I decided to pass on making an entire post about Mike Price in this series because he didn't coach any out of conference games (unless you count Destiny at Pensacola as an out of conference game), so we're moving ahead to Mike Shula.
Mike Shula: (2003-2006) 13-4 (.765)
Notable wins: Texas Tech '05, Hawaii '06
Humiliating losses: Northern Illinois '03
Opponents and records:
Florida International (1-0)
Middle Tennessee State (1-0)
Northern Illinois (0-1)
South Florida (1-0)
Southern Miss (3-0)
Texas Tech (1-0)
Utah State (2-0)
Western Carolina (1-0)
Never has a collegiate coach had such a mess dropped in his lap. Probation? Yep. Not getting to take your team through spring practice? Yep. Coaching frustrated kids on their third coach in less than a year? Yep. Having to coach against Oklahoma in your second game ever as a head coach? Yep.
Due to the fact that he's the most recent coach, I remember the Shula games in more detail than those of other coaches. I hadn't been to an Alabama game in years and years when I went to his first game against South Florida (which wound up being Bama's last game at Legion Field.) The team looked rusty at times but wound up winning convincingly on a boiling hot day over a team on the rise. He kept things respectable against Oklahoma in week 2 of the 2003 campaign despite being a newbie coach taking on Bob Stoops with a stacked team. If Stoops didn't make some big balls calls in that game, things might have turned out differently.
The first major "WTF moment" of the Shula era came on September 20, 2003 with a 16-19 loss to Northern Illinois. I know they fielded the best team they probably ever did that year, but still, it's Northern frickin' Illinois. I have a friend that's an NIU alum and let's just say I hear about this game a little too frequently. I almost went to that game but didn't. If I had, it would've been the first time I'd ever seen Alabama lose in person. That honor instead went to Mississippi State in 2006, but I digress.
The expected win over Southern Miss saw quarterback Brandon Avalos get his only start in the most boring college football game I've ever witnessed. I took a friend from Alaska to that game and it was her first college football game. I had to do my best to convince her that college football was actually exciting despite what she just witnessed. She did really like Rammer Jammer though (no, that's not a euphemism you dirty dirty people.)
The 2003 out of conference slate finished with our "bowl game" in Hawaii. I do my best to not complain about referees (though I will once more in this article), but that was one of the worst crews I've ever seen. It was a bad end to bad year of Alabama football.
2004 saw us steamroll Utah State (yawn) and saw Brodie Croyle get dismembered against Western Carolina with the win well in hand (not the last time a key player would be injured with a game in the bag under Shula.) The customary victory over Southern Miss finalized the regular season OOC schedule and we met Minnesota and their ridiculous pair of running backs (Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney) in the Music City Bowl. This is one of the few other games you'll ever hear me complain about officiating in. Granted, the defense shouldn't have surrendered 12,000 rushing yards to the Golden Gophers, but the game was still winnable. If instant replay was in use in that game we would`ve seen that their back wasn`t down when he fumbled and Bama finishes the season 7-5. That's the end of complaining about officiating, I promise.
2005 had two completely unremarkable opponents in Utah State and Middle Tennessee State. The play of a lifetime though came during the customary win over Southern Miss. I don't even have to tell y'all what it was. You know. And the YouTube is posted at the bottom. The Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech was a nail biter that came down to a last second field goal. The remarkable thing about that game was how Bama's defense rendered Texas Tech's explosive offensive completely impotent.
2006 feature three insanely frustrating games against insanely weak opponents that hung around for way too long in their games: Louisiana-Monroe, Florida International and Duke. The score lines in the history books won't reflect how frustratingly close those games were for until the fourth quarter. I'm tired of thinking about those and I'm sure you are too. At least the FIU game saw a great punt return for a TD from Javier Arenas who actually decommitted from FIU to come to the Capstone. The win over Hawaii on opening day was one that we were lucky to escape with. Credit the defense though for largely containing Colt Brennan who I think threw for eight billion yards last year. Had that game happened latter in the season, I don't think we would've won it. The Warriors (who finished the year with 10 wins) got better and better as the season unfolded and we got increasingly worse.
Since YouTube is a recent invention, it's not surprising that there's a ton of Shula era YouTube-age. Here's the good stuff:
You can also see the highlight reel from the LA-Monroe game.
Other stories in this series: