You don't know me. You and I spoke briefly on one occasion -- I mentioned being from Opelika, you shook your head and that was about it. It's OK -- you meet a number of people every day and can't hope to remember all of them. That's not really the point here.
In any case, I come to you tonight with the basketball program at Alabama on my mind. It's obviously not in your best interest to listen to the voices of random fans -- we all have our opinions and usually we're wrong. Still, if you're soliciting opinions about how to fix the program, at least hear me out.
The fact is, Coach, this program as it currently stands is treading water. If anything's going to be made better, a change must occur at the top.
Look, I like Mark Gottfried. I always have. I recall being a freshman at the University in 1999: we were hosting top-5 Auburn at Coleman on a Tuesday night, and a bunch of us showed up to the gym early (like super early) to claim seats (in those days the entire student section was first-come, first serve) and coach Gottfried sent pizzas to us. It was fantastic -- we won, rushed the floor, Coach got on the mic and thanked the fans, and so forth.
All indications are that coach Gottfried is a genuinely nice person, a devoted father, husband, Christian man, etc. He graduates many of his players, and they're never in the papers for any ... um, extra-curricular activity (a la some football players).
But, as you and I both know, at Alabama, the athletic programs are expected to function at a championship level. You knew this several years ago when you made a change in the women's basketball program, replacing longtime (and relatively disinterested) head coach Rick Moody -- that program has far to travel still, but is better, at the very least. In other areas, coaches like Jim Wells, Patrick Murphy and Sarah Patterson are the cogs in programs that have performed (and are still performing) at a championship caliber.
It's something you realized two years ago at this time, when you and the university let go all-star nice guy Mike Shula, then broke the bank to hire a proven champion in Nick Saban to run the football program (your department's flagship). Of course, now this will be your legacy -- 50 years from now, when people think of your tenure as AD, they'll think first of Saban (and whatever success he has here).
The time has come to do the same with men's basketball. We all respect what coach Gottfried has done -- he took over a program in shambles, retooled it and had it a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament in his fourth season. In his fifth season the team was actually ranked FIRST IN THE COUNTRY (read that last part again); in his sixth, we reached the Elite 8 (after barely making the tourney) for the first time in school history.
Those days are long past, however. Nothing since that '04 run has suggested anything other than sideways movement for the men's basketball program. If anything, over the last three seasons we've actually watched the squad go backwards. This persists despite a consistency in recruiting and all the available resources of the Alabama athletic department. What reason could there possibly be for such poor performance, other than the man charged with running the program?
I'm sure you're aware of this, but a good many of us as fans care a good bit about Alabama basketball. Of course, football will always be the program paying the bills, as well as the one sport that brings us all together. But we care about and support our boys in basketball, in the same way Kentucky fans care about and support their football program (even though they're basketball folks at heart).
As such, we're tired of caring about and supporting a team that doesn't try. We're tired of watching the same poorly-conceived halfcourt offense. We're tired of watching the boys go on the road and get pummeled. We're tired of the excuses.
No game told a better story about the recent direction of the program than Saturday afternoon against Auburn. Playing our biggest rival in their building, the team failed to even give a respectable effort, falling behind by 17 early in the second half and ultimately losing by double digits. Even notorious UA apologist Cecil Hurt saw through what was taking place.
It isn’t strictly about one game. It’s possible that an Auburn team that hasn’t scored 85 points all season long — not against Alabama A&M, not against Bethune-Cookman — could suddenly, randomly get hot. But it’s not random. If bad shooting is a virus, then Alabama’s defense is penicillin. Ailing offenses recuperate time and again against Alabama. It can’t simply be “bad luck.”
Alabama has been listing in the water for the better part of three years now. It’s been Mark Gottfried’s responsibility to make things better. He has been given ample time to do it. Due consideration has been given to Ronald Steele’s incessant injury problems, or Richard Hendrix’s early departure for the NBA. Three years is a long time to correct things. In the current climate of college sports, it’s an eternity.
In the past three seasons, Auburn has won a total of 12 SEC games, and four of them have come against Alabama. It's embarrassing, frankly.
Kevin Scarbinsky suggested in a column last week that you may be able to hire Tubby Smith to run the basketball program here. While he didn't source the info specifically, it's obviously coming from somewhere. Personally, I think he'd be perfect -- his teams at Georgia and Kentucky always competed, always defended and never, never, never embarrassed themselves on any floor, against any opponent.
Regardless, it's time for something to be different. Anyone who's watched this program over the last, and anyone who loves Alabama athletics, knows it's time for something to be different.
Thanks, Coach. If you're over in Leeds, give us a call.