(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Petrino signed a new seven-year contract in December 2010 after completing his third regular season at Arkansas. The contract, which was for an average of $3.53 million annually, had a clause in it that would allow Arkansas to dismiss Petrino for "engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the university, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of head football coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university's) athletics programs in any way."
To repeat: Petrino's family issued through the football program a statement saying that the accident "involved no other individuals." He reiterated that stance to at least one camera crew after his press conference following the wreck. He did not leave out details or choose "not to be more specific about those details." He lied about those details. He lied to his athletics department and his fans and his family. And he still appears to be lying to himself. As for Long, he's now been placed by his head coach into an unwinnable situation. Fire Petrino and try to hire a coach between now and opening day, and the likelihood is that the team will crash and burn and you'll be blamed for it. Keep Petrino and you become the poster child of everything that is wrong with college athletics.
It is such a mess. Can he go back to work after being at the center of this? How does he face his co-workers? His team? How does he sit down in a recruit's home on the couch and speak to the kid or his parents after this? Some people I spoke to Thursday night (several who work in college athletes) said they don't see how Petrino can survive this. Really? It wouldn't surprise me at all. While these are valid questions, we've seen repeated instances of coaches getting themselves into awkward and embarrassing situations time and time again and yet, if the guy is a winner, people will give them another chance. Lots of folks have short memories. A lot shorter than those it seems of the media--and rival fans. It happens so often we just shrug our shoulders whenever that guy later says something that sounds like pure rhetoric, and yet a thirsty fan base is usually right there to vigorously defend him and administrators and boosters are there to pay him lots of money provided the guy wins enough games and doesn't get stuck in any NCAA spiderwebs.
Saban is set to begin his sixth season as Alabama's coach, which is his longest stop in what had been a vagabond career. He never stayed longer than five seasons at any of his previous 12 coaching stops, from working as an assistant at schools such as Kent State, West Virginia and Ohio State to being the head coach at Toledo, Michigan State and LSU. "I was always going to be a head coach in the NFL someday -- that was, like, the next thing," Saban said. "When I left LSU after building a pretty good team and program there, I thought that was it. I loved [Dolphins owner] Wayne Huizenga. He's one of the best people in the world and was great to us. I'm indebted to him forever. But it wasn't the same." Along with not having complete control of his team's roster and personnel, Saban also realized that he couldn't simply outwork everyone else in the NFL. In college football, Saban is known as a tireless recruiter and detail-oriented CEO, which is a big reason why the Tide have a 48-6 record over the past four seasons. Saban demands a lot from his assistant coaches and everyone else associated with the Alabama program. "I loved coaching the NFL players," Saban said. "Everybody thinks it's the NFL players who are hard to get along with. I loved the NFL players and it was never a problem. It's just the rules of parity in that league make it difficult to create any advantage for yourself. I always thought my advantage was I was willing to outwork everybody to get better."
Ask any Alabama football player about Christion Jones and they smile. He’s like the class clown in the lecture hall not known for giggles. But the good times ran thin for the Crimson Tide sophomore receiver early this spring. He was pressing, coach Nick Saban said. So the teacher called him to his office. "(Jones) was trying to do everything perfectly," Saban said. "Really hadn’t played receiver that much and was trying to run everything exactly right. I said, ‘Look man, just play fast.’ " Randy Cook, Jones’ coach at Minor High School, also had a chat with his former player late last month after visiting an Alabama practice. "I didn’t feel like he stood out. He looked like everybody else," Cook said. "I said, ‘you have to impress somebody.’ " And he did. The suburban Birmingham product broke through in Saturday’s scrimmage. He led the team in receptions (7) yards (83) and scored on catches of 7 and 22 yards.
Much like 2010, Alabama will be inexperienced in the secondary next season with three of the four starters departing. It remains to be seen if the Crimson Tide can match up at cornerback the way they did a year ago. Moreover, when you’re plugging new players into the defensive backfield, there are always going to be growing pains. Remember the mental errors that plagued the Tide in the secondary in 2010? The best way to cover up those errors and help a secondary find its way while players learn on the job is to keep the opposing quarterback running for his life. That’s where (Adrian) Hubbard comes in. He’s had an excellent spring and will be counted on to fill Upshaw’s role next season. According to Upshaw, Hubbard will do more than just fill it. Upshaw as much as guaranteed last season that Hubbard would be a dominant player before his time was up at Alabama. That time is now.
Rising senior left guard Chance Warmack said the offensive line will be eager to do just that. Saban said the offense had trouble running the ball last Saturday in the first scrimmage. "I wouldn’t say trouble, but we know … we can do a lot better than what we have been doing," Warmack said. "I think this next scrimmage coming up we’ll be a lot better because we know the standard, the level of play that we need to be. So that’s good."
