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A Special Presentation of The McLaughlin Group

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Welcome to this edition of the McLaughlin group.  Today's topic: Alabama football, and more specifically the recent firing of head coach Mike Shula.  With me, to my left, are Nico and Todd, the authors of the weblog "Roll Bama Roll."  Hello Nico.


Thank you, John, it's good to be here.


And good to see you, Todd.


Yeah.


And to my right, The Ghost of Dennis Franchione...


I'm sorry, Ghost?  I'm not dead.


WRONG! You were killed by Bob Stoops in November of 2003!  And also with us, university mascot "Big Al," and what appears to be a cheerleader.


My Liege compels me to tell you that, in the power vacuum created by the departure of the one you call Shula, he has taken command of the Bama nation and you will refer to him as "King Al."  He also compels me to tell you that he no longer desires to speak with mere humans, but will instead communicate his will through his concubine.


Very well, your majesty.  Issue One: The firing of Mike Shula.  He was hired during a difficult period for the university and showed impeccable character while dealing with NCAA probation, taking the team to a bowl the first year back from a bowl ban, and going 10-2 last season with a win in the Cotton Bowl.  Question:  Did Mike Shula deserve to be fired?  Nico.


Yes, unfortunately. Even not counting his first season, the results just haven't been there. 0-19 when trailing at the beginning of the fourth quarter is a terrible, terrible statistic to be associated with. Even worse than that though is that I haven't gotten a sense over the last few years that the team is improving from the first game to the last game. The team is either not progressing or regressing and that's a bigger signifier of trouble than wins and losses to me.


I agree, and if the reports that his big plan for reviving the offense was to simply shuffle a staff that hasn't produced yet are true then I feel like he isn't head coach material and it's best that we get him out of here now before we suffer through another season.


But he was hired with the full knowledge that he had never held a coaching position in college and had never been a head coach anywhere.


That's true, but after four years, three if you disregard the first season, we have a pretty good handle on whether or not he's been learning on the job or if he just isn't cut out for it.  His obstinance when it comes to the staff and the discipline problems that have sprung up over the course of the season tells me that he doesn't know how to deal with his players well and that he's either unwilling or unable to recognize that sometimes you just have to fire someone.


My Liege compels me to tell you that he feels Shula was unworthy to enter his kingdom, and is happy for his death.


What?


Coach Shula wasn't killed, he was fired.


My Liege compels me to tell you that he should have been.


At least he didn't steal away in the middle of the night...oh wait...nevermind...that was me wasn't it?


Yeah, that was you.


My Liege compels me to tell you that he desires your death as well.


If I am not mistaken, he already is your majesty.  Issue Two: The new hire.  Interim head coach Joe Kines has been responsible for several seasons worth of dominating defenses, and many say it is his efforts alone that have kept Alabama from utter destruction on the playing field.  Question:  Should Kines be promoted to Head Coach?  Nico.


Not at all. While I have the utmost respect for what Coach Kines has accomplished with the defense, Alabama is desperately in need of a proven leader. Our two experiments with hiring coordinators (DuBose and Shula) didn't go so well, so I think we need to stay away from that for the time being.


I was temporarily in favor of promoting Kines after the afternoon press conference, but have since changed my mind.  Nico's right, we need someone who is a proven HC.  I guess it was so nice to see someone behind the podium with a little fire and determination to them after the four seasons of perplexed looks and "uh, well" coming from Shula that it got me a little giddy about the prospect of having someone that acted the part of coach around again.  


My Liege compels me to tell you that Kines lives at my pleasure, and would do well to stay my wrath.


Again, what?  You're a mascot! You don't have any sway over the football program and you're certainly not going to kill anyone!


My Liege compels me to tell you that you shall soon join Dennis Franchione in the realm of ghost and shadow.


I am NOT dead.


...


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....


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Of course you're not, Coach Franchione.  So if Kines isn't the choice to replace Shula, who is?  Nico.


I really have no idea. I've heard several names: Spurrier, Saban, Rodriguez, Petrino, Grobe, etc...but who knows how viable any of them are. Spurrier and Saban have said they aren't interested, but coaches say that all the time before accepting jobs (though I believe Spurrier.) I really have no idea who it'll be, but I just hope the revolving door on the coach's office in T-Town is finally replaced with a real door.


