Before someone found a way to throw water on the Alabama fans rejoicing over the recent inking of the nation's top recruiting class. The cause of the weeping and gnashing of teeth? A combination of this story by Montgomery's Tim Gayle -- an outstanding reporter who's funny as hell in person, by the way -- and this blog post from AOL's Fanhouse, part of a larger debate about the evils of recruiting, over-signing being chief among them.
Of course, that post got the boys at RBR all wound up -- particularly OTS, whose angry response to Brian Cook's post is just about the least objective thing he's posted in his brief blog history. And Joe Cribbs has another vantage point on the subject, although it's pretty obvious his view of it is clouded by his Aubie-colored glasses (and the requisite contempt for Alabama that comes with it).
Like most things in college football, this is one of those complicated subjects with a number of layers, and it's one that's existed for some time. In fact, one of Furman Bisher's criticisms of Coach Bryant from way back in the 1960s -- part of a larger critique aptly titled "College Football is Going Berserk" -- was that Bryant had left a trail of "discarded athletes. ... 'Riff raff,' he calls them." The implication, obviously, was that Bryant was something of an overseer in a football factory -- he extracted everything he could from a student-athlete, and when he had no more use for him, he'd chuck him aside like an old tire, leaving him to fend for himself in the harsh, cruel world.
(Note: Bisher's column, along with his general antipathy where Bryant is concerned, has already been discussed ad nauseam in countless Bryant books. Although none of them has investigated the root cause of their mutual hatred, which is probably best for everybody, especially since Bryant is dead and Bisher's roughly 200 years old now. Suffice to say, Bisher's still not welcome in many circles in Alabama, even in the year 2008.)
Regardless, it's an example -- just like this discussion -- of the delicate line a college football coach must walk, between CEO and father-figure. You love your kids, you teach them how to play, you train boys to become men ... but there comes a point, sometimes, in which some of them simply have to be cut loose.
And the reality of that is the same reality we face in the real world. Take Tommy Tuberville as an example. He coached for a number of years with Noel Mazzone at his side as offensive coordinator, and there's no doubt the two became great friends over the years. But when the heat turned up on Tuberville in late 2001, he cut Mazzone loose. That's just business sometimes.
Of course, this doesn't address the question of oversigning, which, at its core, looks an awful lot like a coach conning recruits into thinking they've achieved their dream of playing SEC football ... only to have it cruelly ripped away.
But is that really the case? I'd certainly like to think no -- a handful of the recruits undoubtedly will never make it to campus, either because of issues academic or personal (you forget this now, but Auburn's beloved Brandon Cox almost never made it to The Plains because of some personal issues. Of course, once he got there he didn't want to leave, but I digress.) And likely there's a player or two that might give up football this spring, maybe he wants to concentrate fully on that dream of becoming a behavioral psychologist.
Whatever. It's a load of sound and fury signifying nothing. What should excite Alabama fans, in the words of MemphisTider, are the players. Don't look at the raw numbers, or become enchanted by the star ratings -- those mean nothing. Get excited about the student-athletes themselves. In the words of coach Norman Dale, "This is your team!"
And yes, Alabama fans should obviously proceed with caution -- they've been tantalized by recruiting classes before (remember 2000?). But it can't hurt to be hopeful for the future, particularly since we've been holding onto the past for quite a while.