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More on Stallings, Fran, and the 1990's decline...

As most of you know, I've written extensively in the past about Stallings, Fran, and the decline of the Alabama football program in the late-1990's. It's been a long time since I've written an installment of the Franchione saga, but I still get frequent e-mails over it, so I figured this would at least somewhat relevant. I posted the following comment earlier in Kleph's book review of "Crimson Slide":

Kleph, I think, nails it on the entitlement issue. Clearly it is the head coach who is ultimately responsible, but to assume that the players are just raw pieces of clay to be shaped by coaches and completely absolved of any responsibility is erroneous. I do think that accounts like this showcase that, while in many cases we were recruiting very talented players, we were largely recruiting the wrong type of people. What I mean by that is players who may have had a significant amount of raw talent, but players who on a personal level did not have the requisite desire and mental ability to understand the difficulty of the task at hand and the enormous sacrifices that would be required to have long-term success. Instead, we had a lot of talented players who felt that winning would just be the natural end result, and who looked to blame everyone else when that inevitably did not come to fruition. Character isn’t everything of course — talent matters too — but this little episode is a good showcase that raw talent divorced from character is unlikely to be an engine of success.

Now, his glowing review of Franchione is — believe it or not — in many ways correct. Say what you will about his departure, but in his time in Tuscaloosa Fran was nothing if not professional in his day-to-day management of the team. He kicked out of a lot of bad seeds, put players back to work in the weight room, was explicit in setting standards that he expected players to meet (on the field, off the field, and in the classroom), and never feigned any reservations whatsoever about booting or benching players who failed to meet those standards (even if those players were the team’s best players). In that regard, Fran was clearly everything you wanted in a football coach.

The praise of Fran, however, should probably stop there. He didn’t recruit well, he arguably put the players in poor schemes, his playcalling was suspect, and he literally was looking to leave Tuscaloosa months after arriving. Keep in mind, though, that when this went to press in 2003, 77-0 had only happened on some kid’s PS2 and the national press was still running rampant with talk of how Fran was the next Bear Bryant. When this book was written, the underlying expectation was that Fran would build a national championship powerhouse in College Station and Alabama fans would spend decades crying in their crimson beer over what could of been. None of that came to fruition, of course, and frankly that is all the more reason to wait on writing the book, really.

And with Stallings, I’ve written about him extensively in the past, and I still contend the Alabama fan base does not have a healthy understanding of his tenure. He did many good things in Tuscaloosa… he inherited a team with a lot of talent, quickly infused discipline, toughness, and a couple of good recruiting classes, and combined he won very big with it his first few years. However, people who like to cast Stallings as a football jesus simply overlook many of his shortcomings. He played a key role in botching the Langham affair, getting us hammered by the NCAA in the short-term and setting us up for the long-term Means disaster. He didn’t recruit like he should have from 1992 on, he failed to seize the momentum of the national championship, he had a lot of in-fighting on his staff, and his out-dated offensive approach became a burden, increasingly so in an era with an increased emphasis on the passing game and the offense in general. He didn’t ultimately stick around to see the worst of it, but he was responsible for some of the decline of Alabama football in the late 1990’s. Dubose deserves the bulk of the blame, mind you, but Stallings should not be absolved of all responsibility and in fact his share of the blame is far from negligible. All in all, the result is a mixed bag. Stallings did some great things, but did some bad things as well, and those who love to deify him must completely ignore the many negative aspects of his tenure in order to do so.