by Paul Rockne
It’s Championship Weekend for Southeastern Conference football – and for several other leagues as well – with the surprising Arkansas Razorbacks representing the Western Division and the not-so-surprising Eastern Division champion Florida Gators going head-to-head for the SEC title Saturday in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The Hogs and Gators would figure to grab all the football headlines this week … but they didn’t as the Alabama Crimson Tide captured the media attention – almost pushing the SEC championship game into the background except in Arkansas and Florida – by abruptly firing head coach Mike Shula and announcing a nationwide search for a new coach.
The word “again” belongs at the end of the last sentence. The slap-in-the-face firing of Shula brings the Alabama football program back around to where it has been all too often in recent years – in a search for another head football coach. Tide Athletic Director Mal Moore is currently engaging in his fourth search for a new coach in his tenure.
Shula may have deserved being fired but the feeling from here is that, considering the mess he inherited with Dennis Franchoine’s sudden departure for greener pastures, the Mike Price debacle and NCAA probation, he deserved at least another year. With the losses this year being as close as they were, many oh-so-close to being a victory, the odds were good that the Tide could/would have produced another 10-win season in ’07.
Shula was, obviously, both disappointed and surprised when Moore made the Sunday night call. After all, Shula had done what he had been hired to do – clean up the Alabama image. He never embarrassed the university on or off the field. There were no drunken nights along the T-Town strip, no accusations from secretaries, no rumors of affairs or any other improprieties. He worked hard, recruited hard and gave the best he had for four years.
On the other hand, long-time Bama fans couldn’t have been surprised at Shula’s fate. After all, Shula went 0-4 against Auburn. Bill Curry was fired as the Bama head coach for not being able to beat Auburn – and his overall record was much better than Shula’s. When Bear Bryant was being interviewed for the head coaching job in Tuscaloosa, the first question asked of him was: “Do you think you can beat Auburn?” Despite the loss to Mississippi State and the mediocre record this year, if Bama had beaten Auburn in the ’06 Iron Bowl, Shula would still be captain of the Tide football fortunes.
But whether Shula should or shouldn’t have been let go is not as important as how he was treated. The slap-in-the-face manner in which the whole affair was handled will make it harder to find and hire a good replacement – in fact, only another Bama grad or former player should even consider taking the job.
Some big-time names have been named as possible replacements for Shula – Steve Spurrier, Nick Saben, Rich Rodriguez, Bobby Patrino, Paul Johnson, Jim Grobe, Houston Nutt – but most have been quick to deny any interest in the job. That could be how they really feel or just part of playing the game. But if they have been watching events closely as they unfold, the above-mentioned coaches who are all successful in their present positions with their present teams will think twice – or more – times before they sign on the dotted line with the University of Alabama.
The powers that be at Alabama waited until late Sunday to hand Shula his walking papers and made Shula look like a naïve fool in the process. After twisting in the wind for eight days following the Iron Bowl loss, the former Tide QB and son of one of the winningest coaches in NFL history, told his players and assistant coaches at an early Sunday evening meetinig not to believe the rumors of his impending demise and to get their minds on the upcoming bowl game. Less than two hours later, he was gone.
That insult, that slap in the face, should serve as a warning to candidates in the present coaching search. If the way Moore and Company treated Shula is the way it treats one of its own, how will they treat an outsider with no ties to the Bama family?
Perhaps Alabama’s only hope is a second resurrection – Bear Bryant coming back for a second go. But who knows? In these days of instant gratification and lack of patience, Tide fans might not even give Bear a break.
Oh yes – the SEC Championship Game. It will be played Saturday (today) at 5 p.m. in the Georgia Dome. Florida is a 3-point favorite. The two teams have met just six times before, with the Gators holding a 5-1 edge. It will be the fourth SEC title game matching two teams ranked in the top 10.
This weekend’s championship college football TV schedule kicked off Friday night with the Conference USA title game, in which Houston defeated Southern Mississippi.:
Saturday’s championship week lineup is as follows:
Connecticut at Louisville, 11 a.m. (WCSS)
ACC Championship Game, Georgia Tech vs. Wake Forest., noon (ESPN)
Army vs. Navy, 1:330 p.m. (ABC)
Division II title game, Delta State vs. North Alabama, 1:30 p.m. (CSS)
Stanford at California, 2 p.m. (FSNS)
Southern Cal at UCLA, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)
SEC Championship Game, Arkansas vs. Florida, 5 p.m. (CBS)
Troy at FIU, 6 p.m. (CSS)
Rutgers at West Virginia, 6:45 p.m. (ESPN)
Big 12 Championship Game, Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, 7 p.m. (ABC)
The return of the king … a different kind of homecoming … the oldie-but-goodie hit song, “The Boys (make that “boy”) Are Back in Town” … all could be the theme for the SEC Game of the Week in this, the second week of November, 2006.
Steve Spurrier, the ex-Florida Gator head coach who brought the national championship trophy to Gainesville in 1996 and built a dynasty on the way to the title, returns to The Swamp Saturday, bringing his South Carolina Gamecocks in to face Urban Myer’s version of the Gators.
This game has more story lines than a national election. Spurrier is the winningest coach in the SEC, with a 95-21 record at Florida and now South Carolina. His name stands atop a list of legends. No. 2 is Tennessee’s Gen. Robert Neyland. No. 3 is Alabama’s Frank Thomas, followed in fourth place by Alabama’s (and Kentucky’s) Paul Bear Bryant.
