Forum Classics

The Future by way of the past, Part 4

Posted by Xen Scott on February 07, 2003


What have I wrought? I tuned in this morning and found that I have become a sage of some sort – or far worse. What have I placed here but common knowledge or something that couldn’t be figured out with a little thought? I’ve added a detail here or there as an aside or to illustrate a point, but I have no claim to know “all.” The only thing I have is a perspective culled from watching this thing from a number of angles over the years. Maybe it’s catharsis and that’s why everyone has paid so much attention. I honestly didn’t seek to set off any bombshells.

I expected this to take two posts – show the poor decisions and lack of vision that got us here and then offer an idea of what has to happen in the future. What I found when I started writing was that this was more complicated than blaming one person.

The University is an institution. And there are many actors in that institution. If I have any insight at all, it’s only in being lucky, or unlucky enough, to have seen this thing from every angle – but only in bits and pieces. Truthfully, some of you who think I’m going to unravel the NCAA mystery will be disappointed. I only know snippets of the investigation itself and some posters here have done far more work digging this stuff out than I ever have or will. What I’m trying to show is how a series of wretched decisions made by people fundamentally unsuited to make them got us to this point. The debacle of the NCAA thing is only the greatest manifestation of that process.

You may be further disappointed to know that I am not an employee of the University nor a “good ole boy.” I’m only an alumnus who grew up like the rest of you with an almost inexplicable and irrational love of Alabama. I’ve just had the occasion to know some people who know some things. And as I pointed out yesterday, I wouldn’t put one thing on this board that I thought had the least possibility of hurting the University at this point.

Obviously I’ve struck a nerve somewhere. And I think that’s good. Because we are going to have face the coming years with a maturity brought on by a recognition of how we got here. But be assured, I’m not here to get attention. I’ve got work to do.

Part IV –Deck Chairs on the Titanic

The first thing Fran found when he got here besides the obvious lack of discipline was that he had 20 or so academic cases on his hands. I think his handling of S&C, the classroom, leadership problems and many of the hard cases left by his predecessors is well documented. But if anything can encapsulate his first few months here it was that he was convinced that from a character, work ethic and talent standpoint that he had inherited a number of hopeless cases. His building job was going to be steeper than advertised.

He also had to get the sorry habits out of and bad influences away from the players in order to rebuild them. He spent a good part of his first year trying to get some of the hanger ons around the players who were associated with the previous group away from his players. Simply because we changed coaches doesn’t mean that the players relationships with their old coaches or other “friends of the program” had ended. And by friends of the program I don’t mean boosters or $100 handshakes. Just people who might undermine what Fran was trying to build by sowing dissension and feeding the sense of entitlement that got us in the mess to begin with.

In retrospect, it’s clear he adopted a defensive attitude from the time he got here. I believe now that he had read too many horror stories by the national media about intolerant Bama fans and maybe never fully understood that we were so low when we got here that we had embraced him quickly like no coach since Bryant (maybe other than Coach Stallings). He thought we might turn on him at any moment.

The other interesting thing about Fran was that he never really got close to anyone in the alumni community or the University as far as I can tell. Probably Mal was as close to him as anyone and I think he was even a mystery to Mal at the end. Part of this was a result of his tireless work ethic and focus. But again, in retrospect, one would think that it was also because of some fundamental level of mistrust of the Bama family. He said and did all the right things, but his attachments to the University and its people remained at best superficial. It’s easy to see now how it was so easy to pick up and leave in the absence of any deep ties to anyone in our community.

To say that Fran was a tightly wound spring is an understatement. Furthermore, he was most assuredly a glass half empty person. Honestly, I think without his constant crying about facilities and other issues some things that needed to be done would have never happened. His complaining and our delicate situation gave Mal the stick to get what limited things he could out of Rose Administration. Unfortunately for Fran it was usually a half measure that stopped short of the commitment he wanted. Add to that a concern about the backward nature of our Athletic Department and Fran had all the ingredients for a rationalization that we weren’t committed to winning.

In the meanwhile, the investigation moved forward. While they turned over every conceivable rock, the fact is as late as that summer, little had turned up to corroborate the tale from Memphis. What was clear is that Coach Johnny the investigator was out to nail us and particularly Logan Young at any cost and wouldn’t stop until he got it. Two well documented cases of ole Rich telling Logan and later another “booster” that he didn’t care about Tennessee are absolutely true. He also exploited tensions between numerous people by claiming falsely in some cases that a particular individual had accused them of something – hoping that all the rats would turn on each other and run out of the bushes. He also accused anyone even remotely connected to UA who had done business with Logan as being his bag man. The outcome of the case was already determined. The only issue was how to get there.

I now believe wholeheartedly that the course of the investigation – from its instigation to it’s conclusion, was dictated by Tennessee folks. I also believe that the relationships between the NCAA enforcement staff and some folks in an around the Tennessee orbit were absolutely beyond any ethical bounds. My one great hope about Ronnie’s lawsuit is that all of this comes out and the level of corruption at the NCAA is exposed for the world to see.

