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Here we go again: Instability at Alabama

Here we go again.

Another Alabama football coach, another uncertain future for the troubled Crimson Tide program.

Those who love The University and its gridiron tradition are probably feeling more uneasy than ecstatic in the departure of coach Mike Shula. Many felt that he deserved another year.

While his firing may have been inevitable, it surely adds to the instability that has plagued Alabama.

Seven coaches have come and gone in the 24 years since Paul "Bear" Bryant retired. Before that, the Bear maintained his gruff brand of stability for 25 years.

Fans learned a lesson in the turmoil. They often criticized coach Gene Stallings for his boring offense, but they learned to appreciate the wins that his great defense produced. An older coach, he was supposed to be a bridge to the future. After subsequent embarrassment, NCAA penalties and repeated failures, many wish the bridge had stretched a little longer.

Unlike Coach Stallings, Coach Shula failed on several fronts. With a top-notch defense recruited for the most part by Coach Shula's predecessors, the Tide was 10-2 with a Cotton Bowl victory last year. But Coach Shula failed to produce consistent winning seasons, resulting in a 26-23 record overall. He failed to defeat his biggest opponents. He failed to beat Auburn in four tries. Call it conservative style or lack of imagination, but the Crimson Tide offense often failed during Coach Shula's tenure, especially once it got inside opponents' 20-yard line.

But, mostly, Coach Shula failed to instill a sense of confidence in the direction of the program. Indecision blanketed his face on the field and in front of the camera. He showed hesitance in replacing assistants who didn't get the job done.

The quality of coaching candidates seemed questionable when The University hired Coach Shula. He came with the pedigree from his father, former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, but his record and personality raised doubts about his abilities. The hire in the wake of the disgraced departure of Mike Price gave the sense of a rush job.

In May, riding the high hopes and expectations of last season's success, The University extended Coach Shula's contract through 2012, giving him a raise that brought his salary to $1.55 million per year.

This season's disappointment all but erased the success of 2005.

Athletics Director Mal Moore said Monday that he is undertaking a national search for "a proven head coach with a proven record of achievement."

Let's hope Mr. Moore delivers this time.

Let's hope he hires a coach who can restore stability to a program with a proud past.

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