After all the recent happenin's in the SEC--Auburn firing Tubby, Florida on the cusp (and winning!!!) another national title, Bama's disaster in the Sugar Bowl--I wanted to hear what columnist and diehard Tider Scott Latta had to say.... we had an email conversation, then he wrote a little blurb on everything...
ME: So, your take on what happened last Friday?
SCOTT: Apparently, Andre Smith was good or something. Who knew? I think Alabama just didn't want to play Utah. I'm not sure, had Andre played, Alabama would have won. Utah just shredded the defense and exposed a whole lot of holes that had been covered up by a dominant running game all season. Whatever. Six months ago, if you had offered me 12-2 with wins over Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn, I would have laughed and jumped all over it. Plus I keep telling myself that this is the least amount of talent Saban will have from this point forward, and that makes me happy.
ME: Think Saban fueled the fire? Didn't he make some cutting remarks towards Utah? Or do you think that the team just finally gave in, deciding they were done with it all, with the Go Gators ripping their hearts out in Atlanta (hence, who cares about a meaningless bowl game against the freakin' Utes?)
SCOTT: All Saban said was that Alabama was the only team to go undefeated from a true BCS conference. What's not true about that? Utah probably posted that everywhere, but it's like him saying, "I'm the only coach to bring in the top recruiting class last year and then run the table in my conference." People can use anything they want that comes out of his mouth against him.
I think they just gave in. I followed that team, was at all the press conferences, interviewed all the players, all season long, and I think they were just tired. I know I was, and all I had to do was hit record on a voice recorder. The Mobile Register had a report that said after the SEC Championship, one player was overheard in the locker room saying "If we play Utah I might as not even show up." This player, apparently, had a bad game in the Sugar Bowl. (I don't know who it was, but that narrows it down to, oh, about 75 guys.) I think that sums it up. Fourteen games is a lot, and fourteen games under Saban is like 80 games under most other coaches. I think the Florida loss had a whole lot to do with it. It exposed Alabama's lack of a pass rush and showed that you could exploit Saban's vaunted 3-4.
ME: Personally, I've always contended that if Tebow had chosen Alabama, Shula would still be coach, or at least would have been a year longer--long enough that Saban wouldn't have been available. I think that Tebow would have given them just enough wins to warrant keeping Shula, but they'd still only be a 8 or 9 win team, never more.
I've wondered that a lot. A whole lot. What if Bear Bryant hadn't died in 1982 and had become athletic director like he had planned? How would the program be different today? What if Mike Price (it's rolling baby-d$) had not been an idiot and instead had become the coach? I think it would make for an interesting book.
During my freshman year at Alabama, in 2005, we were recruiting Tim Tebow. Mike Shula was the coach, we hadn't won many games, but Tebow was still somehow drawn to Shula's nice-guy persona and the school. I lived in a brand new apartment-style dorm then, and one Sunday afternoon I was told we would have a recruit stop by to be shown around the building, and that he would be coming into our room for a while to look around. It was going to be Tim Tebow, who was in town for his official visit. We, being four recruiting-obsessed college guys, ran around frantically, sweeping and vacuuming and cramming a semester's worth of cleaning into 10 minutes. We turned the Steelers-Bengals game on because we thought he might want to watch. We left our Bibles on the kitchenette table.
Before long, they came. First his mom, then his dad, then him. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. And then it hit me.
Tim Tebow had one of the weakest handshakes I had ever experienced.
I don't know what I was expecting, but I know it wasn't the wet-paper-towel strength of SuperTim's extended hand that I received. I wanted to smile at him and be cool, to let him know that even the Regular Guys at Alabama were worth hanging out with, but all I could do was stare at our clasped hands, my eyebrows furrowed just a bit in confusion, as he looked at the TV.
"Who is that, the Steelers?" he said. All I could do was pull my hand away and confirm. "Yeah," I said. "Playing the Bengals."
We watched for a few minutes. He went in my bedroom and stood with his parents, talking about the school while we all stood in the living room slightly hyperventilating. We talked as a group for a bit about our majors and dorm life. After a while, they left in a van, and Tebow eventually committed to Florida, where he has since won the Heisman Trophy and a pair of national championships, all while circumcising young Philippine boys and cramming half of the New Testament onto his eye black.
It wasn't until later, while watching Tebow jump-pass his way past some SEC also-ran, that I realized something awful. When Tim and I shook hands that day in my living room, I extended first, and I am right handed. He responded dutifully, and it was our right hands that shook. But Tim Tebow is left handed. The wet-linguini handshake I received was a fraud. And, believe me, I wonder every day how things would be different had I instead offered my left hand, letting him know how tuned in Alabama fans were to his life and thereby securing his commitment to our school. No doubt, my left hand would have been turned to gold. I kick myself.
But, there is little that can be done now. Had Tebow committed to Alabama, he would be about to begin his redshirt junior season at tight end, and that actually makes me kind of glad I screwed it all up.
As an Alabama graduate who worked in the athletic department for two years, you can probably imagine my reaction when Auburn hired Gene Chizik. The only thing I can think to compare it to is the N64 kid off YouTube.
