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The Future by way of the past, Part 3

Posted by Xen Scott on February 06, 2003

An apology - I couldn't cover all the ground I promised in the previous post. This may be it for today unless I get a chance tonight. I am not claiming to have all the answers. But part of this process is hashing all this through in my own mind. I filled in a few things here and there that I would have never posted even six months ago, but after wrestling with it for a while, it's time to hang the laundry out because, as I said previously, we are never going to emerge from this mess until we - mature Bama supporters - get a complete handle on how we got here.

I wouldn't put anything in writing here if I thought at this point it could damage my beloved Alma Mater - most of this stuff is old, sad news. It's just never been laid out in an organized fashion.


Part Three – A Storm and an Unworthy Ship

Shortly after signing day, we were turned in by at least four maybe five schools for recruiting violations. The funniest thing is that every single one of them were notorious cheaters themselves. Whether it was fear of a Bama resurgence (Coach Bryant left the Spurriers and Fulmers of the world deeply scarred), that we had gotten too deep in some people’s backyards or we violated some unwritten recruiting rules one too many times, I do think this was uncoordinated. Word started to bubble up that the NCAA was snooping around on us a few months later, but nothing to indicate they were coming to campus – the death knell.

Meanwhile, Mike had made the S&C program voluntary when some upper classmen started complaining. The lunatics were taking over the asylum. Coaches were at each others throats – enjoying the spoils of success and biting each others backs at the same time. Little thought was being given to the upcoming season. Mike was back on top again and sowing his oats as well.

During an intensely hot August it was apparent to many that the players were out of shape, the tempo of the practices were lethargic and everyone was going through the motions. Mike demanded nothing, had no authority to enforce anything anyway, commanded no respect from his players or coaches and was nothing more than a figurehead. Players routinely sassed their position coaches and disobeyed them during practice. When this happened, Mike undermined his assistants and let the players off – the “players coach.”

Then the trip to Pasadena exposed the fraud once and for all. We saw it all. An Alabama team get physically whipped by a mediocre UCLA team. An out of shape Shaun Bohannon who made it to practice only a few weeks before who was visibly out of shape and not ready to play. Etc. etc..

What was apparent to many was that this wasn’t going to turn around in the coming weeks. And it didn’t. After we got pummeled by USM, I think everyone who had any insight into the situation knew Mike was finished. He had lost the team and would never get it back. There are so many things I could say about that season, but they have been said over and over again.

Mike’s behavior was erratic at best. He was having early morning chant sessions in his office, making references to divine providence all the time, and basically letting practices run (if you could even apply such a term) themselves. After Central Florida, Mike knew the jig was up. In reality, it was probably up after Billy Neighbors sat next to Mal at Tennessee and they both had had enough – along with a boatload of other people.

When Mike was dismissed, the NCAA almost simultaneously showed up on campus. Nothing could have been more inopportune. Sorensen wanted to form a committee for a search for a new coach but was flatly overruled by the BOT athletic group under the thought that we hired Mal to do a job – let him do it. The Board knew that the only thing Sorensen would do is muck it up again.

There are a number of popular myths about the coaching search – not the least of which is that Tommy Bowden was offered the job. We all know Ricky Davis now. Well ole Ricky tried like heck to get Tommy the job. Problem is, Mal wouldn’t call him back. He called everyone from the Drummonds to Jeff Rouzie to try to get Tommy’s foot in the door. It didn’t happen.

A deal was struck with Butch Davis. That’s a fact. What happened before it was consummated was that Phil, Tommy Tuberville and Nutt got to him, told him the NCAA was going to crush us and he didn’t want to go through that again. After Davis fell through, Mal knew he had to get a pure football coach who could do more with less, was a disciplinarian, and a leader – both to fix Mike’s problems and to get us through a potentially rough set of sanctions.

Dennis Franchione fit that bill perfectly. And as Mal looked it and got feedback from Larry Lacewell and others, it was clear that he was the right man. And, despite what he did to us later, he was at the time.

Meanwhile, the NCAA interviews went badly. No active players had anything to offer up. Ronnie was of course offended and defensive. Ivy talked to the press. Mike threw up his hands and said he didn’t have any clue what his staff was doing – effectively throwing us under the bus wheels. I’m told he even remarked to Neil Calloway that he (CNC) needed to get a lawyer. Neil said he hadn’t done anything and Mike told him he had. All in all, a bizarre exchange. Furthermore, Mike also told Mal on his way out that to add insult to injury – the player who really caused this – Albert Means – was a bust.

In the ensuing panic, Sorensen found himself again empowered. Marsh and Robbins were set up to handle it under the theory that Marsh was an NCAA insider and could mitigate the damage. In truth, the panic was largely overwrought. In feeling like a vigorous defense had gotten us nailed before and believing that our repeat offender status would be used against us, it was decided, by Gene Marsh and Sorensen, to in effect aid the NCAA in convicting us – using the “cooperative principle” to mitigate the damage. Given that they (Marsh and Sorensen) started from a standpoint that we were guilty that seemed to them the logical course. What they failed to understand was this was a high profile case – not something that shows up in the Weekly Shopper once. Cooperation would only cede our defenses and make it easier for them to arrive at where they were going from the day the Means story broke – to cripple us.

What Fran found was a mess of giant proportions. While he did a marvelous job of fixing the football problems, he also was ill suited emotionally for what he was to face off the football field.

Next – Restoring pride, the strategy fails, the response, and Fran hits the road.