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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?