Forum Classics

The Future by way of the past, Part 1

Posted by Xen Scott on February 06, 2003


I wasn't going to post this epistle until after signing day. Well, it's after signing day so here goes.

Maybe 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." Not smart.

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.

Every 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.

But, 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.

Stallings 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.

When 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 the problem.

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.

Like 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.

Enter 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.

In 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 anything.

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.

I will 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.