The Rising Tide (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday August 21, 2007 9:34AM; Updated: Tuesday August 21, 2007 9:34AM
"I've been on this roller coaster for a long time," says Fowler, a self-made businessman who could live a lot of places but settled on a house so close to the campus that he can all but see his reflection in the go-go boots of the Crimsonettes as they strut down University Boulevard before the homecoming game. "In the '50s, under coach J.B. (Ears) Whitworth, we went 14 games without a win, and I watched grown men cry. People said then there would never be another coach here as good as Wallace Wade [who won national championships in 1925, '26 and '30] or Frank Thomas [1934, '41]. They said it was over.
"Then in '58 we hired a coach who could do the things we needed to put us in a position to win SEC championships again and national championships again. People used to stare at him as he stood on the sideline, too, like he was about to turn a stick into a snake."
His name was Paul Bryant, and he was popular here. They named an animal after him. How people loved that man. But it is time, past time, to love again.
"There is never anything wrong with remembering the past, but you can't live in it," says Mal Moore, the Alabama athletic director who was all but dragged through saw briars when it appeared that Saban and other marquee names -- most notably West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez -- were passing Alabama by. Then on Jan. 3 he brought Saban home with him on the school jet from Miami, where Saban had been coaching the Dolphins. People who had been calling for Moore's resignation praised his leadership.
There is no nice way to say it: The Alabama faithful are done with waiting, with mediocrity and with disappointment. They are sick of Auburn, which has beaten them five years in a row; bone weary of NCAA investigations and probations reaching back to 1993; and finished with coaches who cannot gut out the expectations here, or who might have done well, someday, with more time or a railroad car full of luck.
"We wanted a man who had won a championship, and Nick Saban is that and more," says Moore. "Saban brings a sense of command, a sense of toughness and discipline."
Saban is no rainmaker, no snake oil salesman. The way to his mountaintop is hard and paved with woe. "We can be part of something, build something all these people can be proud of and excited about again," says the 55-year-old coach, who can look intense even when he is not mad and probably looks that way holding a kitten. "I got on our guys in a team meeting. I said, 'I'm tired of hearing all this talk about a national championship when you guys don't know how to get in out of the rain, don't know what to do in the classroom.' It's like you've got little kids in the backseat, saying, 'Are we there yet?'