Between the Lines: Price Cutter Special

Just when you think you've witnessed the worst Alabama football has to offer, something more outlandish invariably happens to change your mind; some stranger-than-fiction event brings low Tide to Tuscaloosa and turns Bama fans a deeper shade of Crimson.

The dirty laundry list is filled with enough examples of greed, corruption, deceit and vice to fill a dime store detective novel. Viewed singularly, the string of embarrassing episodes look like a bad soap opera. Viewed in its entirety the Bama saga takes on characteristics of a Greek tragedy.

For two decades since the retirement of Bear Bryant and his death four weeks later, Alabama has been beset by problems that range from cosmic to comic. It has included a succession of coaches that either jumped ship or scuttled it on the shores of scandal.

First Ray Perkins followed Bear's formidable footprints and caught heck for not following his practices. He later attempted to prove his metal by playing in Alabama's spring football game, before abruptly bolting T-town for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where life got worse. Perkins compiled a 32-15-1 mark over his four years.

Bill Curry was hired away from Georgia Tech and promptly posted a 26-10 record, but he wasn't one of Bear's boys and when he slipped below Bryant's standards he got a brick through his office window as not so subtle reminder. Curry bid farewell after three seasons and headed to Kentucky which speaks volumes as to his level of disatisfaction.

That ushered in the Gene Stallings era at Bama which was relatively stable, but not without it's share of NCAA investigations. Stallings was as close as you could get to Bear without cloning, and his .810 winning percent as head coach of the Crimson Tide wasn't far off Bryant's .824 mark. Stallings compiled an impressive 70-16-1 record through seven years in Tuscaloosa and won a national championship in 1992. However, he came under increasing criticism for not being offensive minded and entered retirement in 1997 one step ahead of the lynch mob.

With Tide fans growing disenchanted with the defense-first approach of Stallings, Alabama administrators did an odd thing by hiring defensive coordinator Mike Dubose as head coach. Dubose, who often attended church services with prospects, had success in attracting talent to Alabama but he also attracted trouble. First there was a well publicized affair with his secretary that nearly cost him his job. Later it was revealed that much of Alabama's recruiting success was the result of under-the-table payments to recruits and their coaches. Those transgressions along with a unimpressive 24-23 record eventually led to Dubose's ouster after four seasons.

Dennis Franchione was hired during the height of an NCAA investigation and pending probation. He put together a pair of winning seasons, but jumped at the chance to take over at Texas A&M for the deposed R.C. Slocum.

Alabama fans had a curious reaction to their school being found guilty of assorted violations that were so well circulated the general public knew of the details before NCAA investigators did. Instead of being angry at their own — namely Mike Dubose and the notorious booster known as Bread Man — for sinking the program up to its axles in mud, they blamed Tennessee and other SEC schools for allegedly blowing the whistle.

Certainly, Tennessee had plenty of reason to be offended by Alabama's illegal acts since most were committed to obtain prospects from the Memphis area, but the abuses were so widespread that UT coaches would have had to stand in line to complain, and the information was so well known that NCAA investigators would have had to be on the take not to notice.

Alabama officials sprung into action to hire a replacement for the departed Franchione and were turned down by at least three of their top options. UA finally found a taker in Washington State coach Mike Price, who became the sixth head coach in 20 years since Bryant's departure.

Price was on the job four months but never made it to the starting gate, after admitting to running up charges on a university credit card to entertain strippers in his Tampa hotel room while participating in ProAm golf tournament. Price apologized for the nefarious activity but didn't think it was serious enough to merit his dismissal.

In a prepared statement delivered at a press conference after his firing, Price had to nerve to ask: "What happened to second chances?" He said students and players often received second chances and didn't understand why he wasn't afforded the same consideration.

Not that it should have to be explained, but there's a big difference between players and students getting second chances and a 57 year-old man with a multimillion dollar salary who is heading up a program under the harsh glare of public scrutiny getting a second chance. Price's second chances can be granted by his wife or another school in desperate need of a coach with a winning track record.

No doubt, Alabama officials made the right choice in showing Price the door, but how much credit do they really deserve for that decision? He hadn't signed a contract yet and had already lost the moral high ground needed to lead Alabama back to respectability. What school would be willing to invest $12 million and seven years in a man with judgment that bad when the school faces an uphill fight against scholarship limitations in the toughest conference in America?

Alabama's only viable choice was a new coach with less baggage and better judgment. In final analysis, the Price wasn't right to turn the Tide.

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