When Mike Shula arrived at the Capstone, Alabama was in the depths of NCAA probation. Immediately, some fans declared that Bama was back. Emails circulated showing the physical similarities between Shula and a young, uniformed Paul Bryant. The Tide’s favorite son had returned to restore Alabama to greatness.
Things didn’t quite pan out that way. If Shula’s tenure at Alabama could be summed up visually, it would be in the press conference video in which his chair gave way, sending him sprawling under the table. Just too nice of a guy, attempting too difficult a task.
Shula’s successor, by comparison, has thus far exceeded even the most deluded Tide fan’s wildest hopes. Nick Saban took complete command of the football program from the first day, and has thus far led the team to two BCS titles in three years.
Saban’s first season was fraught with discord, as holdovers from the Shula era attempted to let Saban know the inmates were running this particular asylum. Saban wasted no time letting those players know the asylum was named Bryce Hospital, not Bryant-Denny Stadium, and players that got that confused were Processed quickly.
The results are self-evident; Alabama football is a model of player discipline, and the Tide is one of the most successful programs in the nation.
Which brings us to Alabama basketball and coach Anthony Grant. Hailed as the tough disciplinarian that would finally bring success to Tide hoops, Grant has been both praised and criticized for his actions earlier this season.
Proponents say Grant acted brilliantly by suspending his star players and risking the season to send a message. The Tide pulled together as a team, and played their way into the first NCAA tournament appearance in six years.
Detractors, however, point to the fact that this is Grant’s third year at Alabama. Why didn’t he take care of this problem already? Why is Alabama still unable to shoot threes, and manage the clock with the game on the line against Creighton?
So which is it? Is Grant the hapless, always “close” Mike Shula, looking the part of a coach in his impeccable coat and tie, while his team descends into selfish mediocrity? Or is he a hardwood Nick Saban, weeding out the bad seeds in order to instill the toughness it will take to lead his team to basketball glory?
The answer is neither. To compare Alabama basketball to football is to compare Nick Saban to Nick Swardson. They share a first name, but only one of them knows anything about a 3-4 defense.
Anthony Grant is his own man, and every situation is different. Grant took an undersized, under-talented team (some of whom are holdovers from the last staff) and coached them into the tournament. He also assumed total control of the team, taking full responsibility for its success or failure.
Shula was given five years at Alabama, when all but those with the most crimson-colored vision saw the situation would never work. Still, his team crushed a No. 3 Florida team with Tim Tebow. Saban had high moments in his first season, but also some of the Tide’s most embarrassing losses.
Anthony Grant may go on to great success at Alabama, or he may flame out and be replaced. But it’s clear that he wants to do so on his own terms; Alabama basketball fans should grant him his wish.