PRICE FIRED: Lots of support, but in wrong places

<b>MAC BLEDSOE</b> put on a full-court defense of <b>Mike Price</b> on Friday, even suggesting that the former Cougar may have been set up. The day before that it was <b>Jim Livengood</b> and <b>Bill Moos</b> coming to Price's side. Alas, it was to no avail as UA's president fired Price today.

"His mistake has severely hurt our university and will continue to hurt our university for years to come," University of Alabama President Robert E. Witt said in preface to the announcement that Price, undefeated and unscored upon, would be terminated less than five months after becoming head coach of the Tide.

A LIFETIME OF good deeds and doing right by the community has had friends and former players and colleagues coming out in vocal support of Price as Bama officials grappled with his coaching fate following the coach's lost weekend in Pensacola.

Unfortunately for Price, little of that support -- save for the powerless youngsters on the Tide football team -- are in the south.

Regrettably, Price picked the worst possible time to commit what by all accounts is the single biggest mistake of his entire life, because he's had no time to build the relationships in Alabama that he has in the Northwest.

Witt let Price twist in the wind for an entire week. No words of support. No expedited evaluation of the facts. No Mal Moore saying stupid is as stupid does but a guy like Mike deserves a second chance. No pithy Tuscaloosa columnist saying if the state could put up with George Wallace's badinage for so many years it certainly ought to give the once-spotless Price a free pass.

No nothing.

It was an unenviable position to be in -- a moral pariah left to the wolves in Bible Belt country where Bear Bryant is seated damn close to the right hand of the Father.

And Price himself, presumably by edict, wasn't on stage doing the mea culpa. He offered but a few kernels of comment to one reporter --- alas, not one in Alabama, but Carter Strickland in friendly Spokane.

But yesterday, a week after the feeding frenzy began, we finally got a real glimpse of the other side of the story. The Price side.

It came from longtime friend Mac Bledsoe, Drew's dad, who stood tall and strong in the face of a hostile Birmingham radio commentator named Paul Finebaum.

Price, he said, is one of the most honest, genuine men he's ever known. He's never seen him drunk.

Moreover, he said, Mike is facing the proverbial music without hesitation, telling him he looked in the mirror and didn't like who was looking back at him this week.

But more than anything, Mac offered insight as to what exactly transpired after Price left that Pensacola strip joint, apparently alone, on April 16.

"He (Price) said he wound up with a lady in his room the next morning and he had no recollection of it. He was fully clothed, she was fully clothed. He was wearing the clothes he wore the night before."

Bledsoe suggested that Price may have been set up in some way. Someone may have created a situation and bated him into it, he said.

Who and why would be anybody's guess.

"Is there something else going on here?" Bledsoe wondered out loud.

Perhaps we'll find out that a devious Auburn grad slipped a potion into Mike's glass. Or that some Confederate-loving miscreant decided to cleverly put a Yankee in his place.

Certainly a stretch.

Regardless, it really doesn't matter now. Price is gone, a career flushed down the toilet and a family left with big wounds to heal.

Mike will probably get picked up as an assistant coach in the NFL, and his assistants, young and bright, will no doubt land on their collective feet.

But this is no way, at age 57, to be capping a career. He wasn't even allowed to speak directly with the board of trustees to make amends.

In retrospect on Price's self-sewn week from hell, it's so obvious he was headed to the chopping block from the get go.

While a number of Bamans publicly advocated mercy this morning before the board of trustees convened to hear Witt's decision, the fact is that Price had no base of support in Tide country outside his staff and players.

The broader community didn't have time to get to know Mike Price. To them, he was just the gregarious guy with the goofy one-back offense who doesn't have a signed contract and who's been left twisting in the wind for an entire week.

Witt, new himself to the UA, wanted a clean slate. And, apparently, a morally pure one. So Mike Price, the only undefeated coach in Alabama history, is now history himself.

The guy known far and wide for giving people second chances doesn't get a similar break. The "premier coaching job in college football" as he termed it, has turned sadly into a nationally humiliating fall from grace.

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