I wasn't going to post this epistle until after signing day. Well, it's after signing day so here goes.
it would help to ask - how did we get to this point? And by "this point,"
I mean a situation where we can't even fill up a recruiting class that is
limited by probation and we are letting kids who are going to Louisville
get their 15 minutes of fame for dumping on us. Depsite what Finebaum says,
I think were pretty close to bottoming out.
The seeds of the current
situation were sown over a decade ago in the mishandling of the Langham affair.
Our facilities were in good shape relative to other programs thanks to Ray
Perkins, we had won a national championship, and we had a stable coaching
situation. Unfortunately, an arrogance permeated our program. When the
Langham case was botched - partly due to the our own arrogance and the vindictiveness
of the NCAA (David Swank and Roy Kramer), Hootie Ingram bit the dust. The
downfall of Hootie Ingram and the departure of Dr. Sayers was, in my opinion,
the greatest blow to our program in the two decades.
A great deal
is said here about the so called "good ole boy" network around UA athletics
- usually by a group of juveniles who belong in a nursery rather than in
a football stadium. Hootie is frequently tarred with this brush. But say
what one will, Hootie and that group knew what a rough and tumble game SEC
football is and how to play hard ball and exercise the inherent power (then)
held by the UA football program.
Whatever Hootie's faults, his and
Dr. Sayers departures were the genesis of every ill fated circumstance and
disaster that has followed. Enter Andrew Sorensen. He ingratiated himself
immediately with the UA folks through his wife constantly reminding people
that she didn't like Tuscaloosa and wanted to go back to Gainesville. She
even went so far as to bet on a horse one time in front of a bunch of prominent
University supporters because "he had Florida colors (orange and blue) on."
That aside, he never had any fundamental grasp of the interplay
between the health of the football program and the University as a whole.
But one thing he did want, was to bring the athletic department under his
thumb. And that he did. The first act was in hiring Bob Bockrath.
school where Bockrath had been had ended up on NCAA probation - most probably
due to the fact that he was a poor manager and a weak leader. At Alabama
- these characteristics would have devastating consequences.
before the final decision on Bockrath was made, Coach Stallings called
Sorensen to put his two cents in on who the AD was going to be. He had yet
to be consulted up to this point. Stallings suggested that Mal be given
a chance and that he had heard some disturbing things about Bockrath from
Texas people. Furthermore, as the head coach, he would be comfortable working
with Mal. Sorensen thanked him for his call and said he'd consider it.
Stallings thought Mal was going to get another interview. Instead, he got
a call five minutes later from Sorensen saying he wasn't getting the job.
decided to quit then and there. He decided that he couldn't work for a man
like Sorensen. So forget all this garbage about Bockrath running him off
after the Miss. St. game, Stallings retirement was dictated by that day's
events (Bockrath's hire) and ANDREW SORENSEN.
With Stallings immanent
departure (not yet known), Bockrath promptly went to work in the athletic
department isolating those people he thought were connected to the "good
ole boys." He used a number of snitches and rats, most of whom are still
there, to spy on people and then feed the dirt back to he and Sorensen.
But most of all, he simply retreated into his office feeling spurned by the
Alabama community. I remember attending an event at the Museum shortly after
he was hired and in a room of 200 people, he was standing in a corner by
himself talking to no one. The guy never made much of an effort. He walked
in from day one smelling a stink and never got that stench out of his nose.
it came time to hire a coach, Bockrath and Sorensen wanted to get a non-Bryant
connected coach. We all know about Beamer. Frankly, had they gotten their
way, things could never have been worse than they are now. But, under pressure
not to wreck a good thing and get a dedicated Alabama recruiter in there,
Bockrath caved and hired Mike. This was not to be the last case of the fans
running the program. It was a problem to be further and further exposed
over the next four years. Having a weak sister like Bockrath as AD without
the authority or fortitude to lead - for better or worse - only further exacerbated
Mike's problems as coach have been dissected to the
hilt here - but I think can be summarized by saying he was in over his head.
He was neither a leader, an organizer, a tactician, nor a man of good judgement.
In becoming head coach he simply out kicked his own punt coverage. Mike's
lack of success his first season was promptly blamed on Stallings' holdovers,
probation and poor recruiting. And for all of Mike's failures, he knew how
to spin some yarn with the faithful and get folks to buy his excuses. It's
worth noting that Stallings believed he could have won seven or eight games
with the 97 team. I have no reason to doubt him.
A further aside on
Mike's character is that he did far more agitating against Coach Stallings
than Bill Oliver ever did. A fact lost on many fans to this day. And on
Mike's staff, the backbiting and infighting among the coaches - in the absence
of a leader - would only become more cancerous than on Stalling's staff.
every SEC coach who is over his head, Mike pushed the panic button after
his first season and decided that recruiting was everything. He convinced
himself that the state of Alabama didn't have enough quality athletes to
support his program and that we had to pass over a bunch of good kids to
get the "best." Thus started the exodus of a number of kids who grew up
loving Bama, had NFL talent, and were left crying by Mike's recruiting decisions.
Ronnie Cottrell. I'm not going to say much about Ronnie. All that needs
be said has been siad. But as an evaluator of talent he at best weak and
he was way too close to Logan and some other boosters for comfort. What
we ended up with as a result of Ronnie's efforts was a vast number of kids
who were here for the wrong reasons, had poor character and work habits,
were misplaced track stars or simply over hyped to start with, and didn't
give a rats behind about Bama. In the end they quit on us. Period.
the meantime, the Bockrath situation was further eroding. A number of folks
had come to the conclusion that a lack of leadership from Sorensen was going
to be the wreck and ruin of our program - that Captain Andy, was fundamentally
unaware of what other programs in the SEC were going to do to us if we sat
back and stuck our heads in the sand. That the athletic department was banned
from raising money or engaging in capital expenditures after the stadium
expansion only further added to this perception. Furthermore, the rumblings
had started up North about "Bama cheats." Fulmer had threatened Tim Thompson
at Melrose point blank about sending players to Bama during that recruiting
season and having a spurned Woody McCorvey in Knoxville wasn't going to help
Yet we limped through the next season with the perception
that things were turning around. In reality they were getting more rotten.
The Music City Bowl only further eposed Mike's limited ability but everyone
wrote it off as a learning experience. During this period there was a good
bit of grumbling about how the BOT didn't understand what was going on and
that Sorensen was destroying us slowly.
At that point, morale in
the Athletic Department was at rock bottom under Bockrath's hand. The cancer
from the void of leadership was beginning to grow into a full fledged tumor.
No effort was being made to modernize the department in personel or modern
management techniques - much less the future of our facilities.
be careful about the details, but going into the 99 season, Bockrath was
on thin ice with most of the program's major supporters. He was viewed as
just one element that had to be removed in order to put things right. I
think it's important to note that no one who was disgruntled with Bockrath
thought for a second that Mike was much of a coach and I think everyone harbored
grave reservations about him - especially those who knew the limited abilities
of his coaches, saw his poorly organized practices and were aware of the
overall loose reigns he kept on things.
Many folks think Bockrath was
dismissed because we got beat by La. Tech.. The truth is a situation had
been brewing for several weeks with respect to Bockrath's use or abuse of
his position as AD. Sorensen would have never gone along with the dismissal
in a vacuum if it were simply related to the management of our athletic
programs. It wasn't.
Truth is, Bockrath's departure mattered little. He had checked out on minding the football store long ago.
Next - Mike's downfall and the NCAA mess.