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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
12/15/2006 01:42:00 PM

More Alabama Shenanigans

Oakland Arena
Even though he's highly respected around the country, Jimbo Fisher wasn't worth $600,000 to UAB trustees.
I don’t mean to rag on the state of Alabama again -- but it’s just so easy. As I said the day Mike Shula was fired, the Crimson Tide’s storied program is being held back by the incompetent, old-boy network that still calls the shots there. And now, cross-state competitor UAB is being plagued by the same problem.

According to Birmingham News columnist Kevin Scarbinsky, the Blazers were all set to hire their No. 1 coaching choice, LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, on Friday. Fisher, whose previous ties to the state include stints at Samford and Auburn, is a hot commodity these days. He was also up for the N.C. State job before the school opted for Boston College’s Tom O’Brien. Landing him would have given UAB’s second-rate football program a serious credibility boost.

According to Scarbinksy’s sources, however, the school’s board of trustees shot down the proposed $600,000 salary for Fisher -- an amount that is par for the course with other, competitive Conference USA schools -- under the auspices of “fiscal responsibility.” Mind you, that’s about the same salary UAB pays basketball coach Mike Davis, not to mention two local business leaders pledged to cover half the cost.

Now, before you go congratulating the board for taking a high-minded stand against escalating salaries, you need to know this: UAB is governed by the same board as the University of Alabama -- which had no such reservations about buying out the remainder of Shula’s contract (a contract the school extended just last year) for $4 million and authorizing a reported six-year, $12 million offer to West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez.

Like I said ... it’s just too easy.

While it’s true the Crimson Tide’s program is a far bigger source of revenue than UAB’s, I find it hard to believe that “fiscal responsibility” was the real reason behind nixing Fisher. If anything, hiring a hot coach with the potential to turn the program into a winner only increases the Blazers’ chances of becoming a cash cow. The truly irresponsible path is to not afford the program competitive resources and allow it to continue to mire in mediocrity. Of course, no right-minded trustee wants to see that happen to UAB.

Or would they?

Take a guess who the most influential trustee on the Alabama/UAB board is. It’s Paul Bryant Jr., president of Greene Group Inc. and ... well, you know the rest. If you’re Bryant, or any other board member who bleeds crimson and white, a competitive program at UAB is not in your best interests. A hot coach like Fisher has the ability to hemorrhage the mother ship by stealing away quality, in-state recruits who would have otherwise ended up in Tuscaloosa. And god forbid some wealthy Birmingham boosters, excited about the prospects of a good, hometown team, start directing some of their donations away from ‘Bama to UAB.

It’s the ultimate conflict of interest, folks. And it’s a part of life in Alabama.

In most parts of the country, the influence of boosters is not nearly as prevalent as it is in the South. Yes, they sign the checks -- but Alabama is one of the only remaining places where they’re also consulted on hirings and firings. Auburn trustee Bobby Lowder is notorious for such practices (he’s the one who secretly tried to replace Tommy Tuberville with Bobby Petrino a few years back).

In fact, Crimson Tide fans have their own boosters to thank for losing out on Rodriguez last week. From talking to several people with knowledge of what happened, it’s clear that Rodriguez was as good as gone from Morgantown -- until boosters got a little too loose-lipped about the monetary details. The whole coaching search has been an exercise in incompetence, with AD Mal Moore practically advertising each step, but the final straw came when West Virginia boosters took advantage of media leaks about ‘Bama’s $2-million-a-year offer to ready their own counter offer. My guess is, if those details didn’t come out when they did, Rodriguez would be coaching Alabama right now.

Instead, Moore is still out there grasping for new candidates, and I have to chuckle when I hear Nick Saban’s name still being mentioned. Of all coaches, Saban is the ultimate control-freak. He answered to almost no one at LSU, and he ultimately chose the Dolphins job over other NFL offers because he would have control over personnel decisions. Saban may well jump back to college at some point, but do you really think he’s going to go to a school where the wealthy son of a former coaching legend -- among others -- has a say in his fate?

Oh man … I’m sorry. It’s just too easy.
posted by Stewart Mandel | View comments |


