Saint Mike headed to 'Bama?

RELIABLE SOURCES IN Alabama report that what at first appeared in an interesting notion --- <b>Mike Price</b> as a long-list candidate for the Crimson Tide head coaching job -- has turned into hang-onto-your-seats-time for Ol' Wazzu. Speaking to CF.C Monday evening, sources said Price and South Florida head coach <b>Jim Leavitt</b> are the leading contenders for the post and that Price's star is rising fast.

Alabama athletic director Mal Moore is a long-time friend of Price's and the school's president is said to be very impressed with Price after several conversations. The sources did not know if those conversations were in person or over the phone, though the Tuscaloosa News reports that Price was in town last week following the Outland Trophy presentation in Florida.

Moreover, Price is said by sources to have told 'Bama unequivocally that he would take the job if offered --- a circumstance that could come as soon as today following a scheduled confab among Alabama's top brass. The Birmingham News reported this morning that Price wasn't sure he'd leave Pullman, but noted that he sounded ready to roll with this comment: "We really have some good football players in this program. It's going to sustain itself with or without me here. I can tell you that. They can keep on winning without me."

Adding grist to it all is the fact Price definitively ruled himself out of the picture at UCLA but has not only not dismissed the Alabama idea but gone so far as to tell the Seattle Times that the Alabama post is "the premier coaching job in America."

On its face, a Price-Tide union would seem less than natural. Price, while full of vigor, is 56-years-old and has no recruiting network whatsoever in the south. And Alabama, while a tradition-rich program with a giant budget, has a year left on a two-year NCAA probation, is banned from bowl competition until 2004, and has lost some two dozen scholarships over the two years.

Price's affable manner and squeaky clean program history figure to be big draws for the Tide, however.

The Alabama job came open when Dennis Franchione left for Texas A&M after two seasons at "Bama, where he compiled a 17-8 record, including a 10-3 mark this year.

Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer was believed to be high on Alabama's list, but is said to have told Moore that he has no desire to leave Tech.

The Tuscaloosa News also reports that Oklahoma State's Les Miles, West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez, Missouri's Gary Pinkel, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Carl Torbush and Green Bay packer assistant (and former Tide player) Sylvester Croom are considered possible contenders.

"The most frequently mentioned name over the weekend, however, was Price, who has led his Washington State team to the Pac-10 championship and a Rose Bowl berth against Oklahoma," the newspaper wrote Monday.

Mike Riley, the old Oregon State and San Diego Chargers head coach now said to be headed to UCLA, was reportedly offered $1.5 million per year for the 'Bama job last week. Price, with incentives, can earn some $900,000 per year at WSU under a new contract he signed this fall.

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