The two questions in the title of this post are the two I most frequently receive from fans of other teams (particularly non-SEC teams.)
I was planning on addressing this in a post at some point and wound up more or less writing it on a message board yesterday. So, instead of recreating that into a new work, I'm going to more or less reproduce that post (with a few additions and subtractions) from the message board.
The words of the poster asking me questions are in grey, my responses are in plain text.
I think there are two reasons why they did it:
1 - The program needs stability and a coach without scandal. We're on our fourth coach since the year 2000. That's not good...at all. The three prior to Shula all embarrassed themselves and/or the university (whether directly or indirectly):
a) Mike DuBose had an extramarital affair with an athletic department secretary.
b) Dennis Franchione bailed on the team in a time of trouble to go to a program that is a step down.
c) Mike Price went on a drunken bender at a topless bar and then some woman that he wasn't married to charges $1,000 worth of room service to his hotel room
In 2003, for the first time in a long time (maybe the first time ever), stability was as important (and probably more important) than winning. They needed somebody safe, somebody low key. They went with Mike Shula
2 - He's improved every year:
Clean cut family guy = good for the University in '03
Perhaps, but remember, they needed someone they absolutely knew WOULD NOT CAUSE PROBLEMS or draw unwanted attention. He's accomplished that, and he's improved every year despite very difficult circumstances. Do you fire a coach for a 10-2 season? Shula is an Alabama alum. He knew about the microscope that people live under in Tuscaloosa because he had already experienced it as a QB. Not only does he want to do the university proud, he also has a family name to look out for. Even though we haven't produced USC level offensive fireworks, I don't believe you can fire a guy based on what could happen this year after a 10-2 season.
I don't see how going 10-2 under the circumstances isn't a success story. Regarding last season, it doesn't matter if you can only score 18 points if you'r defense can hold teams to 10 points. Obviously the D won't be that monstrous every year, but it did what it had to do. Everyone thought the explosive Texas Tech offense was going to melt Alabama's D in the Cotton Bowl and they were held to 10 points and the smallest amount of total offense they put up the entire season. The loss to Auburn was the only bad one (only two teams scored more than 20 points on Bama.) I don't consider a 3 point overtime loss to LSU as something to be embarrassed by. It was painful, but not embarrassing.
Obviously, if Alabama's offensive output is only equal to that of the 2005 team, it won't succeed forever, but you also have to work with what you have. You can't run an offense like USC or Texas did in '05 if you don't have the personnel.
I don't think Shula is "the answer" in the long term, but I think he will wind up being key to the team's renewed success in the long term. Alabama, who has been so incredibly hard on coaches since Bear Bryant's death, is finally showing the college football world that they reward success and don't punish it. I think that will go a long way towards being able to make better hires in the future. We've had coaches quit after 10 win seasons and winning conference championships because of the crazy pressure put on them. Alabama's been bad about chasing coaches away or firing them, even when they've been successful.
I think this is one of the few times since Ray Perkins took the reigns from Bear Bryant that the school is showing some sanity regarding a coach. That being said, if Shula drops five in a row to Auburn (which would be this year and next), he's gone.