Can Vols Turn Tide's Loss Into Their Gain?

They say what goes around comes around, but in the case of Texas A&M and Alabama it took nearly half-a-century to come full circle.

Actually it was 45 years ago that the Crimson Tide sent out a distress signal for one of its favorite sons to return and restore Alabama to its rightful place among the pantheon of pigskin powers.

Bear Bryant left Texas A&M in 1957 after building the Aggies into a powerhouse which culminated in a Southwest Conference championship and 9-0-1 record in 1956, the first conference title won by the Aggies in 15 years. He followed that with an 8-3 record in 1957 and a Gator Bowl berth. (An interesting aside: Tennessee upset Bryant's Aggies 3-0 in the Gator Bowl that year.)

Within four seasons at Tuscaloosa, Bryant took an unranked Bama team and turned it into an undefeated national champion (11-0 in 1961). He also led the Tide to a 7-2-2  mark and No. 10 ranking in 1959, followed by an 8-1-2 record and No. 9 finish in 1960. (A second interesting aside: the first bowl Bryant took Bama to was the Liberty Bowl in 1959 where the Tide dropped a 7-0 decision to Penn State. Twenty-three years later, he finished his legendary career at the Liberty Bowl with a 21-17 victory over Illinois.

In between those Liberty Bowl appearances, Alabama won a dozen SEC championships under Bryant, including five straight from 1971 through 1975. He also led the Crimson Tide to six national titles, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978 and 1979 and became the NCAA's all-time winningest head coach. (In his 25 years at Bama, Bryant enjoyed a 16-7-2 record vs. Tennessee, but lost his last game to the Vols in Knoxville 35-28 in 1982, ending an 11-year winning streak by the Crimson Tide.

In the 20 years since Bryant departed, Alabama has won only three SEC titles and one national title. The three conference titles were won by three different coaches, Bill Curry in 1989, Gene Stallings in 1992 and Mike DuBose in 1999. Stallings, who played under Bryant at Texas A&M and coached under him at Alabama, won the national title in 1982.

Franchione was the fifth coach in 20 years to follow Bryant and the first not to be fired or run out town. Remember Curry skipped out for Lexington, Ky., just ahead of a brick-throwing mob.

Ironically, this was supposed to be Bama's new beginning with a coach who wasn't one of Bear's boys and a coach who would be willing to stick it out and establish his own legacy. However the prospect of probation and limited scholarships probably didn't look too appealing to Franchione who saw two weeks ago what a loss to Auburn could do for your popularity.

Now Texas A&M has a new head coach and Alabama is left looking for one at the height of the recruiting season.

That brings us to back to today and a look at how  Tennessee's recruiting future will be impacted by   Franchione's sudden flight from Tuscaloosa.

UT appears to be at least back in the running for the nation's No. 1 fullback, DeRon McClain (6-1 251, 4.59) of Tuscaloosa County High  School, who backed out of his commitment to Alabama hours after Coach Fran jumped ship. Ohio State, Auburn and Mississippi are also back in the hunt, along with Alabama.

Opelika, Ala., defensive end Tez Doolittle (6-3, 265, 4.7) is another player the Vols might gain ground with given Franchione's defection. He's scheduled to visit Tennessee on Jan. 24 and Alabama on Jan. 10. He's visiting South Carolina this weekend. Georgia and Florida are two other schools seeking his services while Auburn might be the favorite, although he refuses to name one.

Birmingham Briarwood Christian running back Tim Castille (5-11, 220. 4.5) apparently remains committed to the Tide, but Tennessee coaches are likely to reacquaint themselves with the nation's No. 10  tailback prospect.

Ditto for No. 9 safety prospect Will Roach of Killen, Ala., who remains committed to Bama, but has opened the door to the possibility of visiting Tennessee and LSU. "I may call LSU and Tennessee back," he said. "They've been calling a lot still. I may go up for a visit, but I'm still committed to Alabama."

Tennessee will probably also make another run at defensive tackle Dominic Lee (6-2, 280, 5.2) of Birmingham Huffman High School who is ranked No. 12 at his position.

The most immediate impact might be with Jayson Swain who returns to Knoxville for an official visit this weekend after taking an unofficial visit last week for the Tennessee-Kentucky game. Swain is enamored with Michigan and is still considering Georgia and Florida, but Alabama was believed to be the Vols chief competition for the Grissom, Ala., All-American, who is ranked No. 9 nationally at his position.

Closer to home, the Vols stand to make up ground with  Tennessee's No. 1 prospect, Daniel Brooks of Jackson Central-Merry. Brooks (6-3, 230, 4.56) is set to officially visit Alabama this weekend in the wake of the bombshell. He has listed Alabama as his co-leader along with Tennessee, however Brooks just recently picked up an offer from Miami which might complicate the situation. Miami must be listed as a finalist with at least 50 of the top 150 prospects, but how many players can the Canes sign?

Ultimately, Tennessee's gain may depend on how effectively and expeditiously Bama is able to install a replacement. Arkansas' Houston Nutt is one name that has emerged in speculation and Arkansas is the state that produced Bryant. Then there's R.C. Slocum who has a .721 winning percentage, the best at Texas A&M since Bryant left for Bama.

Sure it sounds wild, but you never know where the coaching carousel might stop or who might jump off.


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