Posted: 5:00 PM   by Anonymous
Thank you for this, Stewart. People need to know what kind of corrupt BS is going on here. Also, you might point out how Neil Callaway, who helped Alabama get on probation last time, is suddenly the top candidate for the UAB job. Dirty deals all around.
Posted: 5:12 PM   by Anonymous
Well well Mr Mandel, as usual you don't exactly think too highly of the folks down here in the south. As unfortunate as your column is, and as much as I hate to admit such to a "Bama Basher", it is the truth. What is this, feudalism?? I attended Alabama, but have received my degree from UAB, and while the basketball program has in some ways been allowed to flourish, the BOT will never allow UAB to have anywhere near a "winning" football program in Birmingham. The good ole boy system has seriously hurt the Crimson Tide in the 25 years since Bear Bryants death. Strangely, while I see Coach Bryants image nearly everyday, I HAVE NEVER seen any likeness of Paul Bryant Jr. A very private individual, apparently for good reason. I for one, know that I can root for my alma mater, but that we will never win any championships. That leaves me to hope that my childhood's pride and joy, will finally get a coaching hire right, IN SPITE OF the "Alabama Mafia."
Posted: 5:26 PM   by Taylor
It's not likely to change either. The young ones are up to the same monkey business. Ever heard of "The Machine"? Look it up on Wikipedia or welcometothemachine.info
Posted: 7:39 PM   by Anonymous
Amazing that the UAB regents shot down that deal. It's clear that they don't know what they're doing in the U of Alabama system.

First the Rich Rodriguez thing, and now this UAB fiasco where two coaches resigned to take jobs at D1-AA schools instead of dealing with their incompetence. And just to add the final straw of stupidity, they break Fisher's deal over 'fiscal responsibility'.

Amazing...this thing would never happen in the state of Texas.
Posted: 9:33 PM   by Anonymous
This article is dead on. Nice job! Your observation serves as independent verification of what many of us (UAB alumni) have suspected for years (i.e., a concerted effort by the UofA BOT to sabotage the fledgling UAB football program). Thank you for presenting this story to a national audience.
Posted: 9:35 PM   by Anonymous
As a bama fan I find the national media's bias againt UA ridiculous. Where as everyone when Notre Dame fired Ty Willingham. Also, I cannot believe that you would rely on Scarbinsky as your source. As a regular reader of the Birmingham News he may be the worst columnist in the country he tries unsuccessfully to copy Paul Finebaum and frequently rips his columns from ESPN.com. Finally, if I am not mistaken the Bham news was the first to claim the Rodriguez was the next head coach of Alabama.
Posted: 10:24 PM   by Anonymous
Having lived in Birmingham, AL for a few years this is on the mark but misses a couple of points. First, a couple of years ago when the UAB football program was in serious debt, it was unclear whether the Board of Trustees would okay the funds for the program to continue - led, of course by Bryant, Jr. This would have neatly taken care of most UAB sports, save basketball. The rest of the board and the Birmingham community balked. The second best solution? Let UAB crawl out of it with minimal financial help, almost no Birmingham business help (what little there is to begin with) and no hope of a big payday scheduling UA-Tuscaloosa or Auburn. Forced to play in old Legion Field - 70,000 decaying seats - and having to play ESPN Thursday night games with 10,000 fans was the only choice. UAB football did make it but to what end? So that Jimbo Fisher can get stiffed? Nice pr. This is the reason UA-Tuscaloosa in viewed as the KGB of Alabama sports. And it's not like they are doing a great job in terms of football. The boobs.
Posted: 10:29 PM   by ebonyblazer
Thank you Mr. Mandel for lending a national voice toward the nonsense going on here in Alabama.

I'm sure you're aware that former TCU head coach and Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan had a handshake agreement to become the UAB head coach as well, but the same behind-the-scenes meddling (largely believed to be Bryant, Jr. and former head coach Watson Brown) caused that to fall apart as well.

With Brown's resignation to coach at Tennessee Tech in his hometown, Blazer fans were actually excited about the potential of a clean slate start. But now we've been kicked in the gut again due to the same trustee meddling.

The UAB fans are angry and they want the politics to stop. Since football stirs the drink of college athletics, why not allow the school the autonomy to create its own success? No amount of UAB Blazer success in Conference USA is going to be any threat to Alabama in the SEC.
Posted: 10:49 PM   by Donald
It is too easy. We need to get rid of the entire board of trustees for the system. Great article!
Posted: 10:49 PM   by Donald
Good Article.
Posted: 11:21 PM   by Anonymous
The Lowder thing is SO much bigger than you said. Lowder nearly cost Auburn its accreditation. The only reason that didn't is that the accreditation board didn't have the guts to do it; Auburn certainly did nothing about the fact that he had most of the board of regents in his pocket and was running the university.