My Liege compels me to tell you that the job has been filled, and any that dare challenge hi...


Oh give it a rest.


My Liege compels me to...


...tell me that he'll eat me. I get it.  Anyway, of all the names that have been tossed around, the two that are most intriguing to me are Steve Kragthorpe of Tulsa and Jim Grobe at Wake Forest.  Kragthorpe runs an effective offense and has done more with less talent than a lot of coaches manage with blue chippers.  Grobe won at Ohio (NOT STATE) and has Wake Forest playing for the ACC champinship this weekend.  I think both coaches are "program builders" that would hang around for awhile and once/if they leave will leave us in good shape.


And what chance do you think of pulling in them in?


I'm fairly sold on Gobe at the moment.  During AD Moore's press conference he didn't seem in too big of a hurry to get going on the coaching search, which leads me to believe that someone is already hired and they're just waiting to announce him.  Grobe would request that no announcement be made until after the ACC Championship game to cut down distractions for himself and his players, so I'm looking for an announcement Sunday.


Issue: Missed Opportunities: Sylverster Croom wanted the job at Alabama, but was passed over for Mike Shula. Should Bama have hired Croom instead? Todd.


I still say Shula was the right call at the time.  After all the scandal that the program had been through, courting controversy would have been foolish, and hiring the first black head coach in the SEC would have done nothing but intensify the scrutiny on Alabama.


Would Croom have done better in the position?


I doubt it.  Certain situations might have been different.  I would find it hard to believe that the players would so publicly question their coach and his decisions like we've seen on the sidelines this season if Croom were the head man, but I don't think his win-loss ratio would have been any different.  Granted, the situations at MSU and Bama were vastly different, but he's displayed the same stubborn mindedness of Shula in changing his coaching philosophy.  I feel that, if Croom had been hired, we would still be here having this conversation, but instead of the usual "Alabama fans just can't be satisfied" conversation, we'd be discussing the race issue and be the subject of national media scrutiny and scorn.  Look at Notre Dame, they still aren't past the Willingham firing.


My Liege compels me to tell you that Croom would have fallen to his mighty tusks, if only he were only given the chance.


Very well, your majesty.  Question:  Did the university handle this situation well? Todd


This could have been handled last week before the holiday, but instead the university left it hanging for a week and left the staff spending Thanksgiving wondering if they had a job.  I fully believe the decision was all but made after the Iron Bowl loss, and if they had planned to give Shula a chance to argue his case then it should have been done shortly after, not yesterday.  Further, I have a problem with letting him conduct a team meeting while thinking he still had his job.  He deserved to know and more importantly the players deserved to know the status of the program.  Letting them meet to discuss bowl preperations and such and then telling them afterwards the guy you just met with isn't your coach anymore just doesn't seem right to me.


That's a good point about the team meeting. That's definately something that makes me lean towards thinking it was handled poorly. I tend to agree with Ray Melick's column on Thursday that the school's handling of Shula isn't terribly different from Franchione's handling of his departure. While I became an increasingly vocal critic of Shula as the season progressed, I still really like him as a person and hate to see him strung along like he was last week.


Final Thoughts:


I disagree with the handling of the situation and wish that Shula could have succeeded here, but when it comes down to it he just isn't head coaching material, at least not yet, and Alabama isn't the kind of place to learn on the job.  Moore and Witt made the right decision, and I can only hope that they make two right decisions by hiring someone that's capable of handling this position.


I echo Todd's sentiments in wishing that Shula would've succeeded here. It had all the makings of a great story: QB and son of an NFL coaching legend returns to his alma mater and leads the program out of the wreckage of probation into glory. It would've played very well to Alabama fan's love of legend and "coming home when mamma calls." Unfortunately, it didn't work out, but I wish Coach Shula success in whatever endeavors he might undertake in the future and I can only hope that the next coach walking the sideline at Bryant-Denny Stadium sticks around the Druid City for many, many, many years.


My Liege compels me to tell you that Shula is but a memory, one you will cherish under the yoke of my iron will.


Still not dead...