This is more of my reaction to Chizik's coaching staff. Now, don't get me wrong, I find a lot of humor (and reason for fist pumping) at the combined head coaching records of Chizik and new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, whose 6-45 record accompanies nicely Chizik's 5-19 mark, making for a nice 11-64 combination. But Chizik, to his credit, is piecing together a good staff of quality recruiters, and the Gus Malzahn hire sure is a fun one. When you live and die in a conference that boasts recruiters named Meyer, Richt, Saban, Spurrier, Miles, Nutt and Petrino, you need a good staff.
But do I think Chizik can hold his own in recruiting? Not this year. Too late to the game. On the field, though? As a guy who has experienced more coaching changes than should be federally allowed, I can tell you what it's like having a first-year coach coming off a bad year: you do not win more than seven games. Auburn heads to 2009 with no proven quarterback, no quality receivers, an average offensive line, and some major holes to fill on defense that are going to be patched with anemic recruiting classes. Any coach in the SEC is going to struggle in that situation.
I thought Auburn would beat Vanderbilt last season because, despite their lackluster season, they had better athletes and could out-athlete Vanderbilt to something like a 20-13 win. But that didn't happen, and it became clear to me that average athletes in a good scheme will beat good athletes in no scheme. Auburn heads to 2009 with average athletes in a new scheme. Looks like David Dollar got out while the getting was good. (note--as my allegiences slowly switched from one to the other, Auburn was still good. I just had to be true to myself. This championship, however, I claim -d$)
Andre Smith is Not Dead to Me
Of everything I love about sports, my favorite thing about them is probably when out-of-touch sportswriters develop my opinions for me and then broadcast them to the world. I love this. So you can imagine my excitement when I read columns that proclaim that Andre Smith's Alabama legacy is tarnished forever because of what he did, and that Alabama fans will never forget it.
Honestly, I don't, and I was paralyzed with shock and rendered temporarily speechless at age 12 after Alabama's overtime loss to Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Two questions: 1. What would Alabama have additionally gained by winning the Sugar Bowl over Utah this year? (Nothing.), and 2. Would they have even won with him? (No.)
So Andre Smith is not dead to me. Did his absence on the field make a difference? Uh, yeah. A big one. But Alabama's problems in its last two games went beyond protecting John Parker Wilson's blind side. Alabama had zero pass rush, and opposing quarterbacks had time to let fast receivers outrun the Tide's DB's. Period.
This is not to say I didn't want Alabama to win the Sugar Bowl. I did. But, this time, I wasn't paralyzed at all. In fact, I think I just made a sandwich when it was over. In 1999, Alabama got to the Orange Bowl on the legs of its best running back in school history (Shaun Alexander) and its best left tackle in school history (Chris Samuels), both of whom were seniors. This year, Alabama did it with a bunch of freshmen and a quarterback whose main quality is that he doesn't royally screw things up much anymore. So there is more reason to be encouraged now than there was then.
(Also, as an aside, I should mention that Samuels did not play in Alabama's '99 Orange Bowl loss for the exact reason Smith didn't play against Utah. Do Alabama fans really care now? No.)
One thing became abundantly clear in the Tide's loss to Utah, though: Andre Smith is really freaking good. Without him, Alabama's pass protection was, shall I say, underwhelming. (Meaning: they could have gotten more time for John Parker if Drew Davis had been replaced by a stack of Gatorade coolers with twigs for arms.) Andre will enjoy life in either Detroit, St. Louis or Kansas City next year, and Alabama will move on. Had you offered any Alabama fan 12 wins this year, with wins over Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn, he would have hugged you and probably teared up a bit. They'll be fine.
Tim Tebow Will Cure You of Your Iniquities
I do wonder a little bit what things would be like had Tebow committed to Alabama. Mike Shula would probably still be around; Florida definitely wouldn't have two national championships or a Heisman; and things in the Philippines would be a little...different. I like that Tim Tebow is a good guy. I'm sure he'll do fine in the NFL. But it's like I said while watching Florida beat Oklahoma this year for the championship: he's like that guy that always took things way too seriously while playing basketball. You're just jogging the ball up the floor and here he comes sprinting across, stealing it from you and slamming it home. Then he full-court presses you, you to dribble off your foot, and he dunks again. Like, seriously, just stop already. We get it: you like football. Great.
During the game, I actually heard the announcers say about Tim Tebow: "If you spend five minutes with him, your life is better for it," and, after a penalty, "That might be the first wrong thing he's ever done in his life." Those are just annoying statements. Who else would those things be said about? (one more note... even more annoying--did you actually see what the penalty was? He did the Gator Chomp at some guy, and flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Not even a real penalty. He is perfect. - d$)
Think of everything a solid left-handshake could have changed. I could have saved you from the SuperTim Love-a-ganza that has permeated the United States the last three years. I could have probably given Oklahoma a championship or two. I could have drastically changed life in the Phillippines. Unfortunately, we'll never know.
So consider this my formal apology. And when Tebow comes back next year to cure feline leukemia and eliminate thirst, I'm sorry. I'll do a little more research next time.
Columnist Scott Latta is a recent graduate of Alabama and a WalkAbout drama legend. A member of Dove winning group Factor 7, he ranked #63-A on 2007's 100 Coolest List, and author of 2006's 11th Coolest, the late, great Rammer Jammer Blog, is also the author of "We Got 12 (Coaches): Why Stallings Was Right, Shula Was Wrong, and Every Mistake In Between", and is working on a new book chronicling Saban's first two years. He's also getting married this year. You can read more of his work on his blog "Kangaroo Song" (click the link or just go to d$'s recommended blogs ----> )