The good ol' boy network damages everything it touches, and it touches EVERYTHING in Alabama.
Posted: 11:55 PM   by Anonymous
This is what we have to put up with here in Alabama. Shamefull indeed. I hope one day UAB can exit this UA system and form its on BOT whom would UAB's best interest at heart.
Posted: 9:26 AM   by Anonymous
I am from the State of Alabama and sadly this article smacks the truth. Not only are these people making a fool of Alabama nationally, but they are now trying to destroy the sister school UAB.
Posted: 11:36 AM   by Anonymous
Different question Stewart--What are the chances LSU can hold on the Jimbo Fisher? He is getting a lot of attention for head coaching jobs. Unfortunately for LSU, I have more confidence in Fisher and Bo Pelini than I do in Les Miles. While Saban's staff also had lots of turnover, you knew that bright, quality assistants could always be found to work with Saban. Not sure the same is true for Miles, although I di give him credit for bringing in Pelini (who may also go this year) and sticking with him at the beginning of last year when Pelini was taking a lot of heat from fans.
Posted: 12:53 PM   by Anonymous
Hey Stewie,

Ever think the simplest answer maybe the correct one? Like, maybe when UAB STOPS running their athletic programs in the red and START getting more fans at their games than normally attend local high school football games they can afford to hire someone like Fisher?

UAB had a down year this past season but even when it was having an up year the previous year with the likes of First Round Draft Pick Roddy White, it still couldn't put fans in the stands and that was with them giving away tickets!

Don't trust what the B'ham News has to say. They are wrong more often than not. They were wrong about Shula getting fired and they were wrong about Rodriguez getting hired.
Posted: 1:55 PM   by Anonymous
Funny how the college football media can spot the "good old boy" syndrome from a mile away... as long as it's in the South. It's true, we southerners have a corner on the bad behavior market. The rest of you nice folks may occasionally do something wrong, but it's seldom intentional and never systemic. Nothing like the corrupt southern good old boy network.

I wonder why that is? Do you think it's genetic, Stewart. Are southerners just products of inferior breeding? Maybe a cultural hangover from the days of slavery? Tell us Stewart, why are southerners so much worse at heart than the rest of Americans. And when you're done, look in the mirror and see what a bigot looks like.
Posted: 2:45 PM   by Anonymous
I agree. The University of Alabama BOT have made a lot of mistakes regarding UAB. The best thing for them to do would be to shut down the program completely as it is one of the few football programs in the country that annually loses money.

To be honest, it was a mistake to even start that program back in the 90's. What were the BOT thinking? They furthered the mistake by moving them from Division III up to 1AA and then 1A.

UAB should not have football. The University of Alabama at Huntsville probably should have a Division II team, but UAB does not even have a real campus.

As for the comment someone made about having to play at Legion Field, the people of Birmingham had the opportunity to vote to build a nice stadium and they shot it down. The University System cannot subsidize construction of a stadium that seats 40k or more when UAB averages fewer in attendance than half the high schools in the metro. UAB is lucky to have Legion field so that they meet the criteria for D1 membership. A stadium constructed to meet the needs of program would consist of some aluminum bleechers that would hold 5,000.

Stewart...UAB is a fledgling program that SHOULD NOT BE SUBSIDIZED the way they are. If it were not for the UA system, they would be D3 non scholarshipped and playing on a high school field. It would definately be more suited to the 5,000 fans that they average at games. (dont believe any inflated attendance numbers - 5,000 is about it)

Scarbo is a UAB apologist and pot-stirrer, and it is hard to believe that you gave him any kind of credibility. The simple answer for UAB's problems is to shut them down. It should probably be done anyway.
Posted: 2:52 PM   by Anonymous
Does anyone else think it's ironic that Jimbo Fisher, Nick Saban, and Rich Rodriguez have been courted by schools in Alabama? I only menion that since all are from West Virginia.
Posted: 4:13 PM   by barry w.
Mr. Mandell, You are the Master of the Obvious.At least to those of us in the state of Al.Bama, will, however hire a big name coach, and keep UAB at bay.The men in charge are just too tired of losing, especially to Auburn.Bama will cheat,scheme,and sell their souls to avoid hiring a "b" list coach.There are some sick and twisted people in this world.Bama fans and board members fit in this category.Add delusional,incompetent, and arrogant and you have Alabama pegged.Auburn is a different story.While Lowder has made some mistakes,he has also helped guide the program to a higher level.He is actually a genius.The problem at Bama is that Edmunds and Wilson and Bryant,Jr. are fools.The irony at Alabama is this;Bear Bryant,the God,has cursed the program.No one will ever compare.The "Curse of the Bear" has Bama just trying to finally beat Auburn again after 1,800+ days of humiliation.The Bama "machine" will do all it can to take Auburn down off the field:see NY Times spin.Bama has a false sense of pride and entitlement because at one time,they were a football school.These days Bama is a gymnastics and basketball school.The BoT is to blame, but the "Curse of the Bear" will haunt Bama forever.At least until the next few generatons die off.Pathetic.Bama fans wonder why the school is being crucified in the media.LOOK IN TE MIROOR and seek the answer Bama...you will see it if you can break through your delusion.
Posted: 2:40 AM   by ABS Tider
Mr. Mandel,

I read your prescient article about Bama athletics. I agree with you: it's silly for them to think Saban might be interested in them. Who did Bama finally hire as their new head coach?
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