Many of you have lovingly dubbed the last few seasons of Alabama Football "Club Shula," and rightfully so. We unfortunately grew accustomed to a lack of effort and discipline from the team, and even though I stood up for the man and his efforts at discipline in this space the Juwan Simpson "ice cream" affair and subsequent non-punishment made my words, in hindsight, ring fairly hollow. That lack of focus and discipline didn't just involve players doing foolish things in their personal lives, either. It meant that their strength and conditioning was lacking, that they would visibly take plays off during the games, and openly question their coaches on the sidelines. The Tide's marked inability to stage a successful comeback late in the game or, even more damning, hold off an opponent's rally during the Shula years was a testament to his inability to get his players ready and to his players' lack of care or concern for the opportunity they had been given.
All that was to change with the arrival Nick Saban, right? We all had high hopes that his brutal S&C "Fourth Quarter Program" would end the late game collapses and allow the team to not only hold onto a lead but to take one away from a decent opponent. There was also the belief his demanding (both on the field and off) coaching style would keep players in line, but all that went out the window on July 14th when several Brandon Fanney, Brandon Deadrick, and Roy Upchurch were all arrested outside the Legacy in Tuscaloosa. It all went downhill from there, with Simeon Castille earning a visit to the Tuscaloosa County Jail not long afterwards, and players getting suspended or losing their starting jobs left and right for violations of team rules, getting involved in "the impermissable receipt of textbooks," or simply having a poor attitude and work ethic. Off the top of my head;
1. Keith Brown losing his starting position to Mike McCoy.
2. Prince Hall sitting the opener for violation of team rules, and losing time to true freshman Rolando McClain and previously unused walk on Darren Mustin.
3. Lionel Mitchell's benching against Florida State for a poor work ethic in practice.
4. The loss of Antoine Caldwell and Glen Coffee (among others) after possible NCAA violations involving the improper receipt of textbooks (which Coffee would later admit he knew was wrong) hours before the Tennessee game.
5. DJ Hall drawing a suspension on Senior Day.
I'm sure y'all can come up with more, but that's just off the top of my head, and that doesn't include the poor performance of the team down the stretch. It seemed as if, after taking LSU to the wall before letting the game slip away late, the team gave up on the season. The late season collapses under Shula clearly had many on the team convinced that once they started losing, there was nothing they could do about it and refused to buy into the new staff's way of thinking to frustration of the coaches, the fans, and their fellow players who were grateful for the opportunities that playing big time college ball means and wanted to do things right. The staff is now evaluating who "might want to seek playing time elsewhere next season," and I'm sure you are as interested as I am to see just who is involved in the exodus to come and who will remain, only to be supplanted by incoming freshman.