As expected, Mike Shula has been fired as head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team.
Shula told his assistant coaches late Sunday night that Alabama athletic director Mal Moore had dismissed him, The Tuscaloosa News reported on its Web site. Reached at home, Moore declined comment. The university said he would hold a news conference Monday in the football office at 2 p.m. CT.
A shame for Shula, who is a genuinely decent guy and who faced ridiculously high expectations for a program on NCAA probation. Still, you can’t lose four years in a row to Auburn and keep coaching at Bama.
As I noted when Larry Coker was fired at Miami, this is just the nature of big time college football. While the Tide hasnâ€™t been as successful of late as the Hurricanes, it has many more championships over its history. Fans of such programs are not patient, nor do they fully understand that competing for a title every year is very difficult in the modern age of limited scholarships, closer NCAA scrutiny, and comparative parity.
The speculation about successors has already begun, with South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier an obvious choice. Defensive coordinator Joe Kines, named interim coach, is a long shot. This early in the process, Alabama will have a lot more options than it did last go-round, when Mike Price got dumped in the middle of the summer after an embarrassing scandal involving a rather unattractive stripper.
UPDATE: The Huntsville Times notes that Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban, Navy coach Paul Johnson, and Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe are among the other names being “bandied about” on various fan fora. There’s no way on earth Saban would be interested. Johnson is an intriguing choice, indeed, though. If you can win at Navy, you can win anywhere.
UPDATE: More on Johnson:
Johnson took over a program that had posted a 1-20 record the previous two years before his arrival in 2002. After a 2-10 mark in his first year, the Navy football program has achieved what many thought was no longer possible at an Academy, as Johnson has brought the Midshipmen back in to the national spotlight with a 26-11 (.703) record over the last three years. The Mids’ 26 wins over that time span equals the most in school history over a three-year period.
In 2005, despite returning the fewest starters in the country, Johnson led the Midshipmen to an 8-4 record, a school-record third-consecutive bowl game and a school-record second-straight bowl win. More importantly, Navy swept Academy rivals Air Force and Army to win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy for a third-straight year, which is also a Navy first.
After Johnson took over as head coach at Georgia Southern in 1997, he returned the Eagle program to national prominence statistically and in the won-lost ledger. In addition to Georgia Southern’s 62-10 mark, the Eagles scored 2,855 points (39.7 points per game), picked up 25,941 rushing yards (360.3 yards per game), 7,816 passing yards (108.6 yards per game) and 33,757 total yards (468.8 yards per game). GSU scored 380 touchdowns in the Johnson Era, an average of 5.3 per game. The Eagles’ scoring margin under Johnson was +21.5 (39.7-18.5).
Johnson picked up a milestone victory in the 2000 I-AA National Championship Game against Montana. Not only did the 27-25 victory give Georgia Southern its second-straight national title, but it was Johnson’s 50th-career win in four seasons. Only three other coaches in the history of Division I football have won 50 or more games in four seasons, as Johnson joined Walter Camp (1888-1891, 54-2 at Yale), George Woodruff (1892-1895, 53-4 at Penn) and Bob Pruett (1996-99, 50-4 at Marshall) on the exclusive list.
Update: ESPN’s Ivan Maisel is pessimistic that the Tide will hire someone really good.
After a week in which Alabama forced head coach Mike Shula to the edge of the plank, the university pushed him off Sunday night, firing the former Crimson Tide quarterback after four seasons. Athletic director Mal Moore made the formal announcement on Monday afternoon.
Shula took an impossible job, replacing a scandalized Mike Price in May 2003. He went 26-23 while trying to rebuild a roster depleted by NCAA penalties. Shula, hired by Alabama despite his lack of head coaching experience, didn’t learn quickly enough to suit his employer. He couldn’t overcome his poor record against the Tide’s archrivals. His last victory over Auburn came in 1985, when he played quarterback.
That coach will need to come in and resuscitate a program that has spent the last 10 years creating its own problems, chief among them NCAA probation, infighting and bad hiring decisions. The next coach will be the fifth since Gene Stallings retired 10 years ago.
Perhaps the powers that be at the Capstone finally realize what the rest of the college football community understood about three or four Tide head coaches ago. The Alabama name doesn’t carry the weight that it once did. Ask recruits, teenagers too young to remember when Alabama ruled the SEC West.
“Alabama is not a factor anymore,” said a former Crimson Tide assistant who still actively recruits the South.
Alabama hasn’t hired anyone remotely similar to the right guy since Stallings came in 1990. That’s Gene Stallings, who had a losing record at Texas A&M and a losing record with the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals. He returned to Alabama, won the 1992 national championship and four of the first five SEC West championships and retired with a 70-16-1 record in seven seasons.
There’s no reason to think that Moore or a powerful trustee named Paul Bryant Jr. will hire the right guy this time. They’ve had more opportunities than most and they haven’t done so yet. It comes as little solace to Alabama fans these days, but the right guy is rarely the obvious one.
Still, this is a premium job. I would target an up-and-comer who has proven himself at the lower levels, like Ohio State did with Jim Tressel. The Tide did it with then-TCU coach Dennis Franchione, who had a good run with the team before jumping ship after an NCAA smackdown to take the Texas A&M gig.
UPDATE: Mike Shula’s statement:
I am deeply disappointed to be fired as the Head Football Coach at the University of Alabama. From my very first day on this job, I had a single mission: To return the Crimson Tide to its place among the elite programs in college football. Although I maintain that we were moving steadily in that direction, I regret sincerely that I will not be given the opportunity to finish the job I was hired to do.
I am forever grateful to my loyal coaching staff, who worked so tirelessly to help us overcome the difficulties we faced during these past four years. Despite inherited restrictions, including probation and scholarship limits, our teams played with integrity and commanded respect. Our 10-2 record in 2005 was no fluke; it was evidence of a program on the rise. Although the past season was not as fulfilling, it was nevertheless a season that witnessed the emergence of several young players who will help the Crimson Tide win big in the years to come.
I want to thank our players and their families for committing to our mission. I am sorry that our record this past year did not reflect your passion and commitment to winning. When we met Sunday night, I fully believed that I was going to remain the head coach at the University. I apologize that you did not learn about my firing from me. Do not let the circumstances of my firing allow you to lose your focus. Do not let this transition rob you of your potential for greatness. Together with the talented recruits who have committed to join the Tide next year, I am fully confident that the pieces are in place for you to accomplish great things.
Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank those of you who made our four-year stay at Alabama a rewarding experience. Your kindness toward me, Shari and our family will be remembered fondly.
In closing, I leave Alabama proud that the football program is a better place than the one I inherited four years ago. Although time will ultimately gauge the depth of our progress, I am confident that the return on our efforts will be realized by the University and its football community.
As a former player and a graduate of this great University, I wish the program great success in the years ahead. Roll Tide.
Classy, as always.
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