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franklin county times

Bama isn't back yet

By Staff
Paul Finebaum
Sports Columnist
What a difference a year makes.
A year ago today, the long Alabama nightmare better known as Mike Shula's tenure came to an unceremonious end. He was fired and many rejoiced.
Regardless of the eventual choice to replace Shula, happy days were here again. Right?
A year later, after hiring the most star-studded name in the business (although the guy who turned the Tide down first, Rich Rodriguez of West
Virginia, has his team No. 1 in the country), and pledging to spend $32 million over an eight-year period, after giving Nick Saban a one-way contract with no buyout and absolute power, is Alabama really any better off?
Of course, they are, most would say. And it's difficult, if not impossible, to disagree. But…
Last year, Shula went bust down the stretch, finishing his final season at 6-6. Saban did the same.
Alabama was close in the Iron Bowl last year – losing by seven. Alabama was close in the Iron Bowl this year – losing by seven.
There was no visible discipline on Alabama's team last year – either on the field or off. There was no visible discipline on Alabama team this year – either on the field or off.
So what has Saban done this year with all his experience, titles and gargantuan paycheck that Shula didn't do last year with his ineptitude and inexperience?
Certainly, Saban has talked a good game about the process to change the culture. However, it looks like he took a pass on part of that process – namely, discipline. He apparently took the road most traveled to attempt to salvage the season, which clearly didn't happen.
Much of the blame for this season's implosion will be placed at Shula's feet. And one must readily agree you can't change a dysfunctional culture and below average SEC talent over night. However, what did Alabama really get out of this season? Would Tide fans be happier today if Saban had weeded out malcontents, lickety-split, like a drill sergeant at Paris Island?
Some Alabama zealots have said that Saban nearly pulled this season out, only losing by seven points to Florida State, LSU, ULM and Auburn and the other two losses were by five to Mississippi State and three in overtime to Georgia.
However, Alabama also pulled out a game at the end against Arkansas, and held off Houston and Ole Miss as time expired.
Had Saban expunged the bad characters on this team instead of embarrassing himself and this program by seemingly looking the other way, would Alabama have ended up 3-9 or 4-8? And frankly, would it have really have mattered?
Perhaps being the highest-paid coach in college football has that affect on one's psyche. Perhaps you flush your basic instincts and principles down the drain to try and look like you're worth the cash.
Then again, why should losing really affect Saban very much these days?
Since announcing his decision to leave LSU for Miami (right before the Capital One Bowl), Saban's coaching career, quite frankly, has been a bust. Including his final game at LSU, two full seasons at Miami and the regular-season at Alabama, Saban's record over the last 45 games has been a woeful 21- 24.
Any wonder why he eats sportswriters for breakfast and comes up with inane analogies for his team's pathetic play?
For those wanting to give him credit for leaving Les Miles a gold mine at LSU, do you also want to put the blame on Saban for leaving behind a colossal disaster at Miami?
So could it be that Saban's style has ceased working or is it simply way too early in the "process" at Alabama to see the fruits of his labor?
More than likely, it's the process and these things take time. However, Saban's incessant talking down to people and throwing players (and the previous regime) under the bus have become wearisome.
So back to the original question: Is Alabama better off today than it was a year ago?
Under Shula, there was absolutely no hope or vision. The program was being run into the ground and the only sounds from school administrators were whines and excuses. The only light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train.
With Saban, there remains hope and sunny days ahead, although the halo has certainly been removed from above his head. The rock-star coach has been replaced by a snarling grouch who suddenly looks vulnerable.
Some people, perhaps including Saban, believe the program must hit rock bottom before it turns around, like he said the other day, much the same way an alcoholic does before seeking recovery.
On the other hand, do some Alabama fans have buyer's remorse? Is Saban all he was cracked up to be? Is the genius coach some in the media (including this writer) proclaimed him to be really all that smart?
For Alabama fans, this is a time of hurt but also one of hope. It hurts for many reasons, from the six straight losses to Auburn to the fact that Saban's mere presence did little or nothing to change the final record. What hurts even more is another 365 days of bragging rights to the other side of the state and knowing that your high-priced head coach is now 2-4 against Tommy Tuberville.
A year ago, Alabama's program was at rock bottom. Today, with a $4 million a year coach and four-game losing streak, the Tide stands at 6-6 and scrambling for a bowl berth while trying to put back together the shattered pieces of another lost season.
What a difference a year makes.
Paul Finebaum is a guest columnist for The Franklin County Times. He can be reached via e-mail at finebaumnet@yahoo.com.