Low and High Tide
Even after a big win, up-and-down Alabama was awash in controversy
One of the toughest weeks of Alabama coach Mike DuBose's professional life ended the way the previous one had, with the Crimson Tide nursing a lead and its opponent throwing a desperate last-second pass into the end zone This time—unlike on Sept 18, when Louisiana Tech connected on a 28-yard throw with two seconds left for a shocking 29-28 upset—Alabama survived. Free safety Tony Dixon knocked down Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner's 31-yard heave as time expired, and the Tide beat the SEC West rival Hogs 35-28. "You play as one, with a singleness of purpose, one common heartbeat, one common goal," DuBose said after the game, referring to how the team stuck together through a tumultuous week.
Oh, if only that lesson could be learned by the dysfunctional Alabama family. A look at last week:
At DuBose's press conference on the morning of Monday, Sept. 20, the second question to him was, Would he consider resigning immediately if he knew he wouldn't be retained at the end of the season? "If I were 100 percent convinced that it was the best thing for this university, sure I'd consider it," DuBose replied, "but I haven't considered it."
On Tuesday, Alabama athletic director Bob Bockrath resigned under pressure. Since Bear Bryant's death in 1983, 'Bama has had seven athletic directors. Bockrath, a bureaucrat with ties to Arizona, Cal and Texas Tech, had few people skills and fit in at Alabama like a jar of mayo in a barbecue joint. He lost the support of the university's board of trustees when he didn't fire DuBose in August, after DuBose admitted that he had lied last spring when he said he hadn't had an affair with his former secretary.
On Wednesday, according to a source close to him, DuBose said, "If we don't win the game [against Arkansas], I may not have a job next week."
On Thursday morning assistant coach Ronnie Cottrell received a call from a friend. According to Cottrell, the caller said, "I don't even know how to tell you this, but they've already contacted Butch Davis at Miami. He accepted, and all of y'all are gone." As Cottrell mulled that over, he heard from another friend, who also told him a deal was done. "I know," Cottrell said, "and the new coach is—" "Frank Beamer," the friend said, naming the Virginia Tech coach. Within the hour, a third friend called to tell Cottrell the deal was done, and the new coach would be Mississippi State's Jackie Sherrill.
On Friday morning another Alabama coach saw a fortune-telling 8 ball in the sports information office, picked it up and asked, "Is Mike still going to be head coach?" The 8 ball read, "Without a doubt."
Saturday's game was a microcosm of DuBose's three seasons at Alabama. He has raised the level of talent on the Crimson Tide almost to where it was under coach Gene Stallings before the NCAA imposed scholarship restrictions in 1996. But 'Bama is young-nine starters are in their first or second years—and mistake-prone. Against the Razorbacks the Tide committed six turnovers, which Arkansas converted into 25 points. In other words, the Alabama defense limited Arkansas to a field goal, the Tide offense racked up five touchdowns, and the game still came down to the last play.
"I played real poorly," says Alabama quarterback Andrew Zow, who threw for 225 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. "If I play a little better, if [tailback] Shaun [Alexander] plays a little better [165 yards, one touchdown and two fumbles, one returned by Arkansas for a touchdown], we open it up."