Monday, July 21, 2008

There's No Place Like Home

So said Dorothy while clicking the heels of her magic red slippers before exiting Oz and going home to Kansas.

No one knows if Antoine Pettway was wearing the red shoes he became famous for wearing during his playing days at Alabama when interviewing for the assistant coaching position he now holds. And this certainly ain't Kansas, (Oz, basketball or otherwise) but it is home.

Coach Pettway was a fan favorite during his playing days. He wasn't highly recruited. Son of a high school coach, he came to 'Bama on an academic scholarship. His hustle, grit and intelligence earned him a full basketball scholarship later. That's one of the few decisions Mark Gottfried's made as head coach at Alabama that's actually paid off. In 2002 Pettway scored a last second layup to beat Florida and secure the regular season championship for Alabama at home. It was as wild a scene as I've ever witnessed in Coleman Coliseum for Alabama basketball. In the '04 NCAA tournament Pettway hit a running jumper to beat Southern Illinois as time expired and sent 'Bama on that magical Elite Eight run.

Since Antoine's graduation times have been tough for 'Bama basketball. Alabama made the NCAA tournament in '05 but was bounced out in an ugly fashion by Wisconsin-Milwaukee coached by Bruce Pearl. (Pearl parlayed that into the head coaching position at Tennessee and is now the refreshment chairman of the Mark Gottfried fan club......really!) In '06 'Bama again made the Big Dance and lost in the second round to eventual Final Four UCLA. Mr. All-Everything Ron Steele missed a last second jumper that would have catapulted Alabama to the Sweet Sixteen. But Gottfried rode his stallion Steele like a rented mule during the '05-'06 season (Steele averaged 40.3 mpg in '05-'06) and that fact reared it's ugly head pre-season '06-'07. Gottfried came under intense scrutiny for his handling of Steele and without a healthy Ron Steele the wheels came off. 'Bama has failed to make the NCAA tournament for the past two years and fan apathy is at David Hobbs levels. (who Mark was hired to replace)

Gottfried has hired Pettway to hopefully bring back the magic touch of his playing days. He's been hired to replace Kobe Baker who's dealing with an ailing family member. Baker was hired to replace Tom Asbury who also had to leave to deal with an ailing family member. Athletic director Mal Moore had to leave Alabama head football coach Gene Stallings' staff to deal with an ailing family member years before. He was later "re-assigned" as athletic director. It is thought Baker will also be similarly "re-assigned".

We're also being told Pettway won the job over numerous other candidates, some being former head basketball coaches. Of course, they're unnamed. He supposedly consulted with the "likes" of none other than Roy Williams.

The inference being Roy Williams recommended Pettway for the job. Sorry, folks. I love Antoine as much as the next Alabama basketball fan but I'm not buying any of this for two seconds. (likely the same amount of time Roy Williams has spent thinking on Mark Gottfried) Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News, who "broke" this story, has been in the tank for Mark Gottfried for some time. The Alabama head basketball coach likes having his name mentioned with the elite college coaches and Scarbinsky is all too eager to comply.

The sad truth is Antoine Pettway is a desperation hire by Mark Gottfried. Mal has made it plain to anyone listening this is a make-or-break season for Gottfried. Basketball at Alabama is about money and if you ain't makin' the Dance you ain't making money. Plus, attendance is down. If anyone else was consulted it's likely they know Gottfried's the captain of a sinking ship. Richard Hendrix is gone. Ron Steele's damaged goods or he'd be gone too. That leaves Mark with a very young team in need of bench coaching, something Mark's proven he's not very good at.

The hiring of Pettway is a very calculated move by Gottfried designed to hit several birds with one stone.

(1.) Gottfried knows Pettway is a fan favorite and hopes to re-energize apathetic fans.

(2.) Re-energized fans might come back to his games this season.

(3.) Firing Gottfried will mean firing Pettway. Don't think this isn't part of the thought process. If he doesn't make the tournament this season there will be serious pressure to can him. But no one will want to cut loose Pettway.

(4.) He fills a position with a young, inexperienced coach who played for him. Pettway likely won't challenge Mark. He desperately wants to keep this job but he also desperately wants to prove his critics wrong and show the world he CAN coach with the big boys.

(5.) And who knows? Maybe Antoine Pettway IS Mark Gottfried's lucky charm.

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