Spurrier, who won a Heisman Trophy while playing for Florida, will be making his third trip to Gainesville this season and he is only hoping the third trip will be as pleasant an experience for him as the first two. Spurrier attended a reunion for the ’96 national title team in early September and then later in the month came back to be inducted into the Florida Ring of Honor.
Another question Saturday in Gainesville is can Spurrier keep his winning streak alive in Florida-South Carolina games? Spurrier has never been on the losing sideline of a Gator-Gamecock matchup. He posted a 10-0 record at Florida against South Carolina and is 1-0 at S.C. vs. the Gators. Spurrier’s Gamecocks beat Meyer’s Gators last season in Columbia, S.C. – the first and only time Florida has lost to S.C.
And while the storyline being watched by most is that of Meyer trying to escape the shadow of Spurrier’s legend at Florida, there are some real-time storylines as well. Spurrier bringing his 5-4 Gamecocks into Florida hoping for a win that will make his team bowl eligible and send South Carolina bowling for a second year in row. Meyer has his 8-1 Gators in the national championship mix, ranked No. 6 in AP and No. 4 on the BCS list.
Other league games on tap this week include: Georgia (6-4, 3-4) at Auburn (9-1, 5-10), Vanderbilt (4-6, 1-5) at Kentucky (5-4, 3-3), Tennessee (7-2, 3-2) at Arkansas (8-1, 5-0), Alabama (6-4, 2-4) at LSU (7-2, 3-2).
This week’s college football TV schedule kicks off tonight with Texas El-Paso at UAB live from Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. Saturday’s weekend TV lineup, other than pay-for-view is as follows:
N.C. St. at Clemson, 11 a.m. (WB)
Samford at Jacksonville St., 11 a.m. (CSS)
Wisconsin at Iowa, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
Cincinnati at W. Virginia, 11 a.m. (ESPN2)
Minnesota at Michigan St., 11 a.m. (ESPNU)
Georgia at Auburn, 11:30 a.m. (Lincoln Financial)
Baylor at Okla. St.,11:30 a.m. (FSNS)
Miami at Maryland, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)
South Carolina at Florida, 2:30 p.m. (CBS)
Michigan at Indiana, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Texas Tech at Oklahoma, 6 p.m. (FSNS)
Tennessee at Arkansas, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
Duke at Boston College, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
Alabama at LSU, 6:45 p.m. (ESPN)
Wake Forest at FSU , 7 p.m. (ABC)
On a somewhat soft SEC grid schedule this weekend, there are two top games, while the rest of the lineup falls into the interesting-only-if-you-are-a-fan-of-the-school category. The two big games are No. 9 Florida (6-1 overall, 4-1 in league play) at Georgia (6-2, 3-2) and No. 8 Tennessee (6-1, 2-1) at South Carolina (5-2, 3-2).
Most of the pre-game talk in Jacksonville, Fla., where the Florida-Georgia game has been played every season since 1926, has been about the nickname of the game rather than the game itself. In an attempt to spin the reputations of their schools and fans, the University of Georgia and the University of Florida requested the networks broadcasting Saturday’s battle for the Eastern Division lead not to use the games famous moniker – the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Amazingly, CBS and ESPN caved, promising their announcers would refrain from using the nickname and, apparently, to ignore or not mention the copious drinking going on at the famous and prolific tailgate parties prior, during and after the game.
The question at the Tennessee at South Carolina game is: Can Steve Spurrier make it two in a row? Before Spurrier arrived and the Vols lost to the Gamecocks last year, Tennessee owned South Carolina, having won all 12 of their meetings since S.C. joined the SEC. The matchup between the Vols’ pass-happy offense and the Cocks’ tough defense will be interesting to watch. Tennessee, behind AB Erik Ainge, ranks eighth nationally in passing offense, while S.C.’s secondary ranks eighth nationally in passing defense.
Other league games on tap this week include No. 7 Auburn (7-1, 4-1) at Ole Miss (2-6, 1-4), Florida International (0-7) at Alabama (5-3, 2-3), Vanderbilt (3-5) at Duke (0-7), Kentucky (3-4, 1-3) at Mississippi State (2-6, 0-4) and La.-Monroe (1-6) at Arkansas (6-1).
This week’s college football TV schedule kicks off tonight with Texas El-Paso at Tulsa at 7 p.m. on ESPN. Saturday’s weekend TV lineup, other than pay-for-view is as follows:
Oklahoma at Missouri, 11 a.m. (ABC)
Notre Dame at Navy, 11 a.m. (CBS)
N.C. State at Virginia, 11 a.m. (WB)
Michigan St. at Indiana, 11 a.m. (CSS)
Northwestern at Michigan, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
Illinois at Wisconsin, 11 a.m. (ESPN2)
Northern Ill. at Iowa , 11 a.m. (ESPNU)
Auburn at Ole Miss,11:30 a.m. (JEFFERSON PILOT)
BYU at Air Force, 1 p.m. (VS)
Miami at Georgia Tech, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)
Georgia at Florida, 2:30 p.m. (CBS)
North Texas at Troy, 2:30 p.m. (CSS)
Southern Cal at Oregon, 2:30 p.m. (FSNS)
Wake Forest at N.C., 2:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Texas at Texas Tech, 6 p.m. (TBS)
Florida St. at Maryland, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
La.-Monroe at Arkansas, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
Tennessee at South Carolina, 6:45 p.m. (ESPN)