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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bigger Than Bear?

I guess it's true. You live long enough you'll see and hear everything. But forgive me. I guess I thought it would be a bit longer before I heard this one.

Is Nick Saban bigger than Paul William Bryant? Yup. The Bear. And this wasn't asked by some blogging bum such as myself, this was the lead question in today's (04/15/08) column (http://www.finebaum.com) by the one and only Paul Finebaum.

After two spring practices. After 8 wins. After one recruiting national championship. I'm not kidding. And certainly not laughing.

This line of thinking screams for historical context.

1954.

The record: 4 - 5 - 1. Alabama lost to Auburn 28 - 0. Yeah, that's a goose egg.

1955.

The record: ZERO - 10. Can you see that with your one good eye, Paul? IN 1955 ALABAMA DID NOT WIN A SINGLE GAME!!! And, oh yeah, the Auburn game?? 26 - 0.

1956.

The record: 2 - 7 - 1. After slitting your wrists over a winless season the year before, I imagine fans of the day were elated to have won TWO games. And for those of you who thought I might slip up and forget the Auburn game, NOT! Auburn 34 - Alabama 7.

1957.

The record: Again, 2 - 7 - 1. AUBURN 40............'Bama..........nothing.

Translate this period to today's Alabama. I can envision fans marching on Tuscaloosa, pulling the head coach out of his office by his, ahem, ears and caning him to the state line. The GEORGIA state line!

Back to the book.

In '55 'Bama scored 48 points and gave up TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY SIX.

In '56, 85 points scored to TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHT given.

In '57, 69 points scored to one hundred and seventy three given.

In three years J. B. Whitworth was 4 - 24 - 2. ('55, '56, '57)

This is Alabama Football??? Yep. This is the Alabama football program Paul William Bryant was hired to rebuild. In it's storied history Alabama football was NEVER lower. Not even close. "Ears" Whitworth made Mike Shula look like the Don. (no pun intended)(I have it on good authority "Ears" could grill a mean steak, though!)

Bryant's first move? Coddling "show dogs"?? Berating the media?? Comparing his task in rebuilding a football program to winning World War II??

Try none of the above. Bryant hit town telling everyone there was no "depth" chart, from quarterback to waterboy. He didn't care about legacy, last name, or how much money your daddy had. Last year's "stars" were this year's targets. Most didn't make the first spring practice. Remember, Bryant wasn't that far removed from Junction, Texas. He believed if you laid down in practice, you'd lay down in a game. And he meant to find out who were the quitters in practice. By his own admission, he was one mean son of a bitch in those days and regretted his meanness later on.

But the record books don't lie. In his first eight years he won three National Championships. Some argue it should have been four. For his career coaching the Crimson Tide he won SIX national titles and THIRTEEN SEC championships. I vividly remember hearing The Man growl that an SEC title was just something you had to win to get to a national championship. And for those eager to place him on a pedestal and proclaim him the creator of 'Bama football, he'd be lightning quick to correct them. Alabama had a proud championship tradition long before he got there. He did nothing more than pick up the torch from the mire, relight it and run to glory.

Coach Bryant only carried a state on his shoulders through one of it's darkest times.

The job, it killed him.

Time, why you punish me?
Like a wave crashing into the shore
You wash away my dreams
Time, why you walk away? oh, oh
Like a friend with somewhere to go
You left me crying
..........Hootie and the Blowfish.

Since his death, 'Bama's march though the wilderness is well documented. Gene Stallings and his one national title (1992) the only ray of hope in 25+ years spent roiling in a pit of incompetence, cheating, finger-pointing and sanctions.

Enter Nick Saban.

After the gross incompetence of Mike DuBose, (remember, capitalize the "B") the self-serving Franphony, the stupidity of Mike Price and the stubborn inexperience of Mike Shula, after 25 years of stumbling in the darkness, who can blame the Alabama fan base for clinging to Saban like he's some college football messiah returned to raise the program from the dead? (many did the same with Shula)

But the same Paul Finebaum who once said a "ham sandwich" could win eight games a year at Alabama now would have you thank your lucky stars you have Nick Saban's butt to plant your head in.

Think about it, Mike DuBose, coming out of the NCAA sanctions left him by Hootie Ingram and Gene Stallings, won the 1999 SEC Championship with his penis in one hand and a play....book in the other. (and Steve Spurrier never recovered) How hard can it be??

I know I'm exaggerating the point here, call me a cynic, but through the mishmash of today's feel-good, puff-in-stuff blather, the burning beacon of historical truth shines like the sun.

Nick Saban's a good coach, maybe great. But I knew Coach Bryant and, you sir, ain't walked on no water I've seen yet.

It's 3 am, the red phones ringing, Dr. Michelson.

Paul's sprung a leak!

Monday, April 14, 2008

"Business As Usual"

The words of Mark Gottfried when asked recently about the state of Alabama's basketball program after another tumultuous season, the second straight missing the NCAA tournament. Many around the program have been waiting on some word from Mark's superior, Mal (Mal-function in some circles) Moore relative to Gottfried's performance of the past few years.

