Firing leaves Alabama desperate for stability

Monday, May 5, 2003

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The post-Bear Bryant history at Alabama includes three losing seasons, two major scandals and only one national title.

The firing of Mike Price on Saturday for his off-field conduct left the school searching for its seventh coach since Bryant retired in 1982.

Gene Stallings, who led Alabama to the 1992 title, said the program has one crucial need as it begins looking for Price's replacement.

"It needs some stability," Stallings said Sunday.

Less than five months after he was hired away from Washington State, the 57-year-old Price was dismissed after reports surfaced that he spent hundreds of dollars at a Florida topless bar, and a woman charged $1,000 in room service items to his hotel bill.

Bryant won five AP national championships at Alabama, and the fact that Stallings is the only coach since then to bring a title to Tuscaloosa is a big reason why many fans would like to see him return.

Stallings' presence in Birmingham over the weekend only fueled the rumors. But he was there to raise money for juvenile diabetes, and by Sunday he was back home in Texas, insisting that such speculation is "very premature."

"I just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time, and people thought I was there for that particular reason, and that's not right at all," he said.

University President Robert Witt on Saturday denied that Stallings was a candidate. Some possible candidates include former Tide players and NFL assistants Sylvester Croom and Mike Shula, former defensive coordinator Carl Torbush and former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin. Also, two of Price's assistants -- Joe Kines and Sparky Woods -- have head coaching experience.

Ray Perkins, who followed Bryant and was coach from 1983-86, said the coaching carousel is hurting the program.

"We've now had one, two, three, four, five, six head coaches since Coach Bryant," Perkins told The Birmingham News. "Six coaches! And none of those really gave the program long-term stability. And I include myself."

Because of NCAA probation, Alabama can't play in a bowl game next season, and scholarship reductions could affect the program for years to come.

The punishment resulted from rules violations under Mike DuBose, who was forced out in 2000 during a 3-8 season, two years after surviving a sexual harassment complaint filed by his former secretary.

Stallings said the Crimson connection will be important in building stability.

"Personally, I think it's going to require somebody who has a passion and desire to coach at the University of Alabama," said Stallings, who retired after the 1996 season. He added that he thinks athletic director Mal Moore "will be able to find that person."

Moore, himself a former player and coach under Bryant, has hired two football coaches since he was hired in November 1999, and both were outsiders. Before Price there was Dennis Franchione, who came over from TCU but left after his second season for Texas A&M.

Witt said he hoped Alabama's rich tradition would convince the current Tide players to stay with the program and play for the new coach.

"You worry about the players," Stallings said. "The game's for the players, it's not for the coaches. Some of the present players have been under several coaches in the past three or four years, and they need to get somebody who's going to be there for a while."

Stalling added: "It won't be long before Alabama will be back on solid footing. I believe that."

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