The Path of Destruction: Alabama Football

Candidate: “I’m the right man for this job. I’m from here. I know the culture. I’ve lived it all my life. I’ve been through the good and the bad. Heck, I was born in 1954. I’ve seen it all. I went to high school right down the street. I even played college ball right here. I’m sure you’ll get a lot of primadona candidates for this job, but you know I played tight end and linebacker. I was in the trenches on both sides of the ball. I think a great part of my work ethic and belief in team comes from being in the trenches. I understand what it takes for a team to win and what it means to rally 53 young men around a cause. My track record with this institution is substantial. But more than that, I’ve established myself at the highest levels in the NFL.”

Interviewer: “I’m sorry, excuse for one moment.”

Candidate: “What was that?”

Interviewer: “I’m sorry, just a moment. I need to do one thing and I’ll be right back.”

Candidate: “Sure. No problem.”

Interviewer: “Thank you for your patience. Uh, we’ve made a decision. We’re going to hire the kid of that coach who used to be in Miami.”

Candidate: “Hmm. Thank you for the opportunity. I’m sure I’ll see you around.”

Now I don’t know that the University of Alabama’s decision to hire the man pictured below went anything like the conversation posted above, but I cannot imagine that it was much different. Mike Shula, son of Colts and Dolphins legend Don Shula, was hired after a mediocre tenure as the leader of the Cincinnati Bengals (see comment below). The candidate, Sylvester Croom, went to become head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Croom was denied the shot to lead his beloved Alabama Crimson Tide, but he was afforded the opportunity to beat them. And they say the Lord works in mysterious ways.

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Shula’s Tide lost to Croom’s Bulldogs in 2004 and today, the latest son of the Dolphins (or spawn, depending on your perspective) was handed another loss by Mississippi State. Mississippi State 17, Alabama 12. Mr. Croom knows something the people at the University of Alabama clearly do not. Perhaps was not hired because he failed to distinguish himself in ten years as a coach on offense and defense. Perhaps the University was not impressed with resume of NFL service. Whatever the case, the decision has come back to haunt the Tide. Croom is now living rent free in the minds of every single alumnus of the University of Alabama. The space he has commandeered ought to be worth a top notch recruit or two when he heads out on the trail to compete against Nick Saban and other SEC coaches.

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Saban, pictured above, is letting the faithful know that he is no Messiah. That’s not news. What is newsworthy is that Sylvester Croom continues to coach beneath the radar. Mississippi State must be one of the most difficult places to coach college football in the nation. It’s not the University of Mississippi. It is not a traditional SEC power. Mississippi State is in the same division as powerhouses like Alabama, LSU, and Auburn. The off years are reserved for teams like Arkansas to win more than their fair share. Mississippi State is the last school one thinks of in the SEC West – and yet, here they are. They are riding the man from Tuscaloosa right down the heart of Main Street – and right through the legacies of Mike Shula and Nick Saban.

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On Monday, there should be a press conference in Starkville, Mississippi where the Athletic Director Larry Templeton will express, once again, his undying gratitude to the Athletic Director in Tuscaloosa for Mal Moore’s diagnostic skills in assessing the “best man for the job.”

4 comments

  1. You got the wrong Shula kid. Dave Shula was head coach of the Bengals. Mike Shula was offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccanneers. Neither Shula boys were any revelations as head coaches, but be fair to both of them. In Cincinnati Dave Shula was saddled with an incompetent small market cheap owner who refuses to hire a general manager. They have had one winning season since the early 90s. In Tampa Bay, Mike Shula had Trent Dilfer, Reidel Anthony, Jacquez Green, Warrick Dunn, and no offensive line to work with. Even at Alabama, they were dealing with horrific sanctions. Shula’s main problem at Alabama was hiring a bunch of retreads – some of whom were out of coaching – as assistants. As a result, he was unable to find difference makers on offense with so few scholarships, and though he was running a pro – style offense, it was a rather run of the mill version that while solid if you have the talent gives you no advantage in recruiting or on the field if you do not.

    The thing is that had a couple of key offensive players not gotten injured or had Shula made recruiting Pat White a bigger priority (there was the problem with not getting younger guys on his coaching staff), Shula would have succeeded at Alabama. Meanwhile, please do not ignore the fact that but for two plays this season (INTs against Auburn and Alabama) Croom would be joining Mike Shula on the unemployment line. If Croom is going to succeed in Mississippi State, he is going to have to find an offense (MSU is ranked 113 out of 119) to fit his program, because the next Peyton Manning isn’t coming to Starkville (he CAN get a poor man’s Vince Young or Tim Tebow … someone in the mold of Mississippi’s own NFL stars Steve McNair or Brett Favre, however).

  2. You raise some solid points about the Shulas and the difficulty of recruiting there. He inherited Jerious Norwood and they just missed on Poe – they’ve gotta get some ballers. There should be something left in state after LSU and ‘Bama get finished picking over the blue chippers.

  3. I beg to differ on Croom not eventually landing blue chip recruits. If the man continues to win in football hell, he will prove to kids and their parents alike that he’s the right man for the job. He deserves more respect and definitely will get it from writers like T3 and myself.

    If my son wanted to get more of out football than just the sport itself, I would definitely point him to Croom. I gander no coach in any sport could teach more about what to expect out of life.

    Alabama is getting what it deserves. This goes all the way back to Bear Bryant.

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