Gottfried's Tide heart beats strong
TUSCALOOSA — Mark Gottfried remembers the smirks and laughs he would get. At a school with a tradition unequaled in college athletics, with the aura of John Wooden and those 11 national titles, saying it was darn good comedy.
"When I was at UCLA, I'd tell those guys that I just want to come back and be the head basketball coach at The University of Alabama," Gottfried said. "They'd all scratch their heads like,
Gottfried meant it. And now here he is, more than a decade later, settling into his eighth season as head coach at Alabama — an eternity by modern college basketball standards. Even he says it, "eighth," with squinted eyes and a slight recoil of the head, seemingly in disbelief.
Eight years. Seems like only yesterday that Gottfried, then 34, accepted the Tide job after three sterling seasons at small, but basketball-nuts, Murray State. He had moved there from UCLA, where he was an assistant for seven years, the last one of which was the Bruins' 1995 national title year.
Two slow seasons followed his arrival in Tuscaloosa, and the third was a snoozer until the Tide advanced to the NIT finals in New York City. The very next season, Alabama went 27-8 and won the regular season Southeastern Conference title, its first since 1987.
Some disappointments have followed, namely Alabama's rise to the No. 1 ranking in the country in the middle of the 2002-03 season, only to follow that with a 7-9 league mark and a quick ushering out of the NCAA tournament in the first round.
The next season, Alabama fulfilled some of that promise by advancing to the final eight. Gottfried's Tide won the SEC Western Division last year, but failed to make noise in the NCAA tournament with a first-round loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Glorious exit or not, it was still a long way from his first game as a head coach in Murray State's old Cutchin Fieldhouse in 1995.
"You look back — we all learn from our mistakes," Gottfried said. "This will be my 11th year as a head coach. My first year at Murray State, I was scared to death."
This latest offseason brought Gottfried a reward that helped signal Alabama's confidence in his coaching. He was given a raise to $1 million a year and an extension of his contract through 2011.
The deal placed him third among the league's basketball coaches in terms of total pay, trailing Kentucky's Tubby Smith ($2.5 million) and Florida's Billy Donovan ($1.7 million). Most importantly (and curiously), the deal placed him first on his own campus.
Gottfried is quick to point out that such lofty status will change soon. He's probably right, too, since athletics director Mal Moore has said that a raise and contract extension for football coach Mike Shula, fresh off a 9-2 season, is imminent. Shula makes $900,000 a year.
But the basketball coach making more money than the football coach at Bear Bryant's Alabama?
"I'll be happy when Mike Shula gets a raise," Gottfried said, smiling.
Gottfried, too, is in a comfortable position because of the multi-million dollar renovation to his home arena and office, Coleman Coliseum. The Tide gets its share of national attention. Alabama is usually in the bidding for second-best honors, marquee-wise, following Kentucky. Given those tools, Gottfried could be around for a long, long time.
Gottfried's tenure at Alabama seems to be comfortable. The program is in decent shape, with Ron Steele and Athens High's Richard Hendrix possibly around for a few more years. At 41 years old, Gottfried has a few decades left on his career, and right now, the school's administration seems to have given him the correct votes of confidence.
For that, he's grateful.
"There's just a handful of coaches who have coached at one place for a long, long time," Gottfried said. "I want to be one of those guys."