That being said, the salient point in all this mess was the same old tension that I discussed earlier between the Sorensen/Marsh anti-jock – clean out the good ole boys group - and the football program and culture as whole was guiding the University’s conduct of the investigation. No one will ever know, but I think now that Sorensen made a calculation along with Gene Marsh that if they could mitigate the NCAA penalties and get rid of Logan, et al. that they would finally break the back of the football crowd. Starting from the assumption that we were guilty, it’s no wonder that when we start talking about secret witnesses, Marsh aiding the NCAA by allowing it, conceding charges against Logan without any real proof, that it all makes sense in light of their attitude toward Logan and others who had traditionally supported the program. Let the NCAA accomplish what you couldn’t – run them off.

As for the SEC office’s role in this whole affair, I really don’t know. I’m sure there was aiding and abetting going on. Anyone can see that now. To what level of detail or extent of the machinations, I truly don’t know. What I do know is that many folks who were close to the situation believed firmly that Roy Kramer had a major hand in dealing us the blow in the Langham affair and have no reason to doubt he played us again this time.

Probably the funniest thing I heard about the University’s conduct of the investigation is that they wanted Logan to pony up a “donation” to the University to pay for the trouble he caused all the while getting ready to toss him over the transom. They weren’t too proud to bleed him for money before they had to wash their hands of him.

When the letter arrived, it appeared that the plan was working. The University escaped any institutional charges and with it the assumption dominated that we could impose penalties that we could manage, avoid a crippling blow and toss the “bad guys” overboard. Our response was dictated along those parameters. Offer up the bad actors, ask forgiveness and put it to bed. Again, a gross miscalculation that the NCAA would be impervious to the publicity surrounding our case or the perception that we were as dirty as the old Oklahoma teams of the 70’s and 80’s.

Meanwhile, Fran was indeed fixing the team. We all saw steady improvement in the last half of his first year. There is no doubt that the wheels started falling off Fran’s wagon the moment the penalties were announced. Again, since no one ever got close to Fran, it’s hard to know what went through his mind after the penalties were announced before signing day. Cecil Hurt’s article of a week or so ago was probably the best insight you’ll get on that matter. What is clear now is that either he didn’t think he could ride out the probation or he didn’t think we’d let him. Maybe he just didn’t want to swim upstream anymore after doing it his whole career. Truth is, he will always be swimming upstream because his personality will never allow him to be satisfied with anything for more than 30 seconds.

I do know either before or after the sanctions were announced he had already complained that he needed some scheduling relief – that he didn’t want to go to Penn St. with 50 players and get his tail kicked. Maybe that was a very realistic attitude, but it also illustrates the level at which the sanctions ate at him. Add to that the constant barrage of dirty SEC recruiting which I don’t know if he ever got used to, and you can see how his hole – at least in his mind – got deeper and deeper.

One thing the announcement of the sanctions did do was blow the final hole in Sorensen’s bow. He and Marsh had handled the conduct of our response to the NCAA and when it blew up in their face they had nowhere to run. The immediate response from the BOT, just like the rest of the fan base was total outrage. Everyone, including Andy, wanted to fight. And those lawyers who had originally volunteered their services to fight the thing were finally listened to. In the end, some BOT members called in Bobo Cunningham for a consult on a Saturday on whether there was a case to be made for relief. Cunningham concluded that their was a case and even offered to work pro-bono when the subject of a fee was brought up. The feeling was now that we were finally going to fight back.

It didn’t take Cunningham long to realize that we had thrown the baby out with the bathwater in ceding so much up front to the NCAA without challenge. Nonetheless, he mounted a brilliant defense. But in the end, it didn’t matter. The NCAA had their backs to the wall on high profile case – there was no backing down.

At the same time, the BOT knew we had to undertake some drastic steps to survive the sanctions. First was locking Fran down for life. Second was coming off the stalled facilities program and fund drive. Mal was green lighted to move fast on the facilities issue. Which he did. Sorensen’s last stand came when he tried to limit the facilities program and was told in uncertain terms that it wouldn’t be done half hearted and he needed to disappear. In fact, if you remember, he wasn’t even at the roll out of that program.

Sorensen had been trying to promote his way out of the University for years. The board had seen enough as well as the Chancellor so by now so a mutual split was inevitable. Honestly, at the time no one really believed he could find a job but were more than willing to help. Luckily for all parties South Carolina fell for him and hired him.

As for when Fran decided to hit the road for sure I don’t know. I was told in October by a friend that a prominent Aggie had said that they were hiring our coach. I didn’t believe it. Much has been made of the contract issue and whether the University botched anything. Truthfully, they offered him a blank check, and in large part anything else he wanted to stay. I think he was gone for months before that and nothing we could have done would have altered that course of events.

But Fran won’t be any happier in Aggie land. His basic personality is to be insular and dissatisfied. It won’t take long before something is wrong with this or that, or someone in the 100 ask the wrong question. He did a marvelous job on so many fronts. But in the end, I think he was mentally overwhelmed to be at Alabama and simply cracked under pressure that wasn’t even there. It was all in his mind.

Next – Conclusion – Where do we go from here?