Alabama Football: Iron Bowl History after Bryant and before Saban

Head coach Mike Shula of the Alabama Crimson Tide questions a call during a 13-10 victory over the Texas Tech Red Raiders at the AT
Head coach Mike Shula of the Alabama Crimson Tide questions a call during a 13-10 victory over the Texas Tech Red Raiders at the AT /

The Alabama football history with the Auburn Tigers. Part three in our series covers the almost quarter of a century between Bryant and Saban.

Part three in our history of the Iron Bowl covers a period of Alabama football many fans consider equivalent to two journeys in the wilderness, with an intermediate seven-year respite of salvation.  The wilderness journeys lasted a total of 17 seasons as the Alabama football program first struggled to recover from the death of a legend and later struggled to recover from self-inflicted deterioration.

Alabama football history should treat Ray Perkins, Bill Curry and Mike Shula with more respect than is usually applied. Rightfully so, Gene Stallings will be revered as one of The Tide’s great coaches. Three other coaches, including one who never coached an Alabama football game, earned all the disdain directed toward them.

ICYMI: The Iron Bowl History: Part 1, The Early Years – The Iron Bowl History Part 2, The Bryant Era.

Ray Perkins had the no-win task of following a legend

After Bryant, Alabama had to endure an inevitable decline that had actually commenced a few years before Bryant’s death.  No one succeeds following a legend.  In retrospect, both Ray Perkins and Bill Curry did as well as one could expect of mortals attempting to replace a deity. Combined Perkins and Curry faced Pat Dye’s Tigers seven times.  The results were Perkins, 2 – 2 and Curry 0 – 3.  Both coaches chose to leave Alabama after short tenures and in Curry’s case his exit was at least partly motivated by a brick being thrown through his office window.  The brick-throwing incident was, as is said in foreign affairs, a ‘proportionate response’ to losing streaks versus Auburn.

Stallings the Redeemer

Rather than Mama calling, it was the spirit of Paul Bryant that compelled Gene Stallings to return to Tuscaloosa. Alabama was the last coaching job for Stallings and it was the one that made him a legend.

For many fans, Stallings was a reincarnated Bryant in appearance, coaching style and strength of character.  Stallings returned Alabama football to national prominence with the 1992 National Championship.  In his seven games against Auburn, Stallings was 5 – 2.

Stallings labored with Athletic Director, Bob Bockrath, apparently a relationship that did not benefit from mutual respect.  Additionally, Bockrath’s boss, University President, Andrew Sorenson was determined to wrest control of the football program away from the ‘good ole boy’ network of former players and influential boosters.  Stallings regretfully determined either he or his bosses had to leave and graciously decided he was the one who should exit.

The Downward Spirals

The Sorenson/Bockrath team hired Mike Dubose, who had skillfully maneuvered himself to the status of top contender.  Purportedly Bockrath and Sorenson wanted a coach outside the ‘Alabama family’ but caved to pressure to satisfy Alabama faithful who steadfastly believed only a former Bryant player or former assistant coach deserved ascension to the throne.  Dubose proved that former Bryant players and assistants were not immune to failure.

At Auburn, Pat Dye stepped down after the 1992 season, citing serious health problems.  Dye also suffered from a fall from grace; the result of a ‘play for pay’ scandal.  After arguably the longest run of success in Auburn football history, Dye was caught on tape discussing ongoing payment terms with a player.  Dye’s 12-year record against Alabama ended at 6 – 6 after three straight losses to Gene Stallings.

Terry Bowden, aka ‘Buster Brown’ replaced Dye and had good success on the field.  Bowden’s first team went 11-0 and his five full seasons gave the Tigers and Bowden a record of 46-12-1.

In his 6th season, the Tigers fell apart and after a 1 -5 start, Bowden resigned.  Bill (Brother) Oliver took over for the remainder of the season.  Bowden finished his Auburn tenure 3 – 2 against Alabama.

Head Coach too much for Dubose

Having abandoned Alabama and Gene Stallings in 1996, Oliver, the long-time Bryant disciple and architect of Alabama’s 1992 national championship defense, was accused of egregious disloyalty.  Some thought Oliver expected to succeed Stallings and when Dubose was hired instead, Oliver became a turncoat at his first opportunity.

The first Dubose regular season ended with a one-point loss to Auburn, almost solely attributable to bonehead offensive play calling in the game’s waning seconds.  Bockrath was fired as the Dubose era unraveled. Dubose finished his Alabama head coach stint 2-2 against Auburn.

Dennis Franchione opened his Iron Bowl career as a redeemer and ended it a weasel a season later. Franchione let go of the rope he had urged his players to hold, turned tail and ran.

Mike Shula tried to rescue Tide fortunes

After a brief Mike Price detour, the woefully unprepared but loyal to his school, Mike Shula followed the Weasel. The decay that began by making Tuscaloosa inhospitable for Gene Stallings, turned to rot in the Dubose, Franchione and Shula years. While the Tide wandered in the wilderness, Auburn won eight games in 11 seasons.

Next: Why Alabama Will Beat Auburn

There is one more episode in the four-part history of Alabama football and Auburn. Look for it the morning of Iron Bowl eve.