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
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?