The silence has been deafening. Of course, why would Mal have to say anything?? He has a coach under contract. He certainly knows what's been going on. We've been told Wendell Hudson was dispatched to monitor the team and report to Mal his findings during the course of this past season. (and apparently Mal was so impressed with his work, he promoted Wendell to head coach of the women's basketball team. Looks like something you would see happen at your local high school)

The one post-season tournament Alabama did make was the SEC Tournament. (note that their presence was mandatory) That tournament was certainly eventful with the tornado during the 'Bama/Miss. State game and it's aftermath. But what flew under the radar for most was Gottfried's post-game interview with RayCom after Alabama's first round victory over Florida. Mark was obviously elated to have won that game and made no effort to hide it. He looked like a schoolgirl who'd just been told she'd won a backstage pass to a Justin Timberlake concert.

In this season of discontent we've seen many things around this program due to the increased scrutiny and criticism of Gottfried. He's been more animated courtside. His wife went into the stands at a game and publicly accosted a media member. The spin control out of the Gottfried camp has racheted up exponentially. But his display during that interview seemed genuine. Gottfried looked as if he'd been freed of the albatross. I'll always believe there was more riding on that game than we'll ever be told. It was just a first round conference tournament game. Bill Self wasn't that excited after winning the National Championship. It was obvious Mark Gottfried did not want to go home one-and-done and the thing is no one expected him to go over there and do anything. No one we know of. For those searching for wisps of smoke.....

Since, despite the annual revival of Alabama's third favorite sport - spring football practice - (second? football recruiting) the basketball program's been in the news bigtime. Richard Hendrix and Ron Steele have declared for the NBA draft. Justin Tubbs and Rico Pickett will transfer. Nothing really unusual in this. Happens everywhere, every year. But the events surrounding Pickett and Steele's declarations make them unusual.

Few saw the Steele thing coming. One who apparently did was Bill Ellis. Conventional wisdom said coming off a medical redshirt year to heal his knees, Ron would need another year at 'Bama to prove himself healthy and up to the rigors of NBA play. Talking points from the Gottfried camp told us Steele would return and things would change. But Bill recently blogged that he's known this information for five months. Let me be perfectly clear that I like and trust Bill Ellis. He's a knowledgable basketball man and a loyal fan of the program. But this revelation means around the time Ron decided to sit out the '07-'08 season, he'd made up his mind to test the draft. Around late January Mark Gottfried, under intense criticism, and his minions started telling anyone who would listen Ron Steele was well on his way to full recovery and was consistently the best player in practice. This surprised no one because upon his arrival at 'Bama, Ron was the best basketball player to play there in some time.

Not long after season's end, the tone changed.

Gottfried was asked recently about the team's prospects with a healthy Steele:

“and Ronald Steele — there’s an if there — is he going to be healthy?” Gottfried said. “But if things can come together, I think it can be very exciting,”

Are we now talking about the same player who's been the best in Mark Gottfried's practices for two-plus months?

"This decision may come as a surprise to some," Steele said at a news conference, accompanied by coach Mark Gottfried. "While I did not participate in any games this year, I did practice fully with the team. Since January I have felt as good physically as at any time during my career.

Yeah. Sounds like the biggest surprise was to his coach. To be fair, Steele said his decision had not been finalized until after the season was over. But that begs the question, why did he feel the need to say that?

Declaring for the draft and returning to school is certainly a common thing these days. Many with NBA potential do so to get a taste of the process and learn expectations. They do this with the full expectation of returning. But read Ron's quote:

"I'm going with the intentions of putting in my best," Steele said. "I'm serious about it. I wouldn't be wasting time pursuing my dream. I'm full speed ahead, 100 percent committed to it.

That doesn't sound like someone who wants to come back. Ron's out to prove himself a first-round pick. He wants the hell out.

Ditto Rico Pickett. The Pickett story was interesting from the beginning in that the first news out on that was from a university press release late on a Sunday night. Gottfried had "suspended" Pickett for "failure to comply with team rules".

"We have standards and levels academically as well as athletically that our student-athletes need to meet, and there are consequences when they fail to do that," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said in a prepared statement.

Translation: Pickett was flunking out.

Enter Pickett's father.

"He told them that he wanted to leave. They told him they weren't going to release him."

Translation: You can go but you're going to have to sit a year if you do.

"This is their way of fighting back, saying that he is suspended for academic reasons. He has the same grades that he has had since he has been at Alabama."

Translation: Come clean Mark.

When it became obvious the Pickett's weren't going to take the slander lying down, the Gottfried camp released Pickett unconditionally from his scholarship and clammed up. Well, almost.

"If we have a player who feels he will be happier somewhere else, I will support them 100 percent if they choose to pursue another opportunity. I don't really have anything else to say about it right now."

Translation: Don't let the doorknob slap your ass on the way out.

And what else could Mal possibly add to that?

Without a doubt, most of what is opined here is reading between the lines. But if one wants the truth concerning Mark Gottfried's basketball program, it's required reading.

Yup, business as usual.