SCOTT: Stars Can Fall Fast In Coaching Ranks

Both Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban have discovered in the past year just how far a coach's star can fall in a short time. Petrino was supposed to lead the Falcons back to the playoffs.

Mike Vick and a series of injuries made that impossible and Petrino didn't help the situation by alienating his players. Saban was supposed to put Alabama on the fast track toward another national championship; but at $4 million a year, Alabama's wins have cost $666,666 each this season.

It's way too soon to judge what Saban can accomplish in the future at Alabama. He's got a winning track record, Alabama's facilities are finally on par with the best in the SEC and he's off to a strong start in recruiting. It can happen. It very well might.

For now, though, the job is probably even more difficult than Saban imagined. He knew he would have to change the culture, identity, and work habits of a program that slipped over the past seven years, due in large part to a revolving door of five coaches in eight years. But that's easier said than done.

Saban appeared to have the Crimson Tide moving in the right direction until the final third of the season. An impressive 41-17 win over Tennessee and a near-miss 41-34 loss to LSU portended big things for the near future. But the Tide collapsed down the stretch with losses to Mississippi State, Louisiana-Monroe and Auburn, giving Alabama its sixth consecutive loss to Auburn.

Now Alabama is 6-6 and headed for the Independence Bowl for the second straight year. Last year, a loss to Mississippi State, a 6-6 finish and an Independence Bowl bid proved to be the final straws for Shula, whose team at least beat Louisiana-Monroe 41-7.

A big part of the problem this season is that Saban has been more demanding and some of the older players have been unwilling to pay the price for success.

"I don't think there is anything unusual about that, especially with older guys on the team," Saban said. "Obviously, when you come in you make changes, and change is inevitable. But the growth that occurs individually relative to the changes is different in different people.

"I think what you are talking about here is degrees. Obviously, the older guys on the team have their habits of how they have done things. In some cases, it may be a little more difficult for them to change because they have done it longer and all that type of thing."

Along the way, nine players were suspended for at least a half of a game. Most recently, two walk-ons – quarterback Thomas Darrah and fullback Jacob Vane – decided it was a good idea to tag team one man on their way to third-degree assault charges.

"It's no secret how many players were suspended throughout this season for whatever reasons, so why were they suspended?" Saban asked. "If you do what's right, that doesn't mean you are going to have success. But if you don't, you have no chance."

Not all of the older players rejected Saban. Some bought in wholeheartedly and it showed in their performance.

"People have their own feelings, their own rights and their own beliefs," senior defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. "But when something is proven to work on this level, you'd be a fool not to want to buy into it. For the ones who didn't, we all suffered from it."

If those players would have made a commitment to the team and the new coaching staff, the season "could've been totally different," safety Rashad Johnson said. "Every game we lost this year was by seven points (or fewer). We win a couple of those, it could've been totally different."

Instead, the Tide will be trying to salvage something positive and end a four-game losing streak in the Independence Bowl against Colorado. There is considerable speculation floating around that several players will be left behind or not allowed to play in the game, but that might just be wishful thinking from some of the fans – and players.

"(There are) some people out there that just do not care, and they will not care," senior linebacker Darren Mustin said. "Those are the type of weeds that you have to pull out. You regrow and you rebirth.

"If you don't buy in, you're pretty much not going to play and you're not going to play very well if you do play. The people who actually bought in and worked hard had a successful season."

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Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author, and Tiger Rag's SEC expert. Reach him at rscottsec@yahoo.com.


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