is certain. Things are about to get a lot more interesting in this state. And that's a good thing.


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