After Alabama's 42-17 victory over Houston, it was clear the Crimson Tide's Mike DuBose had a few things to learn about the head-coaching business. For one thing, he paced a marathon on the sideline, trying to figure out exactly what he was supposed to do during a game while his assistants busied themselves with calling plays and instructing players. For another, DuBose went about 15 minutes into his post-game press conference before uttering the First Commandment of coaching: "I hate to say too much about it before I look at the tape."
But DuBose did one thing that neither his predecessor, Gene Stallings, nor the legendary Bear Bryant did: win his first game as coach of Alabama. And he proved he was his own man in doing so. Gone is Stallings' offense, which never really put trust in the forward pass. On Saturday, Alabama threw 27 times, and scored more than 40 points for the first time in 36 games.
Last November, after athletic director Bob Bockrath announced he would conduct a nationwide search to find a replacement for the retired Stallings, Bockrath says he received hundreds of faxes urging him to promote DuBose, who was then defensive coordinator.
Even a former coach of hated Auburn knew DuBose was the man for the job. That man standing with DuBose between the practice fields in Tuscaloosa last Thursday was Pat Dye. As a Bryant assistant, Dye recruited DuBose and coached him in 1972 and '73. "Mike can't miss," said Dye, who ran the show at Auburn from '81 through '92. "I'll be shocked if I he doesn't do a great job."
Asked to describe DuBose as a Crimson Tide linebacker, Dye recalled visiting DuBose after he had been injured as a sophomore and had undergone surgery for the removal of a testicle. "The doctors told him he couldn't play football again," Dye said. "I went up to see him, and he said, 'Coach, I ain't quitting football. If I can't play here, I'm going to Troy State.' I went to Coach Bryant and said, 'Coach, he's fixin' to transfer. If he's going to play, he needs to play here.' "
Bryant asked DuBose's parents to sign a release, and Mike played two more seasons for the Tide. "He understands what it takes to win," Dye said of DuBose, 44. "He loves Alabama."
So much so that after leaving his graduate assistant position under Bryant in 1976 to become a high school coach in Fairhope, Ala., DuBose, the only native Alabaman to coach the Crimson Tide, vowed that he would not return to his alma mater unless it was to coach for or against 'Bama. Six years later Bryant called DuBose to offer him a job. But DuBose had just accepted a similar position at Southern Mississippi. "I quickly pointed out that I did not sign anything," DuBose recalls. " Coach Bryant said, 'Mike, your word ought to be your bond.' "
Bryant promised he would get back to DuBose after the season. But that November, DuBose finally returned to Alabama—the Golden Eagles upset the Tide 38-29 in Tuscaloosa. "I was happy for the players and the fans," DuBose said, "but personally I felt as if I had lost the game." Bryant resigned within one month and died within three. But he recommended DuBose to his successor, Ray Perkins, who hired DuBose to coach the defensive line.
With the exception of three seasons as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, DuBose has been in Tuscaloosa ever since. He has the job of his dreams, even if he's still trying to figure out what to do on the sideline.