The run up to the redemptive title-game win wasn’t quite as celebratory. Kicking game questions lingered the last meeting with LSU. A combined 2-for-6 effort was shared by Shelley and long-distance specialist Cade Foster in November’s 9-6 loss. Shelley handled all seven tries in the rematch, making five. One was blocked and the other drifted to the right, but with the defensive effort Alabama mounted, the five proved more than enough. Now, it’s time to move on, he said. His third season sharing duties with Foster could involve extra competition. Alabama signed Adam Griffith, one the nation’s top kicking recruits who will enroll this summer. "It’s always great to have a new face," Shelley said. "Hopefully he’ll do great for our team. If he’s up there, it’s going to be great because he’s going to push us even further than we push each other. I’m looking forward to having him on campus."
The scrimmage is closed to the public. Safety Robert Lester said the UA secondary had a strong performance in the opening scrimmage and will look to build on that in the second. As for the offense, the line is among the most experienced units on the team, but even that group has its share of spring challenges. For left guard Chance Warmack, that means developing better cohesion. "Really, communication and just the connectivity of the offense line. We all want to be as one - not doing our little separate things," Warmack said. "We want to be together, making the same calls and following off the calls. (Center) Barrett (Jones) stressed it enough after the first scrimmage that we need to come together as an offensive line more and listen to each other more."
"There's a lot of areas that we want to improve on," said Robert Lester, who will be a fifth-year senior and a third-year starter this fall. "Less mental errors. Pick up on the loafs, stop loafing around. Just execute more. You can never be perfect out there, and we want to get as close to that as possible."
"If you're a power pitcher and you get 26 outs throwing fastballs, you ought not lose the game in the bottom of the ninth throwing a changeup," Saban said. "Jalston Fowler is what he is. He's a big guy who's hard to tackle and people don't like to tackle him." He also hasn't been the ideal guy for Alabama's inside linebackers to run into during a blitz. And because the Crimson Tide plays thud during its practices, which prevents defenders from bringing offensive players 100 percent to the ground, there haven't been as many opportunities to reciprocate the bruising contact. "He's going to hit the hole regardless if there's a defender or his own teammate. He's going to try to score every time he gets the ball," Warmack said of Fowler. "I respect that about him. He's a physical player. He runs the ball hard all the time, like he has a purpose, and I really respect that. "He's such an incredible back in terms of just hitting the hole."
The Rematch hadn't happened yet, but University of Alabama athletic director Mal Moore had seen enough. Moore was ready to secure coach Nick Saban's future at Alabama even more than it already was with a raise and an extension to his contract. The offer was on the table before Alabama defeated LSU, 21-0, to claim the 2011 BCS national championship. "I just felt that regardless of how the game came out, what a great job that he's done for Alabama," Moore told the AL.com Tuscaloosa bureau after his speech Thursday at the Homewood Rotary Club.
LSU enters Tuscaloosa on a 12-game winning streak, beating Nicholls State, 6-1 on Wednesday and sweeping Arkansas last weekend to sport a 28-8 overall record and a 10-1 mark in league action. LSU is hitting at a .263 clip and has tallied 10 home runs and 136 RBI. The Tigers have outscored their opponents 165-66. LSU is pitching at a 1.35 ERA and holding opponents to a meager .196 average. Juliana Santos leads the team with a .346 average in 29 games played. Ashley Langonia has provided the punch with five home runs and 24 RBI while adding a .341 average and a team-high 29 runs scored. In the circle, the duo of Rachele Fico and Brittany Mack return. Fico is 13-4 with an SEC leading 0.69 ERA and has struck out 109 in 111 2/3 innings pitched. Mack is 12-4 with a 1.89 ERA and has struck out 114 in 96 1/3 innings. Beth Torina is in her first season as the LSU head coach. Torina came to Baton Rouge from FIU where she compiled a 129-111 record in four seasons.
"He's incredibly powerful, first of all. He's naturally powerful. He can run through contact, and he's very quick laterally. He can stick his foot in the ground and accelerate. I'm a firm believer that it's more important to be a great NFL back, to have lateral explosion as opposed to vertical explosion. In fact, I would argue that top-end speed -- which is the only thing that Richardson is theoretically lacking -- is way down the list of important attributes for a feature back."
"Any stuff on that is so closely guarded. I don't know if you saw Harry Potter, but in the basement of this building, it's guarded by serpents and wild dogs and things like that, and you can go try to find the secret to that, but chances of survival -- always a risk. Heck, it took until movie five before he got it done himself, and he had magic powers."