Monday, November 27, 2006

Sometimes it just isn't meant to be

I had meant to write about the controversy swirling around Mike Shula before his job title became former Alabama head football coach today, but life gets in the way sometimes. Now seems like as good a time as any to take care of that.

I didn't think they would go through with it this year, but ultimately, I think UA officials' decision to fire Shula, painful though it may have been, was the right one. (That assumes, of course, that they have a solid finalist or two lined up and ready to take the job, which may be too big of an assumption.)

In fairness, Shula inherited very difficult circumstances and did good work in the last four years stabilizing the Crimson Tide in a time of NCAA probation and chaos after the mid-spring Mike Price firing. Shula also has recruited admirably and went 10-2 just last year, including an explosive home win over Florida.

But the 2005 season's gaudy record masked a lot of underlying problems -- most notably, that Shula's squads, especially in the last couple of years, almost invariably played to the level of their competition, relying on a killer defense to seal the deal week after week. The defense remained strong after last year's stars left, but it just wasn't strong enough to win SEC games single-handedly as the 2005 edition did time and again.

Shula also continued throughout this year to make downright bizarre decisions that you just shouldn't see from a fourth-year head coach. (Going for two against Auburn in the second quarter, going to the run late in the Arkansas game when the pass had proved unstoppable all day, and continually calling runs up the middle after they were stopped over and over are three key examples.) Shula also often didn't seem to adjust his strategy or personnel in the middle of a game, which in all likelihood cost the Tide wins in at least the Arkansas and Auburn games. The year-
long insistence on ultra-conservative offensive play-calling also kept Alabama's skill players from fully showing their stuff.

This season's team wasn't SEC championship caliber, but it had too much talent and too soft of a schedule to finish merely 6-6. The Tide didn't seem to get any better during the course of the season, and that lackluster trend sealed the head coach's fate.

Still, I cannot overstate how much of a class act Shula has been during his tenure at the Capstone, and the statement he released today in response to his firing reveals that he still is. Most of his remarks are devoted to thanking his players and assistants, and though he easily could have left it at that, he closes by reiterating his support and best wishes for the alma mater he clearly still loves. Shula is a loyal Tide man who did the best he could to try to restore Alabama to national football prominence, and I wish him great success in the future, be it in coaching or elsewhere. Interim Alabama coach Joe Kines said it all today: "This is the greatest game in America. Sometimes it's not a very good business."

Meanwhile, all of the publicly available information suggests that UA athletics director Mal Moore has handled the situation terribly to this point. First, Moore waited until nine days after the regular season ended to announce a decision that had been rumored to be in the making for weeks. Then he held off on telling Shula about the firing until after the coaches' Sunday night meeting with the players. That meant many players first heard about a momentous change in their lives from television and websites instead. I've heard that one of the players at the press conference was near tears today when he read Shula's statement for the first time. He hadn't even had a chance to meet with the coach yet.

Shula is a good man who deserved the right to break the difficult news to the team himself. Moore should be ashamed that he didn't give the coach that opportunity.


Anonymous Dan said...

Yeah I think I'm over being upset about it. I'm starting to think Shula leaving is a good thing. Maybe he can come back as our quarterback coach. That'd be too funny, I guess.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shula was cut way enough slack. He is a good man who was unable to do the job required of him. I agree with you about Mal Moore. Not a lot of class and Shula deserved that.

4:05 PM  

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