Gridiron turmoil in Tuscaloosa state’s top story for 2006
By John Zenor
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY — Juwan Simpson has comforting words for Alabama fans and players.
The Crimson Tide linebacker has seen coaches come and go, get hired and fired, post big seasons, bad seasons and average seasons.
And experience has taught Austin High graduate Simpson this: It’s going to be OK. Really.
“It’s part of life,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen. You never know if the coach is going to be here 12 years or two days. You just never know. I’m one of those guys, I’ve pretty much been through it all and everything’s going to be OK.”
The latest episode in “As the Tide Turns” — Mike Shula’s firing and the coaching treasure hunt that ensued — was chosen by The Associated Press as the state’s top sports story of 2006.
Other top stories include Auburn’s
fifth consecutive Iron Bowl win — certainly a factor in No. 1 — and the new head
football and men’s basketball coaches at UAB.
Plus, there were league football titles at places like Troy, North Alabama and Alabama A&M.
But the Tide’s turmoil doesn’t even need an ending to top the list.
Alabama’s New Year’s resolution: Hire a coach who will win games and titles, beat Auburn and Tennessee more often than not and stick around for a calm, wildly successful decade or two.
When university brass fired Shula after a 6-6 record in his fourth season, that set the stage for a lengthy coaching search.
His job status turned shaky following an upset loss to Mississippi State late in the season.
Then, season-ending losses to Auburn and LSU ended the Tide’s hopes for a winning regular-season record and cemented athletic director Mal Moore’s decision to fire Shula.
All that overshadowed the Tide’s 34-31 Independence Bowl loss against Oklahoma State. Interim coach Joe Kines called the shots for the Tide. Alabama officials thought they had their man in West Virginia’s young and successful Rich Rodriguez, but he opted to stay put and got a pay raise out of the flirtation.
Then Moore’s search for a coach began anew, with the hottest, most persistent rumor concerning the Miami Dolphins’ Nick Saban coming to Tuscaloosa. Saban has repeatedly denied those rumors.
Seniors like Simpson and tailback Kenneth Darby are no longer surprised by much. They had already witnessed the comings and goings of coaches like Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Price.
“For all us old guys, the ones that have been here and been through it all, it’s nothing new to us,” Darby said. “We’ve been through it and seen it. For the younger guys, they really don’t understand it as well.
“We have to let them know it’s more a business than anything. It’s not like high school. It was fun in high school.”
The Tide players were expecting more fun this season. They were coming off a 10-2 record, and Shula appeared to have the program back on track.
Indeed, Alabama put up a fight on the road against Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee, but ended up with just three more frustrating defeats.
Even the wins were shaky. The Tide trailed winless Florida International 3-0 entering the second quarter and was down to Duke at halftime.
Then, the bottom fell out with the embarrassing loss to Mississippi State, which had lost 23 consecutive Southeastern Conference road games.
Top 10 sports stories for Alabama
Alabama head coach Mike Shula fired after 6-6 season.
Auburn claims fifth straight Iron Bowl win over Alabama.
UAB hires new basketball and football coaches.
Auburn football has topsy turvy season with big wins.
Alabama A&M, Troy, North Alabama win football titles.
Crimson Tide basketball team gets preseason ranking.
Ex-Alabama booster Logan Young dies in fall at his Memphis home.
Successful swimming and diving coach David Marsh leaves Auburn.
Samford hires Pat Sullivan as head football coach.
Brian Vickers claims first Nextel victory in controversial Talladega race.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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