Forum Classics

The Future by way of the past, Part 5

Posted by Xen Scott on February 08, 2003

Here comes the hard part. Making sense of the previous posts. What does it mean for the future - this mess we have made over the past decade? Having numerous strategic blunders, making poor hires, fielding some of the poorest teams in 50 years, falling behind other schools in terms of facilities and management skills, fostering vicious infighting, and reaping the severest of NCAA sanctions are all the product of one thing Ė lack of leadership.

Iím a great proponent of moving on past Coach Bryant. But one thing he provided that we havenít had since was unquestioned authority and leadership over our athletic dominion. To this day we have yet to find a way to fill the vacuum left by Coachís retirement and untimely death. Had he lived a few more years, he could have been a steadying influence during the transition away from his coaching days. Unfortunately, fate didnít allow us that luxury.

Even though I pinpointed Sorensenís arrival as the genesis of our troubles, truth is one could just as easily see all of the same strains and tensions of the Sorensen years in Joab Thomasís relationship with Ray Perkins and the athletic program in general Ė that the football program was something that needed to be controlled by the academic wing of the University Ė that it was something that had to be put in its proper place and perspective vis a vis the University as a whole Ė that somehow football detracted from greater things that the University should be doing.

Actually, I think this a noble sentiment, although a misguided one. And I believe it led to a number of decisions regarding personnel and long range planning that through a tragic change of events has landed us where we are now. The notion that big time athletics canít co-exist with academics is at best laughable. Furthermore, the idea that one can divorce football from the fundamental psyche of Alabama students, graduates, fans and supporters is even more laughable. A large part of the fabric of our love for this school and in a larger sense our culture is informed by the images and experience we share through our beloved football team. In short, any attempt to ďde-emphasizeĒ football within the larger University is not only doomed to failure, it is fundamentally impossible.

In fairness, the failure to recognize and embrace this fundamental truth over the past decade is not the only cause for the failure of leadership. Limited resources available to the University itself from the state have only made worse the tensions between Rose Administration and the football complex. The blame for the lack of leadership runs to the highest levels of the State. The failure to put our stateís fiscal house in order, the starving of our universities has only served to force the University to seek alternative means of maintaining funding for its most basic missions. How could an anti athletic attitude not be present when the multi million dollar demands of the Universityís educational mission and infrastructure are contrasted with similar financial pressures on the athletic department to keep up with the Jonses of college football.

And what are the results of the past decade under this void of leadership Ė infighting, factionalism, stasis, half measures, poor on the field product, a soiled national image Ė in short disaster. Too many people in the Alabama orbit like to point to one event, or person as the cause of our troubles. But itís far too complicated for that. Without a strong leader with people to follow his direction you get the factionalism and infighting that inevitably lands you in the jailhouse. It produces disgruntled people who pursue narrow agendas without accountability. It breeds disharmony and discontent that our enemies exploit and feed off of. We donít have a good ole boy problem, or a booster problem, or a coaching problem, or a management problem, or an academic problem, or a financial problem. We have a leadership problem. Without a strong leader with the authority and power to back up what he says Ė good people become mediocre, weak people become useless, and bad people become cancerous.

So what do we do? I donít have all or maybe even part of the answers but I can offer up a few things. And I believe each follows the other.

First, we need help from the State. We can no longer starve our University. The lack of funds available to our University from our Stateís never ending fiscal crisis has produced the breeding conditions for the animosity between Rose and football. Without this fundamental commitment we will continue to be pitted against one another fighting over limited resources and handicapped in competing against other SEC schools whose states put their houses in order long ago.

Second, someone has to lead at the University level. Whether itís the Chancellor or the President Ė we have to have a commitment to excellence in athletics. We can have no more of the attitude that there is some rogue element in the AD that must be controlled. If we get that kind of leadership, we will eventually have someone who has the confidence of the community to lead us in new directions and make intelligent decisions in difficult circumstances. With a dynamic and strong leader who is committed to winning we wonít have NCAA or booster problems, weíll have people who are competent and have the resources and initiative to do their job in the athletic department, weíll have people who arenít disgruntled and feeding dirt back to the media. With a unified team under a real leader with a single purpose we will move forward and leave our problems behind us.

Third, we need to fix our ossified athletic department. Mal Moore is a good man who I believe has done the most admirable job in the midst of constant carnage since he left on the field coaching. Even if he wanted to, Mal doesnít have the resources or the backing to modernize our athletic department in terms of people or approaches. We need new blood when Mal retires. Our department suffers from rigid thinking, factionalism, and in many cases plain old stale bureaucracy. We need a housecleaning. Some folks need to retire and we need to hire some younger, dynamic people who are working under a different set of expectations and goals.

Fourth, finish the facilities program. No matter what happens in the next four years, if we finish what we have started, the future infrastructure to succeed will be in place.

Fifth, keep our nose clean. I donít think our so called group of good ole boys is nearly as bad as those at other universities. To hear Paul Finebaum act as if there is some secret cabal of alumni and boosters around our athletic programs that doesnít exist at every other university makes me want to puke. He knows better. Most of these so called good ole boys make that place go financially and have an institutional knowledge and connection to the program that shouldnít be dismissed. However, we are where we are. And for Alabama to cheat is inexcusable in any circumstance. I donít want bought players. They quit on you. Period. Anyone buying a player a happy meal should be shot at sunrise.

Sixth, some maturity from our fans is in order. We are going to lose a number of high profile recruits over the coming years because we canít pay players and our opponents will. Donít hyper ventilate when we lose some eighteen year old thug to another SEC school. It has more to do with whatís offered many times than who is offering. Also, cut the new coaches some slack. After all Iíve laid out here in recent days, does anyone think some of the things written here about Coach Price after a month on the job are even remotely fair or justified. Fill up the stadium and support these boys just like we did under Fran.

Seventh, spare a dime. Iíve ponied up to the new facilities program. Give what you can. Even if its twenty dollars. Every dime helps.

Finally, add your own. It starts getting to the level of the minute here because in truth it all flows from the first two things I have suggested about leadership.

Thank you for your attention and God Bless the University of Alabama.